Leadership and love: Top executives talk about love in office

CEOS (1)

“What kind of a guy is he?” I once asked a communications person as I sat at a bohemian reception waiting to interview her boss, a legend in the industry who had a reputation for curtness, brusqueness, and general terseness. He had just taken over from another legend. 

“If the lift opened on the ground floor and you saw this guy in there headed up, you’d not join him in the lift as you would his predecessor," she said, “He’s efficient but he’s not known for his warmth. Not a guy you want to ride the lift up with.”

Should a leader be very approachable or should you think twice before knocking on his open door? Should a leader do group hugs and engage in Kumbaya or should he be a figure that is revered but maybe also feared? How much love should a leader wear on their sleeves? Does a leader have to love those he leads? Two great successful corporate men with two distinct leadership styles.

And because today is a day of love, I called up a few business leaders and posed some of these questions to them.


Jennifer Karina 

Consultant Psychologist, Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Author


Jennifer is going out for dinner tonight at a Japanese restaurant, with two other couples. She will be wearing yellow for the evening, the colour of friendship. 

“I celebrated 45 years of marriage last December,” she says, “I would still marry Bob if I was to do it all over again.  We will meet this couple because they have had an impact in our lives. They are our cheerleaders and the couple we sharpen one another with in terms of business and family.”

When did she suffer a grave heartbreak in leadership?

“I started  a business 18 years ago that collapsed. It was a very difficult failure for me to handle. It drove me into depression. But you need such heartbreaking moments of failure to gain courage. 

And you can’t bounce to your greatness from the top. You bounce from the bottom. The irony also is that the only thing that can prepare you for greatness is failure.”

Joe Ogutu

Business and Church Leader, Retired Ex-Safaricom Executive, Gentleman


“Of course I’m aware it’s Valentine’s Day. Is there anybody who doesn’t with all these commercials?” He laughs. 

“I don't mean to sound like I’m copping out but every day should be Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, my wife is under the weather so I will be playing caregiver. And I’m delighted that I’m able to do that now for her seeing as I’m not in the corporate rat race.”

Does he think it is possible to love and be a great leader at the same time or does love intrude in leadership?

“I think we have to be clear about what we are talking about here. There is the issue of emotional intelligence (EQ) and the issue of empathy. EQ is key, not only for a leader but for a human being. It’s being sensitive to the needs, feelings, moods, and concerns of the team you are handling. 

You can’t lead with total oblivion of people’s feelings in pursuit of goals. And this is a muscle you build, although for some people it comes out naturally. Many people in leadership are extremely driven and impatient and these are the people who have to deliberately work on their sense of compassion and empathy.”

Sammy Wainaina 

Provost All Saints Cathedral


Of course, Sammy sounds like a preacher because he is a preacher, 27 years now. And counting. His insight on leadership and emotions?

“Love is only one expression of emotion but emotions, in general, are critical in leadership because they help build trust and strengthen relationships. They helps you set the vision and sell that to people. But emotions in leadership have to be genuine otherwise leadership falls flat on its face.

You can’t lead people you can’t love. To lead you have to connect and that requires emotions. But when a leader leads without emotional intelligence (EQ) they hurt people. Good leaders must be genuine to share genuine feelings. Many leaders like to hide emotions in an attempt to look strong but in reality, doing that diminishes our control and capacity to lead,” he says.

Has he been hurt because of the emotions he gave as a leader?

“I have. But it's because I was too excited or naive in leadership. I took criticism too personally and that hurt me and in turn, I hurt others because of that. But over time in my ministry journey, God has given me clarity to see that it’s never me someone might be criticising. He has given me the ability to forgive these people but also forgive myself because he has shown me to appreciate that I’m human and I’m bound to fail,” he says.

Shaka Kariuki

Board chairman of the Competition Authority of Kenya

Is it possible to lead with love?

“Yes, it is possible. While you would think the most important things in a business are revenue, profits, business models, and human capital, you can love those you lead without forsaking your company’s objectives. While all these are vital components of any successful business the most important is people. 

“With the right boundaries in place, showing genuine concern or compassion for the people you lead will not diminish your respectability or reputation as a strong leader, but it will instead bring out the best in them while fostering an environment that is conducive to growth. Love is essential not only for business leaders but leaders in every area of life.

For example I once was a janitor during my college days, and hardly ever did anyone acknowledge me. It meant so much whenever a stranger would say a simple hello or good morning as I swept the floors.

For this reason, I always make sure I go out of my way to acknowledge everyone no matter their station in life, to show compassion, consideration, kindness in all possible aspects.”

Patricia Ithau  

CEO, WPP Scangroup


“For the past 29 years I have celebrated the day with my husband, but this year I’m celebrating with a small group of girlfriends. A dinner,” she says.

“We shouldn’t always think that love should only be transferred to others. We should also learn to direct that love to ourselves, to dedicate more time to loving ourselves, loving our pain and imperfections because then we will be better equipped and learned to love others.”

She talks about the analogy of the oxygen mask safety announcement on aeroplanes. “They tell passengers to place their masks first before helping others for a reason,”she says. “You can’t offer any love or kindness or compassion to anyone before you offer yourself the same. I think this applies to leadership as it does in life.”

She will be wearing black with a touch of red.

Dr Mary Okello, 

A Woman of Firsts


“Is it Valentine’s Day? Oh boy, I didn’t know,” she laughs through her patchy phone signal. 

She is retired in the village in Kibos, Kisumu County, but ironically she is busier than she was before retirement: She is preparing for a speech on Saturday, preparing the shamba for the rains, mediating border issues, working with widows in the village. 

“I haven't retired, I have simply shifted gears,” she says.

When was her leadership heartbreak?

“You will get heartbroken in leadership because you are dealing with people. But disappointments in people don't stop you from leading with empathy and compassion even though you sometimes will be taken advantage of.

And when people fail to see through your values it breaks your heart and you will ask yourself what you didn’t do. What was your role in the failure? 

And these are not easy questions to ask yourself because they make you vulnerable. But these are not unique problems in leadership because you have to love the people you lead so that you understand them. We are people of emotions.

Jesus led us with compassion and love even when we let him down.”

Anonymous CEO

“Biko, I will answer you,” the CEO said, “but you can’t use my name in the newspaper. OK?”

“I want to say here that it is the lack of showing emotions that is killing men. This idea that as a leader, at home and at work, you can't show real emotion, that you can’t show joy, pain and vulnerability because you have been made to think that is weak.

Jikaze, wewe ni mwanaume is dangerous thinking because it means then that you can’t tell anyone that you are unable to pay school fees or rent. And when you don’t have a valve to vent, like women do amongst themselves. Your solution is to check out.

Everybody, not just leaders, should be okay to wear their emotions on their sleeves. It’s not a weakness, it's a strength.”

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