Written by: Snježana “Ana” Billian, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise
Ranked on Inc.’s listing of the Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts in the world, and #1 on Huffington Post’s 12 Business Speakers to See, Steve Farber is a bestselling author, popular keynote speaker, and a seasoned leadership coach and consultant who has worked with a vast array of public and private organizations in virtually every arena.
Farber is the former Vice President of legendary management guru Tom Peters’ company and is the founder and CEO of The Extreme Leadership Institute—an organization devoted to helping its clients develop award-winning cultures and achieve radical results. The Institute’s team has helped over 25 companies earn a ranking on the Best Places to Work list.
Farber’s third book, Greater Than Yourself, debuted as a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller. His second book, The Radical Edge, was hailed as “a playbook for harnessing the power of the human spirit.” And his first book, The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, was named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
His much-anticipated new book, Love Is Just Damn Good Business, published by McGraw-Hill, has been featured on Wharton radio and The World Economic Forum website and has been listed by Book Authority as one of the top business strategy books of 2020.
Farber is a member of the exclusive Transformational Leadership Council, and his column, The Extreme Leadership Chronicles, frequently runs on Inc.com.
You've been named one of the best leadership experts in the world. A well-deserved title, considering your unconventional approach to leadership: for example, in your book Love Is Just Damn Good Business, you write about the importance of love in the workplace. That's not something we talk about in business a lot, especially not at the C-level. How do CEOs and other high-level leaders react when you talk to them about love?
Well, first, we must be clear on what I don't mean by it. When you say "love in the workplace," that could imply that you're talking about romance in the workplace. That's not what I mean. I'm not saying everybody at work should date each other and fall in love.
"Love" is a very big word. It means different things to different people. But, in the context of business, we're not accustomed to saying the word in the same sentence as "business."
I've been teaching love as a business practice for quite some time, and I teach it to the most hardcore businesspeople from environments that would typically go, "No, we don't want to talk about that."
Here's what I do mean by "love in the workplace" and why it makes sense for every business. It all starts with the customer. Without customers, you have no business, right?
When we talk about love at work, it all starts with the notion that you need your customers or clients to love what you do for them, plain and simple. If your customer doesn't love your product or service, they have no reason to continue doing business with you. They can find a similar offer somewhere else, maybe even for less money.
But, if they love your brand and the impact your product or service has on their lives, that's where your competitive advantage comes from as a business.
How do you make that happen for a customer? How do you make a customer love you?
I've been doing this work for 30 years now, and what I've seen is that the only way to make that consistently happen for customers is to create an environment that people love working in.
If I don't love working here, how am I supposed to create that experience for my customer? And, as a leader, I can't inspire that kind of culture unless I have it myself first. If I don't love my employees, customers, and career, then it's difficult for me to create an environment that other people will love to inhabit.
So, it all becomes personal very quickly. It's a powerful business principle, as long as we put it into practice.
One thing that stood out for me while reading your book is that you make love so tangible. You even came up with a formula for how to define love in the workplace. Can you tell us more about that?
Actually, there are many different ways to look at it and multiple formulas in the book. I'll talk about the one that I think you're referring to, which is:
Kindness + high standards = love at work.
In other words, sometimes people get a little bit nervous about the idea of love in business because they think it means trying to make everyone happy all the time, without any format standards. If that were the case, the leader would make decisions that people like instead of decisions that are important for the business.
That's not what love at work is about. On the contrary, this is about raising standards. What I'm suggesting is that we need to hold people accountable to ensure they do great work.
Sometimes you have people who are in the wrong job, and sometimes you need to let them go.
Does that mean you don't love them? No. You could love them and know they'd be happier somewhere else, but you can do that with kindness. Anything that we need to do that may be unpopular in business can be done with kindness.
When we combine kindness with high expectations and high standards, we create the kind of environment people love. People love being part of a team that wants to do great work. They want to grow, be challenged, and take risks. They want to change the world, even if it's just a small piece of the world.
That means we have to hold ourselves to a very high standard of performance. The more we can do that with kindness, the more productive people will be. That's one formula.
What's the other formula?
The other formula is also the subtitle of my book, Love Is Just Damn Good Business, which is:
Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. In fact, the book is structured around those three sections:
Do what you love
In the service of people
Who love what you do
Doing what you love is the foundation for this formula. It's your personal connection to your work. But it's not enough just to do what you love, because, frankly, if that's all you're concerned about, then it doesn't matter how it impacts anybody else. That's called narcissism, and that's not what we're talking about.
It's about doing what you love to serve others and positively impacting your customers, employees, colleagues, and community.
When you provide such a degree of value to others, it results in them reciprocating—they love you in return. That's when your customers will say they love doing business with you and when your employees will say they love working with you.
It's not about love as a sentiment; it's about love as a practice and discipline. And, of course, the book addresses questions like What should love look like in the way we work? How do we operationalize it as a business?
What I've learned from you is that one way to operationalize love as a business is through a concept you call an OS!M. In your book, you write that leaders actually can't be leaders without pursuing their OS!Ms. Can you explain what you mean by that? What's an OS!M, and why is it so important?
The OS!M stands for the Oh Shit! Moment. We've all had experiences where we step up to do something and we have to take risks. And, even though we might be wholly committed to it, it's scary.
The Oh Shit! Moment is a combination of the fear and exhilaration that comes along with doing something significant while trying something new. You have that moment when you find yourself saying, "Oh shit, I can't believe I'm doing this!"
You probably experienced an OS!M when you took on a new opportunity, or maybe before you got up in front of a group to make a presentation, or when you had a difficult but necessary conversation with somebody.
The challenge with the OS!M is that we tend to interpret it as a sign that something is wrong. And sometimes it is, but in the right context, the OS!M is a sign that something is right. It means we're putting ourselves out there.
When we combine the OS!M with the practice of love, we get an interesting dynamic because love is the motivator that brings us to step up to the OS!M. It could be love for a cause we believe in, love for the clients we're serving, or love for the great future we can create together.
In some ways, the OS!M is what love can feel like in action. Operationalizing love as a business practice is not all hearts and flowers. It can be very challenging and scary. And I would even go as far as to say if you're not feeling scared at all while putting these things into practice, you're probably not doing it.
This is counterintuitive for many people, but when you push it to the point that it scares you a little bit, now you're in the game. You'll love it so much that you're ready to do it, even if it's scary.
This is so powerful. It's the love that makes the fear of doing something new worthwhile. What's an Oh Shit! Moment you've had lately?
I've had significant OS!Ms throughout my career. Lately, my OS!Ms tend to involve publishing. Anytime I publish a new book, I have an Oh Shit! Moment, because writing a book is very much an internal process.
I'll write a paragraph and say to myself, "That's a damn good paragraph." But the general public doesn't respond to it until it gets published. This is my fourth book, and whenever a book goes to market, it's an Oh Shit! Moment. Although it lasts more than a moment—it's more like an Oh Shit! Month.
Now, that's a surprise. All your books have terrific reviews. Your first book, The Radical Leap, was named one of the 100 best business books of all time, and Love Is Just Damn Good Business was listed as one of the best business strategy books of 2020. And you still feel scared when you publish a new book?
Even if I've had a success, there have been OS!Ms along the way. I'm sure there are people reading this who have had a book inside them for a long time, but they haven't done anything with it. If you're one of those people, ask yourself why you haven't committed it to paper or submitted it to a publisher. The only answer you get back from yourself is: Because I'm scared of the rejection. I'm scared of failure.
If that's the only reason you're not taking the next step, then that's the reason you should do it. And this is coming from a guy who's written several books that have done pretty well. I have that OS!M, too. It's perfectly natural, and we all experience it. It's just that some of us hide it better, and, depending on our proficiencies in certain areas, it can look easy to other people.
How can we make the Oh Shit! Moment feel less scary?
I'll give you an example. Many years ago, I was invited to speak to a group of 300 surgeons in the United States. Right before I went on stage, the host running the conference that year said to me, "You know, we're delighted to have you here. I just want you to understand that you're about to speak to 300 of the biggest egos you've ever met. And if they don't like you, they'll make that determination pretty quickly and likely you'll have people that will get up and leave."
That looks like an Oh Shit! Moment to me.
Fortunately, I got along with them pretty well. They had the same, I guess, twisted sense of humor that I do.
It suddenly occurred to me then that the OS!M is completely relative. To me, cutting people open is the most terrifying prospect I can imagine, but that's not the case for these 300 surgeons.
To these guys, the most terrifying thing that most of them could imagine was standing up in front of 300 of the biggest egos they've ever met, talking to them with the fear of rejection. For me, it was great fun. One person's Oh Shit! Moment is another person's happy moment.
Thank you for sharing these personal challenges with us. As we approach the end of this conversation, I'd like to ask one final question: Who is Steve Farber when he is not consulting C-level leaders and talking about leadership on stage?
Thank you, that's a wonderful question. For me, there's not much of a difference between what you're experiencing right now and who I am, because this is who I am. But in terms of what I do and how I occupy my time, I'm a family guy. My wife and I have six kids between us, ranging in age from 25 to 42.
I've been a family guy since I was a young man, and I raised teenagers for 25 straight years. I love my family. I love my friends. I love people. There's nothing more joyful to me than hanging out with dearly beloved friends and family. Nowadays, I don't get to do any of that other than through Zoom, and I'm getting a little antsy about that.
I'm also a musician. I've been playing guitar, singing, and writing songs since I was 13 years old, which was a long time ago. When I put all these together, there is nothing better for me than playing music with friends.
I'm a believer in people, and I've been fortunate to be able to create a career that allows me to bring my true nature into what I do. And I believe that all of us have that opportunity, whatever career we're in.
To learn more about Steve Farber, his work and his mission, visit: www.stevefarber.com. Make sure to check out the Love Is Just Damn Good Business Podcast in which Steve and his guests share proven strategies and practical lessons on how to build team cultures based on love—the ultimate competitive advantage.