Unity As a Business Practice

One of the qualities of heart-based leadership is an ability to see opportunity where others don’t. This often means a willingness to do business in places and with people that many businesses disregard. Without a doubt, this takes a creativity and vision that single-minded focus on the bottom line may stifle. But more than that, it requires the belief that business isn’t a zero sum game, and that by enlarging the so-called “pie” so that more people and communities can participate, we all benefit.

One inspiring example of the power of inclusive business practice is the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago, and its founder and executive director, Rami Nashashibi, who was awarded the 2017 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award last month for his work in one of Chicago’s South Side poverty areas. The organization’s activities are extensive and various — from organizing farmers markets in previously run-down public spaces, flipping houses to sell to low-income residents, organizing cultural events, and running a health clinic — but address the needs of Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods while simultaneously promoting intercultural understanding and dialogue between communities that differ across racial, ethnic and religious lines.

Nashashibi’s commitment to inclusion has contributed to the strength of his organization, but this type of leadership requires the courage to choose love over divisiveness. In doing so, he’s created, in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, a “unique coalition of typically disparate constituencies—most notably, African American Muslims and Muslim immigrant communities in both low-income urban areas and wealthier suburbs.”

Could an organization comprised of one of these groups alone have created the value that IMAN has? It’s unlikely. It takes visionary leaders whose personal belief in unity — in Nashashibi’s case, this belief is grounded in his Islamic faith — translates to their business practice.

Satya Nadella: A Model for Today’s CEOs

Satya Nadella is a CEO who has achieved what so many in the business world believe can’t be done — create value for shareholders while practicing compassion and empowering employees. By leading from the heart, Microsoft’s CEO has revived the tech giant after it had suffered a string of setbacks. The more I read about Nadella, the more I believe he is a model for the leadership we need now and into the future.

He was a 20+-year veteran of the company who was considered an unlikely candidate for promotion to CEO. Soon after stepping into the role, he had all of his leaders read Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communications, the seminal blueprint for communicating in a way that empowers all involved. He promotes a growth-minded culture of “learn-it-alls” instead of the former accountability culture of “know-it-alls.”

Nadella believes people are wired to have empathy, which is critical not only for creating a harmonious work environment, but also for developing products that meet customers’ known and unarticulated needs. He empowers his teams to take risks and to set their missteps right. He sees diversity and inclusion as essential: If Microsoft wants to serve the world, it has to reflect the world.  He seeks to inspire and empower his people to work together for one Microsoft to make the company’s “dreams believable and achievable.”

So how is it going? Nadella says, “We are making great progress, but we should never be done.” The shareholders should be very happy: In less than four years, the company has generated more than $250 BILLION in market value – a feat that only a handful of seasoned CEOs can match.