Is there a Place for Beauty in Business?

Recently I was reading one of my favorite weekly columns, The Corner Office, where Adam Bryant interviews CEOs from virtually every industry to cite leadership principles learned from their experience. This week was a robust, hard-hitting interview with Jacqueline Novogratz, who is the CEO of of the Acumen Fund, which invests in businesses aiding the world’s poor.

Much of what Jacqueline shared was not earth shattering or revolutionary. She touts truisms regarding leadership in the year 2012 such as, “Start by just listening, just trying to understand what’s going wrong,” “Reject ideology, reject trite assumptions, reject the status quo, and be really open to listening to solutions from people who are most impacted by the problems,” “Lean in and pay attention not only to what someone is saying, but also to their body language and their level of comfort or discomfort,” and “You’ve got to be audacious enough to set goals that make you stretch and give you clarity of vision and purpose. But you have to have the humility to know that this work is hard, and that you might not get there.”

I respect and agree with these perspectives, and applaud her audacity to speak them on a public stage.

However, the item I was particularly intrigued by was her answer to a question relative to hiring and her interviewing process. She is famously known for a ‘5 minute interview’ where she sizes individuals up based upon a few soul-searching questions. One such question is: “What are you most proud of, and what are you doing when you feel most beautiful?” Admittedly, she states that folks get a little confused by that last question, and they’ll ask, “What do you mean by beautiful?” What I simply loved about her rationale for asking this question was her clarity that we, as leaders, build things of beauty from the inside out. When our passions and desires to contribute override every other potential obstacle or fear. She states that we are most successful when “You are shining, when you’re in the zone, when you’re on fire.” I couldn’t agree more fervently. I have written several articles on being in the zone, following our passions, and truly being in alignment – i.e.: doing what we love to do, and are good at, which is ultimately tied to something greater than ourselves.

We can learn so much about ourselves and our co-workers when we honestly know and embrace when we feel most beautiful. This is where our passion is found and thus, where our most powerful energy is released. Though I may never have used the word beauty when discussing interviewing techniques and qualities of potential team members, I have a new perspective after reading this interview.

What do you think? When do you feel most beautiful?

2 responses to “Is there a Place for Beauty in Business?

  1. What a wonderful, thought provoking sentiment. It must originate from someone who prefers to prioritise the humane above the bottom line or pay check. Whilst the latter 2 are important to cope with day to day obligations, the idea that we can “feel” or be seen as of beautiful seems an almost alien concept in a world so focused on visual aesthetics.

    Ironically practicing the things that can make us feel beautiful (being present, really listening, empathy) seems increasingly illusive amidst the pressure to respond to the ever growing forms of communication (email, text, instant messenger, cell phones, tweets, writing on digital walls etc. ….).

    Jaqueline’s comments give us all a reason to hope 🙂

  2. I think the question on “beauty in the work environment” is such an intriguing thought. I think we can feel that “flow” moment not only in ourselves but also in others. It is almost like the vibration of a tuning fork setting off sympathetic vibrations around us. That question in particular adds quite a bit of insight into how people are hard wired, which makes it easier to determine fit for skills and attitude in the workplace.

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