By Salem Samhoud, &samhoud consultancy
“Das, you will be fifty in a few days, what would you like to do for the next ten years…?”
… Asks Salem Samhoud. We are in a beautiful place on the north eastern coast of India. “You will also be the same in three weeks, in fact you are in your fifties!” jokes Das. Narayandas is an eminent professor from Harvard Business School, dean of the leadership programme and vice-dean of the programme for building client management capacity in professional services companies. Frequently quoted in the economist and U.S. World News and Report, his professional experience includes working with brands such as IBM, Merrill Lynch, Thyssenkrupp and Microsoft, usually in the development of client satisfaction. And although you couldn’t tell, he is a friend of Salem Samhoud, another real Dutch guru and founding partner of the consulting firm &samhoud. We are listening to a fragment of their conversation over tea.
“Well, it has been an interesting week, that’s for sure. On the one hand, the day I reach fifty will be just another day. But it is also something of an inevitable barrier and one where you take stock. This is why I asked my mother not to organise a big celebration, because I think that it is a moment to stop and reflect. Most of my life has been spent working hard and teaching business at Harvard. I feel proud of this because I come from a spiritual family and from a culture that is rich in looking at the relationship between mind and body. As a professor at a business school, I often ask myself how I have enriched this sector, what I brought to it. At this time, many people are sceptical or cynical, and with good reason, about business schools and the business world in general, owing to the global economic recession, the financial instability and the consumer culture that generates discontent and makes people anxious. However, I think that the best business models are not based on thinking which is purely business, rational and logical, but on morality, and this means that a good businessman is, in reality, someone who is altruistic because he or she thinks about something bigger that himself or herself and about questions that lie beyond marketing or finance and with a vision which is suited to the times in which we live.
Consequently, over the next twenty years what I would like to do is to develop my work using a holistic focus on business and life and concentrate not only on external, but also internal phenomena. You, Salem, you know the Harvard Benefit-Value chain according to which when you treat your employees well they treat your clients well and, in turn, this results in benefits for your company. However, what is it that really makes a client happy? Is it something more than a good price or value for money? And what makes an employee happy apart from excellent remuneration, especially as far as the new generations are concerned? What is the type of person who in the near future will be capable of giving the best of himself or herself in a position of responsibility in an environment such as the one we have now, and why will he or she do it? These topics are more important now that we think. It is difficult to reply to these questions and at the same time to think about business, but I do not think that it is impossible.
Turning to the theme of business in the 21st century, I firmly believe that it is not only about profits, at least not exclusively. It seems to make ever more sense, including to consumers, that the director or businessman understands what influences his or her conduct and what goals, not only professional goals, he or she has. I firmly believe this.”
Salem agrees, and adds “Really, what we might call life processes are much more powerful than those in business. They align the plans of the individuals with those of their business or company, if you understand that they need to maintain a balance in their lives. If you can identify networks then it works because a management style based on domineering leadership is not logical unless you take into account the emotional component of your team. In reality, what makes me happy, including in the company, does not come from money but from satisfaction and feelings” When Das and Salem visited a master of meditation a few days ago he asked them what happiness meant for a company director, if it was not the same for everybody. Narayandas explained: “You and I agree, we both would like to end our careers saying that we are enjoying ourselves but we also took time to care for others. Are you going to celebrate your birthday?”
Samhoud smiles. “When I am twenty-five I will celebrate it for both of us, because the whole of life is a celebration. Including football! Now I feel the obligation to contribute, in my own way, to making this world a better place. Of course, only a little, but enough. Erich Fromm writes about love in a way I find interesting. I also agree that the strongest love one feels is for one’s society, and has to be balanced with love as a couple, which is certainly more egoistic, so that when I die I would like to be able to say that we had fun together and also that although I know that I was not able to change the world, I changed it in a limited, but real way. For example, I am very interested in the topic of connection. I am also very interested in children because they are the entrepreneurs of the future.
Narayandas asks, “how do you understand the real value of employees?” Samhoud explains. “When I was 18, my mother was left without a job. She needed it to keep going and help me with my education. My father had abandoned us years before. I remember that it was a Friday night and she couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t understand why, as she was, and is, marvellous, with so much energy, and I had never known her in such a state. A job should mean that a person feels better not worse than at home. I therefore try to always remember the example of my mother”. “That’s nice,” continues Das. ”The true leader builds a natural, not artificial empathy. This means having real reasons to admire your employees, let them get on with things and observe. In reality a company which is only focused on profits would also be a valid place to work, provided that this was clear for its employees and they know that they would not have any real interest in the project and, for this reason, the work should be mechanical, with it not being expected that the employee would get involved.”
Das Narayandas and Salem Samhoud, both in their fifties, agree about a transformation of the effective models of leadership. “I like to surround myself with different people to learn more, in reality this starts to be something indispensable” explains Narayandas. “I am a creative type but I cannot be this alone, I have to accept that there is a structure and that often I have to communicate more than I need and want, which requires me to make an effort. A leader has to accept the risk of listening to himself or herself, to encounter his or her own motivations but also needs to be prepared to then alter his or her behaviour. He or she also needs to care of himself of herself.” Narayandas continues the conversation which goes on for many hours, alluding to his origins, which makes it clear that there is a direct relationship between mind and body, between real contemporaneous leadership and spirituality. “I am sure, more than ever before, that the true leader is the one who is at peace with himself or herself, with his or her personal or professional objectives, the one who also manages to make those around him or her reach this balance between business and spirituality and understand this according to the person’s own individual culture.”