This Week in Culture

Leading with Heart: Navigating Social Issues with an Authentic CEO Approach

I’m sure you all heard something about the unexpected chaos that erupted when Bud Light had the idea to send beers to a trans influencer. This seemingly harmless gesture set off a whirlwind of controversy, throwing both the beverage giant and its CEO smack into the middle of a cultural firestorm. But even though the gesture seemed harmless, there was some calculation behind the decision.

In the current state of the world, CEOs are constantly challenged to strike the right balance between corporate strategy and authentic values, and the question of whether to lead with the heart or the head takes center stage. Last week Fortune released a CEO Daily email quoting Richard Edelman’s perspective which involved the idea of leading with your head, making calculated decisions, and favoring cold logic over your heart. But let me tell you, we had a different take on it altogether.

Richard Edelman’s perspective got us thinking. He’s all about the risk-reward approach for CEOs, but in today’s intricate world, we believe there’s more to the story. We’re talking about the magic of leading with love and authenticity, blending those calculated choices with genuine heart-led leadership.

If you want more information about this email, it is linked below.

Companies will need a ‘cold risk-reward calculus’ when it comes to social issues, Edelman’s CEO says. Here’s what they should consider

Let’s dive a bit further into the misconceptions highlighted in the article above. The unfortunate backlash against Bud Light’s campaign with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney wasn’t a result of an insufficient cold risk-reward calculation, as suggested. It stemmed from a disconnection between the campaign’s execution and the company’s true values. The campaign lacked authenticity, and consumers could sense the dissonance between the calculated move and the brand’s core identity. Instead of being true to their heart, Bud Light’s executives over-indexed on media and social sentiment, causing backlash and undermining their brand.

This brings us to the heart of the matter—the CEO’s role in fostering authentic and impactful company culture. The world may have become more politicized, but that only underscores the importance of leading with sincerity. A true leader must align decisions with a company’s purpose, strategy, and cultural beliefs. This is the heart of The Culture Equation and this approach ensures that calculated actions stem from a place of authenticity, minimizing the risk of backlash. The idea isn’t to dismiss the analytical aspect but rather to infuse it with heart and genuine intention.

The Bud Light case serves as a stark reminder of the potential pitfalls of cold, calculated approaches. It’s tempting to believe that the best strategy is to be impersonal, conforming to trends for fear of alienating segments of the market. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that authenticity resonates deeply with both employees and customers. The recent PR fiasco underscores that the dissonance between calculated maneuvers and core cultural beliefs often leads to negative outcomes. Instead, organizations should focus on long-term alignment with their cultural DNA, rather than attempting to cater to the needs of everyone.

To better illustrate the power of authentic leadership, let’s turn to positive examples. Patagonia’s unwavering commitment to environmental causes, including the CEO’s decision to donate business profits to fight climate change, exemplifies an authentic alignment of values. Nike’s substantial contributions to minority causes and its progressive board of directors showcase a dedication that goes beyond mere marketing trends. These companies don’t stand for values based on temporary trends; they engrain them in their cultural fabric over time, resulting in actions that withstand criticism and foster loyalty.

The choice between leading with the heart or the head is not a binary one. Instead, it’s a delicate dance between calculated strategy and authentic intent. CEOs must harness both aspects, ensuring that actions are aligned with the company’s purpose, strategy, and cultural DNA. Authenticity triumphs over disingenuous calculations, fostering connections with both employees and customers. The lessons from Bud Light’s misstep underscore that in today’s world, leading with heart is not only a noble choice—it’s a strategic imperative that elevates companies to a place of enduring success.

Elsewhere This Week

Speaking of companies leading with their heads instead of their hearts, check out this article:

You’ve Heard of Quiet Quitting. Now Companies Are Quiet Cutting.

Here’s the essence of it: It sheds light on a new trend where workers are receiving messages that their jobs are gone, even though they aren’t officially fired. This leaves employees with a mix of emotions, ranging from relief to a sense of unease. Companies like Adidas, Adobe, IBM, and Salesforce have resorted to reassigning employees as part of their restructuring efforts. This practice, referred to as “reassignment,” has been on the rise, with mentions during company earnings calls tripling in the past year. It’s a strategy to retain talent while adjusting to changing business strategies and cutting costs. On the other hand, workers are left wondering about their future in these new roles and whether they’re being pushed out. This article delves into the intricacies of this practice and the challenges it poses for both employees and companies alike.

When companies prioritize their financial bottom line over employees, we see instances like the “quiet cutting” discussed in the article. This practice, while strategically driven, can lead to a sense of detachment among employees. It erodes trust and psychological safety. By focusing solely on cost-cutting and not emphasizing accountability and commitment, companies might unintentionally create a workforce that lacks the passion and connection needed for success. It’s a reminder that finding the balance between practical decisions and nurturing a culture of accountability is crucial for sustainable growth.

Look, to be completely honest with you, creating an honest and effective company culture is difficult but that’s why it’s so important. Take a look at this article from Harvard Business Review.

Why Great Employees Leave “Great Cultures”

The article delves into the core of company culture, shedding light on how certain misconceptions – like those Ping-Pong tables – don’t define it. It stresses the significance of achieving a remarkable culture through the alignment of behaviors, systems, and practices with the organization’s core values. Remember our chat about “reassignment”? It’s an outcome of these misalignments. For instance, when a company claims to value work-life balance but falls short of delivering the necessary benefits, that’s a behavior-system discrepancy.

This underscores the downside of leading solely with the head, which can lead to culture problems and talent loss. In contrast, leading with the heart and authenticity revolves around harmonizing behaviors, systems, and practices. By fostering a transparent, accountable, and aligned culture, companies create an environment where employee well-being takes center stage. Leaders, through their own behavior, build trust and inspire others. Rigorously evaluating systems and practices ensures they uphold the desired behaviors. Embracing this heart-driven approach enables companies to bridge the gap between stated values and tangible experiences, thereby retaining top talent and cultivating a resilient organizational culture.

So, moving on from the concept of leading with cold calculating instead of emotions, let’s dive into a specific instance involving the Amazon CEO where this mindset was at play.

Amazon CEO says ‘it’s probably not going to work out’ for employees who defy return-to-office policy

Let me break down why I think this move is just plain bad:

I’m definitely not on board with this approach that Amazon’s CEO is taking. It feels like they’re using outdated tactics in a world that’s shifting towards more flexible work arrangements. It’s just not taking into consideration that things have changed – a lot of people, including non-white individuals and women, are finding value in working from home. And the reasoning that it’s supported by other CEOs he talks to? That’s a bit worrisome, honestly. It’s like they’re in an echo chamber, only hearing from a specific group of people, which happens to be well-off white men. This decision seems to be more about numbers and agreements rather than genuinely understanding the diverse needs of their workforce.

Related Stories

Learn More

Your Organizational Success Can Learn From Tough Love 

Learn More

I Don’t Want Loyal Employees On My Team

Learn More

The Peak of Innovation and Yet We’re Moving Backwards: Lessons In Change Management 

What Can We Help You Find?