How seeing more than the bottom line leads to more effective leadership

Wakefulness is not the first trait you may think of for effective leadership. Empathy and reflection aren’t typically considered strategic business values. And that emotional intelligence should be a factor in hiring is foreign.

However, corporate America should be about more than just the bottom line — a stakeholder approach with social responsibility is key, says Joan F. Marques, Ph.D., Ed.D., assistant dean of the school of business, chair and director of the BBA Program, and an associate professor of management at Woodbury University.

“Effective leadership consists of a mix of hard and soft skills,” she says. “A major part of being an effective leader is being human, vulnerable, seeing the big picture, the purpose to what you do.”

Smart Business spoke with Marques about the responsibility of corporate leadership.

How does the notion of the awakened leader sync up with the bottom-line mentality that drives corporate America?

Is corporate America awake? Yes and no. In the past two decades, we’ve seen evidence of corporations run by individuals excessively focused on profits. A great many leaders are still driven by a bottom-line mentality. It even drives our students — I once had an MBA student who wanted a ‘massive bank account.’ But the process of waking up involves realizing there is more to life than money. Many people go through life sleepwalking, never questioning it. In the book ‘True North,’ Bill George writes of ‘crucibles,’ suggesting that most people wake up only when confronted with loss, illness or something painful. 

There needs to be a middle path. You cannot ignore profit, but it should not happen at the expense of others. If you consider the well-being of customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders, getting to a certain level of profitability will probably take longer, but your conscience will be intact. 

Thankfully, a growing number of business schools are awakening to this trend. Many are addressing the responsibility MBAs have to the larger community, taking into account workplace spirituality and ethical leadership. It’s a break from the kinds of leaders they were grooming in past decades.

You’ve suggested that empathy and reflection are key corporate values. What’s the best way to ensure they find their way into corporate best practices?

Empathy and reflection are personal and interpersonal values, and the best way to incorporate them is on those levels, preferably starting at the top. Of course, some believe these values don’t belong in the workplace — just as so many examples prove the necessity of including them. 

Consider Starbucks. Their products aren’t cheap, and on price alone there doesn’t appear to be much empathy. But below the surface, the company has done a lot. Empathy and reflection were foundational for the company, stemming largely from Howard Schultz’s personal experience growing up. For years, Starbucks has been providing health insurance to part-time workers, the company ceased using milk that includes bovine growth hormone, and it has looked at how it uses and conserves water. 

Another example is Costco, which works with only a 15 percent markup. Costco employees get stellar salaries for that industry, resulting in a happier workforce that treats customers better.

Cases like these show that empathy and reflection have value, long-term.

Businesses are good at hiring for cognitive intelligence, but how are they at screening for emotional intelligence?

Generally, businesses don’t screen for emotional intelligence, which is inherent in stakeholder approach and social responsibility. In order to screen for it, they would need to practice emotional intelligence first.

We did a study on how business students, especially undergraduates, look at leadership values. Empathy ranked lowest in perceived importance for leaders while charisma and networking came out on top. Respondents saw no place for emotional intelligence.

So far, there has been a mutually supporting dynamic at play: the business world demanded short-term profits and students delivered it upon entering. As business educators, we are facing the immense task to evoke a paradigm shift. We’re diligently working on it.

Joan F. Marques, Ph.D., Ed.D., is assistant dean of the school of business; chair and director, BBA Program; and associate professor, management at Woodbury University. Reach her at (818) 394-3391 or [email protected].

More wakefulness quotes, points to ponder and action plans can be found in Joan’s book, “Joy at Work, Work at Joy: Living and Working Mindfully Every Day.” Find it on

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