Gustav Arianto, Pierlite ANZ CEO. Guest blog : Leading with the heart as a CEO
A message from Brainiact
Brainiact is excited to have had the opportunity to sit down with Gustav Arianto and discuss his insights into the core foundations of strong leadership. Gustav, or Gus as he prefers, is the magnetic CEO of Pierlite and has gained over 20 years of management experience in a variety of different leadership roles. He is one of the most inspirational and well-loved CEO’s that we’ve ever met. Gus has managed hundreds of different employees in his career, and they can’t seem to stop raving about him.
‘As a manager, he is admired by all as his drive and passion is contagious to the rest of the team,’ says one of Gus’s past employees.
Another employee, who reported to Gus, says, ‘Gus is a leader who brings out the best in his team through nurturing, encouragement and an amazing ability to connect with people at all levels.’
Yet another employee, who worked with Gus, explains, ‘Gus demonstrates the highest levels of energy and people skills. He is focused on building a positive culture and building a better business. He is a true inspiration to those around him - who he teaches, coaches and mentors.’
If you didn’t take our word for it, take these real-life employee experiences as a testament to Gus’s remarkable leadership. As we go through the testimonies left by Gus’s employees on his LinkedIn profile, there’s one common denominator that keeps coming up – his devotion to his people. With Gus, we see a CEO who is breaking down the walls between leaders and their employees by embracing vulnerability, encouraging kindness, and leading with the heart.
Here is what Gus has to say about leading with the heart as CEO of a major corporation.
Leading with the heart as a CEO
It’s common for companies to open up discussions around mental wellbeing on event days such as ‘R U OK? Day’ and World Mental Health Day. However, as CEO of Pierlite, I’ve learnt that it is not enough to address vulnerability on a few days of the year. Showing vulnerability and embracing feelings and emotions is something that should be embedded in a company’s work culture, every day of the year.
When you open a thesaurus and look up synonyms for ‘vulnerability’, you’ll see negative words like ‘weakness’, ‘fragility’ and ‘defencelessness.’ Maybe that’s why so many people are scared to be vulnerable. However, your boss shouldn’t be a thesaurus (I’d be concerned if they were). Bosses, managers, and CEOs should lead as real humans, and sometimes, that means showing vulnerability to encourage transparency, progress, and empathy in the workplace. These qualities can only empower your employees and make your business stronger, which I’ve witnessed first-hand as CEO of Pierlite.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen too many managers lead with their heads, and not with their hearts. I believe there should be a balance between the two for maximum success. Insights from Deloitte state that, ‘In everything they do during a crisis, resilient leaders express empathy and compassion for the human side of the upheaval.’ Similarly, an article from Forbes discussed how ‘hearts-in’ CEOs are the most successful leaders. Looks like it’s not just me who thinks so! Many industry-leading corporations are also talking about the importance and effectiveness of leading with the heart.
Being an intimidating boss is bad for business
What else does leading with the heart prioritise? Trust, positivity, and collegiality. Harvard Business Review and The Energy Project conducted a study with 20,000 employees from dozens of countries around the world, and found that only 29% of respondents feel a sense of safety and trust in their workplace. On top of this, only a tiny 25% of respondents said they feel like they can provide their leader with honest feedback! The sad thing is, I’m not that surprised by these results. Many of us have experienced the displeasure of working for someone we feared, did not respect, or were intimidated by. If you feel like your employees might be intimidated or afraid of you, it’s time to reassess your leadership style.
An unhealthy company culture is not something that should be brushed off, for the sake of both your employees and business. Research from the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies found that leaders who managed their employees using pressure tactics experienced a 90% increase in the predicted turnover of employees. On the other hand, leaders who favoured inspirational tactics of management experienced a 68% decrease in predicted employee turnover rates.
Vulnerability – the key to human connections
At Pierlite, we actively try to foster a culture of trust, safety, and vulnerability in a tight-knit community. One way we achieve this is by encouraging our staff to be vulnerable with each other in order to grow healthy relationships, promote transparency and honesty, and ensure that they feel supported and heard at Pierlite.
Opening up and being vulnerable is something we make sure to encourage in team settings, including during collaborative work, meetings, and social events. Additionally, we encourage our staff to share their feelings on social media, as this promotes important discussions and strengthens connections among our team. To see more of how the Pierlite team generates discussions online, check out the #PierliteProud thread by searching the hashtag on LinkedIn. By facilitating a safe environment for our employees to be vulnerable, we are rewarded with honest feedback that helps our company improve, increased employee satisfaction that results in higher productivity and loyalty, and a stronger Pierlite community built on positivity and collegiality. This is another example of how leading with the heart and showing vulnerability in the workplace can make a business stronger.
Personally, I like to keep in touch with my employees by taking the time to sit down and chat with them – not about work or business, but about them. By simply asking things like ‘Are you okay?’, ‘How are you doing today?’, ‘What’s been on your mind lately?’, you can get a real insight into how your colleagues are doing. Reading this, you might be a little sceptical – it’s not common for employees to openly discuss their honest thoughts and feelings with their CEO. However, I like to think that Pierlite has broken down that traditional workplace hierarchy.
We work endlessly to ensure that every member of Pierlite is treated with the same respect, kindness, and authenticity regardless of their work title. To solidify this, I banned the word ‘boss’ in the office. That’s right, no one calls anyone their boss because I hate that word! When people use the word ‘boss’, it feels like one person is more important, which is simply not true. Our positions at Pierlite reflect our work responsibilities, not the amount of power we wield over others.
I came from a third-world country where I attended a low performing school. My main source of income for years was from cleaning toilets. I juggled three jobs to get by, even after graduating from university with an engineering degree. Yet, I wouldn’t change my experience for anything because it reminds me – who am I to boss others around? No one is better than anyone else regardless of their job title.
I can’t speak on behalf of my colleagues and declare that they are open and honest with me about their thoughts and feelings. However, I am certain that Pierlite’s work culture incorporates vulnerability and honesty. I try to stay in touch with my employees by asking open-ended questions, keeping my office door open, and having lunch with them. I find that lunchtime is a great time to take a break from business talk and to connect with my team on a more personal level. In fact, one of my favourite wellbeing programs that we’ve initiated at Pierlite was our ‘Authentic Relationships’ event in May. Over a week, each of Pierlite’s local offices participated in our Culinary Connections lunches. This was an opportunity for each department to share food and learn something new about each other while enjoying a diverse (and delicious!) lunch.
Empowering others through education
People often ask me this question: ‘why did you become a CEO if you don’t want to be called ‘boss’?’ I tell them that chasing power and status is not what leading with the heart is about. Rather, it is about leading with authenticity and kindness to help others grow. When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up because I loved helping others. It is, and always has been, my passion. Whether I’m teaching my Pierlite employees or the cook at my local noodle shop, I feel fulfilled and energised when I get to help people learn and grow. Education is empowerment. Empowerment is Pierlite. This is why I’ve made sure my passion for teaching is embedded into our company’s practices and culture. One way we do this is our shadow program, where employees from different departments have the opportunity to shadow company executives like the CEO or CFO and learn from them. This program empowers employees from any department by allowing them to understand the ins and outs of the company, so they can exceed in their position and pass on knowledge to their colleagues.
One final note
Being CEO of Pierlite has reinforced my love and appreciation for leading with the heart. Through this leadership style, I have seen my Pierlite colleagues flourish and grow. I can also fulfil my passion for teaching while also learning from the people around me who are not afraid to give me feedback and vocalise their thoughts. Leading with the heart and encouraging vulnerability in the workplace has enabled me to establish real connections with my colleagues and being able to call them my friends has been a highlight of my career.
So, to all the business owners, team leaders, managers, directors, and CEO’s out there, I ask you – have you been leading with the heart? Are your employees unafraid to be vulnerable and talk about their feelings at work? Do your employees give you honest feedback? If not, I encourage you to incorporate more hearts-in leadership tactics in your workplace. You might be surprised by the results.