Twenty to thirty years ago, conversations about the environment and climate change started appearing. At that time, there were rumours that icebergs at the North Pole were melting, plastic waste was killing marine life, toxic waste was being pumped into rivers, and exhaust fumes from cars and factory chimneys was poisoning the air. Immediately, some of us were convinced that these things were true, and we changed the way we lived. However, most of us were in denial, either thinking that it wasn’t true, or feeling that it was OK because it didn’t affect us personally. Like ostriches, we stuck our heads in the sand, not wanting to see and hear how the climate and environment around us was slowly changing. Activists had a continual uphill battle of raising awareness and educating people about climate change; it’s devastating, destroying our planet, and it’s here to stay! They encouraged people to take drastic action now, not in years to come.
Fast forward to 2020, where we have constant validation that the climate has changed. There are heatwaves in countries who aren’t used to such high temperatures, droughts, flooding, volcanic eruptions, earth tremors, cyclones, and devastating forest fires. We can no longer be ostriches and say that the warnings we received two decades ago are not our current reality.
People-centred and conscious leadership mindset
I feel we’ve reached the exact same thing in organisations where, for the last ten years, conversations have been around shifting from a profit-centred to a people-centred mindset. Many organisations are in denial and rigidly follow an industrial-era type business model with top-down hierarchies, focusing on making short-term profits, driving strategic goals, and maximising shareholder returns. At the core there is nothing wrong with this business approach, as organisations exist to make profits and be competitive. However, the model has lost its people-centred focus. The human element is missing, and people are often seen as a commodity that can easily be replaced, similar to a piece of machinery. But people are not machines, and they cannot be treated as such. They have hearts, emotions, goals, and individual strengths. Everyone is unique and has so much to offer. Your people are your organisation’s biggest asset, not your biggest liability!
Like environmental activists, I am the well-being, people-centred activist who wants to make you aware that leaders must adjust their style and mindset for future organisation success. You can, of course, be in denial, like we did with the environment, but the results are not going to be what you want in the years to come. Do your best to bring conscious leadership into your organisation now, because it’s a strategic change that requires time to roll out and implement. It needs time because it involves an entire culture change. I know that this concept may be scary, but it need not be if it’s done in small steps. Carrying on the way you’re doing business right now will have long-term negative consequences because the climate of organisations is changing drastically. Introducing conscious leadership into your organisation will keep you ahead of the curve; don’t wait to jump on the band wagon.
What is Consciousness?
Consciousness is about being fully-present and aware; directing your attention to what’s happening to you in the moment on a thinking, feeling, and sensing level. It’s about paying attention without judgement, or attachment to your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. It takes you out of the reactive, knee-jerk reaction we all fall prey to, and allows you to be introspective. When you are conscious, you can focus your attention inward for a minute or two and explore what’s going on for you. What’s going through your mind, what emotions are you feeling, and what is your gut telling you? Becoming consciously aware allows you to take a step back from a situation, out of ego-mode, and to openly assess what is happening for you as well as for others. Ultimately, it allows you to make ethical decisions, and to find solutions to complex scenarios. Living more consciously raises your level of empathy and compassion, which in turn results in being more flexible in your thinking, more solution-orientated. In this way, we can build stronger relationships, and we can also support those around us.
What is Conscious Leadership?
From a leadership point of view, conscious leadership means being present, fully connected, and authentic with your team. It involves making a mental mind shift to lead in the new leadership way that straddles both the importance of making profit as well as caring about the team’s well-being, and being people-centred. The focus is on long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains, and for that change you need to invest in your people and their well-being. Like the call for us to stop abusing the planet, here is the call for us to make an organisational shift and bring in conscious leadership.
Fred Kofman, author of the book Conscious Business, says that a conscious leader shows responsibility, humility, collaborative communication, win-win conflict resolution, integrity, emotional mastery, and excellent self-awareness. Reading these criteria, one can see that conscious leadership has a soft side that is very people-centred. It’s something that goes deep and cannot be reached when rigidly adhering to, and honouring, processes and procedures. It has an element of vulnerability, of not knowing the answers, of not controlling or managing people, and of being curious and open-minded to situations. It is this vulnerability that makes leaders uncomfortable and afraid to shift into conscious leadership. But, it if you want your organisation to remain competitive, you need to take the bold step and instil a people-centred culture and shift to a conscious leadership style. Start with these three small, and non-overwhelming steps.
Three non-overwhelming steps
- Buffer your reactive knee-jerk reactions: Only through bringing in mindful consciousness can you become fully present in the moment and register what a trigger is doing to you. Learn to take five deep breaths, count to 20, or take a 10-minute walk before you respond. Find yourself a visual reminder to assist in these sorts of situations, and find a place to stick this reminder where you’ll see it easily. Once you’ve cooled off and put some distance between yourself and the situation, reflect on how you’re feeling at the time and what you ideally want from it. Then communicate that in an open and positive way.
- Take full accountability for a situation: As difficult as this may sound, a conscious leader takes ownership and responsibility for a situation that didn’t go according to plan. Learn to not shift into a victim mentality, or blaming others, but rather understand how your leadership behaviour and actions have contributed to the problem. This is a combination of looking inward and then outward, rather than just outward, which is our autopilot mode. Once you can see that you are part of the problem, you can be part of the solution and navigate it in the direction you want it to go.
- Act, think, and behave with intention: Learning to bring intention to everybody and everything you engage with requires that you decide upfront how you are going to show up. Bring awareness to how you want to come across when you interact with your team and what you want to experience in a situation. If you would like to enjoy your day at the office, have a pleasant experience doing your job, and a solid connection with your team, you have to set this intention upfront, because then that’s exactly what will happen! Even when things don’t go according to plan, you’ll consciously decide to look for solutions and not for this situation to derail you.
You may only be able to remain in denial for a very short time, but the writing is on the wall. Organisations who don’t want to fail, downsize, or close down, will eventually have to make the shift to a people-centred culture. Start today with small steps and keep working on it bit by bit as change takes time both from a mindset and from an implementation point of view.