I did not expect to consider the meaning of love when I attended the Social Venture Network (SVN) Conference. With my sales pitch and freshly printed business cards, I was prepared to impress a couple of hundred new connections. On the first night when Deb Nelson, [then] Executive Director of SVN, said that 15 years ago, love drew her into the SVN community, I realized I might need to rethink my strategy.
Social Venture Network-ers love to love. Like the kind of love that at first makes you feel awkward because you know it's real, raw, and unadulterated. Scary moments of vulnerability creep up on you unexpectedly, and you find yourself giving into the openness of your heart with another person, completely forgetting the three business goals for which you decided to take time off work and come to the SVN conference. This happened to me the first night when I unintentionally sat next to Corey Blake, founder and CEO Round Table Companies, a branding and storytelling company for thought leaders. You would think two storytellers sitting next to each other at dinner would indulge their inner nerds and spend the evening debating the meaning of depreciated words like sustainability. At the least, I expected to hear about how RTC was changing the world. Blake surprised me with a teaching on love at work. (He also surprised with me a huge tattoo of the word love scripted across his arm.)
In fact, Blake has made a name for himself as "The Love Guy." Love, Blake told me, is the core of who they are at RTC, and love is what they offer to their clients and in their work. But it wasn't always that way. Six years into running the business, Blake was stressed out. He would vomit his stress on other people, causing his colleagues to absorb his negativity.
"I was sucking the joy out of the company when I was coming to work from that place of stress," says Blake.
A close friend and former RTC chief operating officer confronted Blake. He told him that if he didn't address this, RTC would lose a lot of their talented staff. It was a wake-up call for Blake and, from that season on, he intentionally shifted his approach by doubling down on his own personal development. Soon after, a love-driven culture emerged at RTC.
"We started asking ourselves, 'What would it look like to bring love to a challenge? How do I come from a place of love with someone who is triggering something in me?'" explains Blake.
Blake described to me what love looks like in practice at RTC:
1. Offering Focused Presence: Each teammate, as Blake describes his employees, aspires to offer a 100 percent presence with people. With clients and with colleagues, this means active listening, directed focus, an engaged attitude, and always remembering to look for the best in others. This has allowed RTC to retain clients they might have otherwise viewed as misaligned with their values.
"As we support someone in their life story, a lot can rise to the surface for them, like unhealed pain," explains Blake. "In response, the client might avoid the project for a week or two. So, when they miss a conference call, instead of saying, 'We were all waiting on a call for you and you never showed up,' we shift it to a perspective of understanding and say, 'We are aware of some challenges with your project. Can we hop on the phone to hear how this process is going for you?'"
2. Personal Development: RTC pays an executive coach a monthly retainer so that teammates have support with personal and professional challenges. Teammates also attend RTC University, an online training platform that serves as a best practice guide for love. A tutorial on setting boundaries with clients, for example, teaches teammates how to honor their clients as they share personal stories while loving themselves and noticing their own trigger points.
3. Intentional Vulnerability: Or rather as an RTC company mantra puts it: Vulnerability is Sexy. In part, this means owning personal mistakes and working through conflict together. It also means recognizing the humanity in one another and in their clients.
"All of us are dealing with something: sick children, sick parents, financial stress, something at work that pokes at us in the gut. At RTC, we create a safe place where people can be real. We can feel closer, build on the trust we share in that environment to do the best work we are capable of doing," says Blake.
As a completely virtual company, RTC has learned to build love and trust through online and phone relationships. Their endeavor, Path to Purpose, is a monthly subscription service for people looking to re-author how they show up in the world. Members have access to articles, videos, assignments, group coaching calls, live seminars/webinars, and a private community for support. The program offers complete tracks to support members in articulating their purpose, sharing their story, creating a thought leadership platform, and monetizing their tribe.
Love in business is good for business, too. Five years ago, 20 percent of RTC's clients were their ideal customers. Today, it's more than 90 percent. Not bad for a company with a bit more than 10 years behind it. Maybe, love is the answer, like the 70s band England Dan and John Ford Coley have been telling us all these years.
"We are addicted to love. It generates great results and we all get to go to bed knowing we gave our best to a fellow human being," says Blake.