When it comes to business, ‘love’ might not be the first four-letter word that leaps to mind – but for Naji Gehchan, it’s the crucial ingredient in guaranteeing exceptional results. We spoke to the founder of the SpreadLove in Organizations podcast about his bold business philosophy: spreading love in organisations worldwide.
Hello Naji! To begin, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Lebanon, during a time when the country was going through a lot of strife. I trained in medicine and spent quite some time as a first-aid responder and team leader volunteer with the Lebanese Red Cross, which led me to witness on a daily basis the impact that a leader can have leading teams to help people in need. I then moved to France where I attended ESCP Business School to amplify my impact as a leader in healthcare.
This took me on a journey, which has lasted for more than a decade now, in the biopharmaceutical industry as well as on an entrepreneurial journey as a co-founder of a digital health startup serving the Middle East. Last year, I launched SpreadLoveio.com, a podcast that discusses “loving” leadership in organisations.
I trained in medicine and spent quite some time as a first aid responder and team leader volunteer with the Lebanese Red Cross, which led me to witness on a daily basis the impact that a leader can have leading teams to help people in need.”
Your work with SpreadLove is grounded in a core commitment: “I strive to make life better for people in the communities I serve. My passion for people brought me to spread love in organisations, for people to feel safe, to thrive, and to imagine a better world.” How did you come to the conclusion that love is the ‘missing ingredient’?
After ESCP, I began my corporate career in the biopharmaceutical industry, where I worked in many different leadership roles. Across these roles, I was able to see the impact that leadership could have on an organisation, not just in terms of effectiveness but in creating a sense of community and getting people to really believe in what they do and the impact they have.
I started then to reflect on my humanitarian experiences: the similarities, the differences, things that can be replicated. During my time at the Lebanese Red Cross, we were risking our lives to save others.
People would literally follow me into a bombing. This required something in us as a team that went beyond the kind of trust we talk about in corporations. It was genuine care, a strong and real belief that we would be there for one another, I call this, simply, love.
I then began to apply this to the business world. The impact was massive, from diversity, equity and inclusion to innovation and exceptional results. Through experimentation, I confirmed (time and time again) that we would be in a much better place if we lead from a place of love in any organisation.
People would follow me into a bombing. This required something in us as a team that went beyond the kind of trust we talk about in corporations. It was genuine care, a strong and real belief that we would be there for one another, I call this, simply, love.
Can you expand a little on the practical implementation of love in an organisation?
I always say that it is all about love and discipline. Though it might sound pretty obvious, discipline is crucial. It starts with focus and discipline in sticking to the things you prioritise, not doing what you deprioritise, and executing your priorities. This applies to work as well as life in general.
Love nevertheless might sound totally misplaced in the business world. It is not, and I hope by now you’re convinced. I’ve managed to take this further to build a framework for love in organisations. After discussing with many “loving leaders”, I was able to determine that their most common practices are: Listen, Observe, Value and Empower.
As a leader, I listen more than I talk. Feeling heard is extremely important to engaging your people and building trust. Moreover, listening to different perspectives, ensuring voices are heard, is powerful and crucial for high-performing teams. The second practice, observing, is about seeing in action, being aware of how the work is actually being done and the way in which it can be optimised. Behaviors, actions, teamwork, culture: through observation a lot can be discovered.
Valuing people as humans means seeing them as individuals (part of a team) striving towards a shared purpose; caring about them and what they are living; valuing their work, recognising it and appreciating it; valuing their uniqueness, their differences, their capabilities and ensuring an environment for them to continuously learn and grow. Finally, empowering requires your complete trust and giving responsibilities to your people so that they may act, try, fail, learn, and succeed, all based on clear, shared expectations they are accountable for.
After discussing with many “loving leaders”, I was able to determine that their most common practices are: Listen, Observe, Value and Empower.
Let’s talk about the SpreadLoveio podcast. What kind of organisations do you speak to as part of the podcast?
We launched the podcast nine months ago and already have 40 episodes published. We’re aiming to inspire our listeners and raise awareness on the fact that a different type of leadership and management is possible, one that leads from a place of love and delivers incredible impact for all stakeholders.
We’ve talked with people from all types of backgrounds: entrepreneurs, thinkers, academics, teachers, large corporate companies, mainly in healthcare where our personal purpose is.
What are some of the main challenges that your interviewees have shared with you when it comes to spreading love in organisations?
The first challenge is probably the unconscious bias or weird reaction many of us have towards the word “love”. Another common thread was the doubt we have as leaders, who believe in it, once we implement it. People find it difficult to believe that “love” can lead to concrete, quantifiable results, whether that’s resistance from managers or from team members on the ground.
This can often create a crisis of confidence: should I stick with my belief? Is it going to work in this new setting? Should I go back to what I was taught years ago? This gives rise to another challenge linked to self-confidence and being bold that you’re going in the right direction.
People can usually tell when their leadership doesn’t really believe in the strategy they’re implementing, so it’s important to back up the love philosophy with concrete action.
This means living the LOVE acronym and verb day to day, even more in moments of crisis or difficulty.
In some places, this can be very different from the culture that exists, but that’s ok. If you believe in it, lead by example, show the way, and when others start to ask you about how you’ve managed to have such a highly-engaged, devoted and performing team, you know the answer: L.O.V.E & Discipline (to love).
For more on the topic with Naji Gehchan, a selection of SpreadLove in Organizations episodes is available on The Choice.