Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2002Kellogg School of Management
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  Howard Gordon
© Nathan Mandell
“Love has become the killer app,” says Howard Gordon ’62.

The human touch of leadership
Real leaders embrace chaos — and others — finding calm in the storm and meaning in mentorship

By Matt Golosinski

Does the soul have any place in business? The question may seem odd to those unfamiliar with leadership trends at the Kellogg School.

While experts debate the terminology — one person’s “soul” is another’s “inner voice” or “center” — the commonality among the words suggests a foundation, and the best leaders harness its power. In so doing, says Kellogg Dean Dipak C. Jain, these leaders transform themselves and their followers, enabling everyone to develop their full potential while driving organizational excellence.

“The ‘soul’ of leadership involves the ability of a leader to mentor and motivate by demanding the best from a team while creating an environment that challenges and enriches,” says Jain. “Leaders should invest in their people, allowing them to flourish by giving them the tools and opportunities to grow — both professionally and personally.”

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"Serve your troops first"

Jain’s model informs the leadership curriculum at the Kellogg School, long known for its teamwork and willingness to engage faculty, staff, alumni and students as partners creating an innovative learning environment. The Kellogg Business Leadership Club, which sponsors leadership seminars and co-sponsors the Kellogg Distinguished Leadership Award, is just one example of how student-driven initiatives find a voice within the school.

Students become leaders by doing, as well as through classroom study, explains Jain, and club initiatives help them develop the essential skills. The dean also cites a number of leadership-oriented courses in the MBA program, as well as cutting edge Kellogg Executive Education programs, such as Leading High-Impact Teams, Reinventing Leadership, and The Soul of Leadership, a special two-day course scheduled for May 2003, led by renowned mind-body guru Dr. Deepak Chopra.

In Jain’s view, being innovative requires leaders to do two basic, but extraordinary, things. First, they must develop the introspection required to understand themselves and unlock their own potential, enabling them to guide others along a similar path. Then, they use insights uncovered by this “journey to awareness” to appreciate the motivations of others.

“Leaders who wish to create excellence in their people must first remember to cultivate it in themselves,” says Jain.

All you need is love
If these concepts make leadership sound like an ancient Zen art, that doesn’t come as a surprise to Kellogg Professor Robert Neuschel. Neuschel has spent some 50 years studying leadership, tracing many of its core elements to antiquity, and deriving a framework from his observations that he calls the “servant leader.”

True leaders understand that their roles carry profound responsibility toward others, Neuschel says. Rather than expect others to serve them, servant leaders are prepared to nurture their followers, building bonds based upon mutual respect — even love.

“The servant leader is one with ahigh sense of humanity and is truly unselfish,” Neuschel notes. These leaders make themselves accessible to their followers and cultivate emotional connections with them, while also delegating important initiatives, thus building trust.

Kellogg alum Howard Gordon ’62 is another advocate of servant leadership, because he’s seen its competitive advantage time and again during studies conducted by GRFI Ltd., a marketing consultancy and research firm where Gordon is a principal.

“Love has become the killer app,” Gordon says. “In the marketing business, you’re nobody until somebody loves you.”

He says marketers must employ the “human touch” of leadership to beat the competition by endearing themselves to customers, distributors and internal peers. As executives mature, Gordon says they often learn that there are “less quantifiable factors that contribute to a company’s success.” He notes that marquee CEOs, such as Jack Welch — trained as a chemical engineer — have mastered the technical acumen and people skills to achieve market leadership.

“About 15 years ago, companies spent the majority of their time on product issues. Today they spend the majority of time on customer issues,” Gordon states. “You want to tap into your customers and their concerns.”
This “other-directed” behavior forms the basis of Neuschel’s servant leader. Among many historical examples, Neuschel points to Alexander the Great, who instilled love in his troops. As a result, his soldiers were ready to die for him.

But more recent intellectual models may have displaced this ancient wisdom, conditioning today’s leaders to place too much emphasis on reason. As a result, most business education has emulated scientific methods, sometimes overlooking important subjects because they are difficult to quantify, or because there’s not even much of a language with which to address the topics.

Putting people first
Marketing Professor John Sherry, an anthropologist by training, is one of many social scientists and psychologists on the Kellogg School faculty. Since leadership entails an understanding of others, scholars such as Sherry help students appreciate the value of people skills — commonly referred to, somewhat disparagingly, as the “soft skills.”

That term itself, though, is one that Sherry and colleague David Messick, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management, find misleading.

“Soft implies that there’s no rigor to a discipline, that’s it’s not measurable,” says Sherry. “But there are lots of rigorous, qualitative ways of knowing that are not measurement-based. Talk with any theologian and they always have a rigorous system for understanding their phenomenal universe.”

Messick agrees and points to military training, as well as the leadership traits of explorers and adventurers such as Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott, that find great value in people skills.

“There’s nothing soft about the U.S. military,” Messick says. “What many in the business world have derided as unnecessary, the military has embraced as part of its central training philosophy.”

Leadership, especially in the military where life and death can hang in the balance, demands people who can form intimate bonds, says Messick. Forging such bonds requires leaders who can gain the trust of their people. “Effective leaders are people who ask to be trusted,” he says. “If I want you to trust me, one of the best ways for me to do that is to trust you, but for me to trust you I’ve got to empower you.”

Prof. John Sherry  
© Nathan Mandell
Professor John Sherry
says leaders should balance reason with emotion.

Leaders put themselves at risk during this trust-building process, Messick admits, but that’s necessary to build a tight-knit team that can excel under duress.

Sherry suggests that one reason why more sophisticated leadership thinking has taken longer to enter the business world may be because of the ideological frameworks under which most people today operate, or believe they operate. These frameworks derive from the Enlightenment, the 18th century philosophical movement that emphasized reason as the way to achieve understanding. But Sherry questions the utility of reason alone to engage the world. He also wonders if much of our life does not still operate in a pre-Enlightenment arena.

“What if the Enlightenment was not as thoroughgoing as scholars claim it was? What if it operated primarily at the level of philosophy and science, but didn’t operate at the level of everyday reality?” muses Sherry.

While Enlightenment thinkers made science the privileged way of interpreting nature, they minimized humanity’s emotional faculties. Many schools today continue to reinforce the trend.

Sherry teaches his marketing students the importance of paying attention to the “lived behaviors” of consumers to gain an understanding of how they relate to products. Similarly, he suggests leaders immerse themselves into the world of their people, to understand how that world works. Only then will they best be able to motivate others. Alternative leadership models, he says, “end up motivating people through less effective, less humane, means.”

The calm center
That today’s leaders must engage the holistic mind — the rational and emotional parts — is a central component of Deepak Chopra’s leadership seminar.

“Even though we have this great desire to be rational, the vast majority of humanity bristles with emotion, and makes decisions based on emotions,” he says.

Chopra, a guest lecturer at Kellogg and the preeminent practitioner of mind/body medicine in the world today, calls leadership the most crucial choice a person can make: “It is the decision to step out of darkness,” he says.

Chopra defines the leader as “the symbolic soul…and archetypical expression of who we are.” He explains that leaders must look inside themselves to recognize their true identity before they can “serve as a catalyst for change and transformation” within any group, from a family to a nation. For Chopra, there is a profound spiritual ingredient to leadership, though he says many people lack an understanding of the word’s definition. Chopra defines spirituality as “awareness” which he says occupies a key role in leadership.

Through practice (including practical exercises in his Executive Education seminar), Chopra says leaders can eventually tap their spiritual resources — mind, heart, soul — to respond with creativity, vision and a sense of unity, giving their followers the freedom, love and spiritual worth they crave.

“No matter how complex a situation looks, leadership is possible from one simple attitude: Being comfortable with disorder,” Chopra says. Only the person who can find “wisdom in the midst of chaos” will be remembered as a great leader. Fortunately, humans all have the ability to learn how to match needs with appropriate responses, says Chopra.

Michelle Buck, an associate director of the Kellogg Executive Education program and a professor in the Management and Organizations Department, teaches Managerial Leadership, drawing on her training as a social psychologist. Like Chopra, she believes that leaders must take into account the whole person.

Her course is structured to help students assess their leadership strengths through sophisticated feedback and an examination of other leaders. Buck describes the two main themes in her course as involving “the personal journey of leadership” and “leadership as relationship.” While both are key, perhaps Buck’s accent on the latter point is what most distinguishes her approach — and that of Kellogg as a whole — to leadership.

“Leaders need to understand the perspectives of others to be effective,” Buck explains. But equally important, and too often overlooked, is the leader-follower relationship that Buck calls “an interdependent partnership.”

“While society talks about its interest in leadership, people are usually only focused on the leaders themselves: How do we identify leaders? What are their traits?” Buck explains. These questions are worthwhile, but they address only a portion of the leadership dynamic. She goes on to explore the role of followers too.

“Followers need leaders for vision and direction, but leaders also need followers to implement their visions,” she says. Highlighting the interplay between leaders and followers is one of the groundbreaking approaches to leadership research pursued by Kellogg faculty, says Buck, who employs an innovative dance metaphor in her classroom and often introduces the importance of “meaningfulness” into her leadership discussions.

“There’s a great search for meaningfulness in every facet of the world, including business,” she says. “Many people are searching for stability, but stability is often elusive.” Just as Chopra believes great leaders learn to exist peacefully within chaos, Buck says that we are living in a world of “change, uncertainty and paradox, and effective corporate leaders are those who help people to find meaningfulness in their work, even in the midst of uncertainty.”

The search for meaning in the modern corporate world led Kellogg alum Dean Ottati ’93 to write a book about the subject. Titled The Runner and the Path: An Athlete’s Quest for Meaning in Postmodern Corporate America, the book addresses many concerns Ottati says are key for today’s leaders. Among the points raised is the need for executives to begin living the “examined life.”

The vice president of marketing and strategy for Irvine, Calif.-based Velocitel begins his book with Thoreau’s famous quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

For Ottati, avoiding this desperation means gaining awareness of yourself and your world. This search for meaning is universal, and everyone has a need to discover what he calls “this resting place in the middle of mystery.” Once leaders gain clarity about their own search, they can help others do so.

“Meaning emerges when our hearts and minds are working in concert,” says Ottati. For him, leadership requires “deep listening” for meaning to become apparent.

“When one of your employees comes in to talk, the leader needs to recognize that at some level there is something sacred about that conversation,” Ottati says. “It’s not just business. There’s a real person in front of you.

“We have almost no awareness of that which is sacred and eternal in every encounter,” he contends. “One of the leader’s responsibilities is to gain the awareness that lets him see that sacred moment.”

In the end, then, real leadership has more to do with Woodstock than common stock: compassion, awareness and service to others. Not a bad recipe for leaders or followers.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University