Vincent Neate on “What we need is more love in the boardroom…”

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As I sit in meetings with clients discussing how they might improve, manage and measure the social impact of their businesses, I am increasingly tempted to throw the word “love” into the conversation to capture what seems to be being said. More than one client out there can probably quote me as saying – “what we need is more love in the boardroom”.

In the news this week we have read about Rory Cullinan, the now ex-chair of the ABS Investment Bank arm, who was “snapchatting” his daughter about being bored in meetings. What was the loving going on in this scenario? Where was love missing?

Clearly not in Mr Cullinan’s love for his daughter. Not only had he adopted her preferred method of communication with her (an act of love), but he was prepared to engage with her about the realities of a high-flying career (an act of love).

Leadership can be incredibly dull. In times of change and upheaval, no one wants to understand where you are trying to lead them. Frequently everyone you meet (in endless meetings) wants to tell you why things won’t work or the problems you are causing them. By pointing out to his daughter that success is not the same as a life of never ending satisfaction, but can still be beset by boredom, he is doing her an enormous favour. How many young people see the trappings of success, but not the hard work and drudgery that produced it? And when you get there you don’t swap boredom for non-stop entertainment – you just have to deal with a different level of boredom.

So let’s not be so hard on him. Instead, let us ask, “What can love tell us about the level of boredom we have to deal with? What if we showed as much love for our co-workers, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders as Mr Cullinan did for his daughter?” Is love the cure?

Boredom is not a feature of the circumstance I find myself in. The meeting is not boring – I am not choosing to find anything of interest in the meeting. The long report is not boring – I am not finding anything of interest in the long report. The subordinate with her challenges is not boring – I am not finding interest in helping her. If I choose love as a verb and love the others in the meeting, the reader of the report, the subordinate, as they need to be loved I subordinate my selfish ego to their needs and therein find interest in my work.

Perhaps the foolish thing Mr Cullinan did was to be found out in his honesty. It is hardly surprising that he loves his daughter differently and more than he loves his colleagues. Perhaps if he had loved his colleagues more he would not have been found out in his honesty because he would not have been bored. Now there is a lesson to pass on to our children.

Best

Vincent Neate

Partner

KPMG UK