Dawn of the Leadership System

Ed Catmull is the President of Disney Animation Studios and one of the co-founders of Pixar. He is also the author of “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.” This book outlines the management practices that created Pixar, one of the world’s most creative and innovative companies. So, I think it wise that when he describes a word in the context of the employee experience, management, leadership, and innovation, it is worth paying attention. That word is one I never once heard in my MBA program. It is not a word we hear used in discussions of organizational management or leadership. Yet he uses it freely and openly. It is the word “love.” In discussing the need for open debate, candor, in a process called brain trust, he states, “frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love.”

There it is. Love. Unfortunately, we equate love with romance or deeply felt personal emotions. Therefore, we don’t usually use it in the context of leading high performing companies or teams. I think it is time we change this because I heard the same word from two senior U.S. Army officers. One was a thirty-four-year veteran, Army Ranger, and member of the Special Forces. The other was a 32-year veteran, holder of multiple purpose hearts, and a 4 Star General by the name of Barry McCaffrey. When I asked both officers how the Army approaches leadership, they immediately talked about servant leadership and then spoke of love in the next breath.

I confess it is a word I am not comfortable with when used in the context of organizational leadership. It is a little “squishy” for me. Yet when one of the most highly decorated generals to have ever worn the uniform and when one of the giants in the world of technology speak of love (not the romantic stuff) in the workplace I think it is time to bring the word into our conversations regarding leadership.

The U.S. Army has a core value, “put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.” Is there a better way of describing love than this? What would happen if the leaders in our healthcare institutions, manufacturing companies, or technology firms were taught to “put the welfare of your customers, your firm, and your subordinate before your own?” It makes me wonder how fast customers would be stampeding to your doorstep.

But how to do this? Can treating subordinates in loving ways be left up to every leader or manager’s goodwill or personal values? Something tells me no. Love is such a high calling that it requires a designed system so that every leader or manager knows exactly what it looks like.

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