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‘Looking East: the emotional side of leadership’

‘Looking East: the emotional side of leadership’

Posted by Vlerick Business School
on Jul 1, 2019

On 16 May, Harley Lovegrove gave an inspiring lecture on ‘Looking East’. The lecture focused on finding ‘your North’, your direction in life. Ella Remmerie and Pieter-Jan De Mulder, Masters in General Management students had the opportunity to attend this inspiring lecture.

What is your North star? What drives you in life? What energises you when you wake up every morning? Are you making a difference? Somewhere between sleeping and waking, these kinds of thoughts and questions come to our minds. Every one of us needs a North, a goal in life, a raison d’être.

Yet, at certain points in life, we face these questions without seeing the answer. Lovegrove illustrates this by referring to Bob Dylan’s ironic but brilliant idea: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”. As a young person, you think you know everything, as if you were old and wise. At some stage in life however, you realize there’s a lot more you don’t know, just like a young child. In his talk, Lovegrove urges us to reflect on our lives and find an answer to what’s our North star, where we’re headed.

What’s the centre of your world?

Birds know where they are headed. They fly thousands of miles between breeding and wintering grounds. How do they do it? Scientists have formulated many theories, ranging from sensing earth’s magnetic field, smell recognition, or the route being printed in their DNA, to some less plausible theories such as the number of wingbeats a bird has to fly to arrive at its destination. But many people don’t know where they’re headed. They follow their daily routine, without asking themselves these essential questions in life. People, however, need a North. It gives us a direction to go in life, it’s a reference point, our foundation. This centre can be different for everybody. It depends on your view of the world. Lovegrove illustrates this by showing 2 different maps of the world. The first map shows Europe as the centre of the world, a familiar image. However, the second map shows China in the middle, while Europe looms at the edge of the map. This perspective calls us to be humble. In a way, it’s even disturbing. If our views of the world are different, how can we align to the same goals? Still, all these different perspectives should not distract us from the real centre of our lives, which – hopefully – are the people around us, our wife or husband, our children, all the people we love.

Looking East versus looking West

Lovegrove shows us the importance of ‘Looking East’ – in contrast to ‘Looking West’ – when searching for our personal North Star. This image of Looking East versus Looking West is tellingly embodied by Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, and of duality, who is depicted as having two faces, one looking to the past (West), the other to the future (East).

Looking West is about WHAT you do and HOW you do things, while Looking East is about WHY you do things. Lovegrove refers to the Golden Circle principle of Simon Sinek, the famous British-American author and motivational speaker, who is widely praised for his book ‘Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action’. The Golden Circle principle is a simple but powerful model that encourages inspirational leadership, by starting with the WHY.

Looking West is about WHAT and HOW you do things. It drives the whole of our businesses. It is the foundation of most organizations, with ‘what you offer or produce’ as the means and purpose for operation. However, this perspective doesn’t inspire anyone. It is about science, analytics and mathematics, about rational rules and structures, about the ubiquitous strive for EFFICIENCY. Nobody is inspired by the job description ‘To get our products to our customers faster and more efficiently than our competitors’. In contrast, by starting with ‘Why’: ‘To help secure the long-term future of our business’, an employee will see the real purpose, the very reason why his job is so important. It will motivate him or her to go one step further and make a difference.


Starting with ‘What’ in contrast to ‘Why’ explains why many organizations do not succeed in solving the root cause of the problems they face. They are blinded by the ‘What’ and get stuck with futilely trying to solve symptoms instead of real problems.

Looking East is about starting with the WHY question. Why are we doing the things that people expect us to do? ‘Why’ is the Magic Motivator. It gives true meaning to ‘what’ you do. It is searching for truth, respect, love and is linked with our intuition, values and beliefs. It’s about contemplation.

“WHY is the magic motivator.”

The ability to ‘Look East’ defines the difference between a good and a great leader. A leader inspires his people by helping them to Look East and explaining why people should follow him. Great leaders and organizations communicate inside out: They start with WHY. By showing people the purpose, we can inspire them to take those specific actions to realize the WHY. We empower them to work out the ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘when’ for themselves! As a manager, you should not be busy with explaining the WHAT and the HOW to your team, you should inspire them by showing the WHY and trusting them to develop the WHAT and HOW themselves.

“Looking East defines the difference between a good and a great leader.”

Dare to look in the mirror

Since Looking East is so important for individuals to be happy and for organizations to be successful, why is it so difficult for many of us? Looking East means you make yourself vulnerable, it makes you open yourself. However, we often want to stay professional and not be too sensitive by showing what we believe in. Even worse, we are often afraid of rejection and criticism.

If we show trust by opening ourselves to people, they might actually start believing in us. If we become more personal, people might relate to us. It is in our human nature to make mistakes, but those mistakes will lead us somewhere. Looking at ourselves through the eyes of others, might give us the energy we need to push our boundaries. Only by adding the emotional side to our leadership can we be inspirational enough to become the next great leader. By showing empathy, we can inspire our teams to achieve great things. By being aware of the road we’re on, showing our emotional side when delegating or giving instructions, and being able to ask for help when needed, we can become succesful leaders.

When Looking East, we can begin to see the world for the first time. By looking, listening and engaging, we connect in a new and powerful way that makes our business projects and lives Fun, Meaningful, Effective and Successful!

By looking East, we really can make a difference!

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