Don’t Aim To Be a Perfect Leader — Aim For Conscious Leadership, Instead
Leading others is a responsibility. Leading others in an era where workers are quitting their jobs in droves in search for environments where they will feel valued and won’t sacrifice their well-being for a paycheck is a whole new ballgame. Enter conscious leadership. A conscious leader will, by default, do a better job in this day and age than a well-intentioned leader aiming to do things by the book.
“Conscious leadership matters in 2022 because the world has changed, people are evolving, and leaders need to do the same.
Employees are no longer willing to work for ‘command and control’ leaders whose primary goal is profit and who treat employees as expendable,” says Monica Bourgeau, a futurist and consultant specializing in the future of work and leadership, and the author of The Change Code: A Practical Guide to Making a Difference in a Polarized World.
“The backlash against this type of leadership and corporate culture can be seen in the number of employees changing jobs and leaving companies in the Great Resignation.”
“We must have conscious leaders if we are to truly face the upheavals still to come,” adds Libby Robinson, master certified coach and managing partner of Integral, a consultancy that specializes in mindful and resilient leadership work.
What is conscious leadership?
Awareness. Authenticity. Empathy. Purpose. Those are a few characteristics of conscious leaders. According to Robinson, while it used to be more niche, the idea of conscious leadership has been around for a while, and concepts such as servant leadership or mindfulness in the workplace touch upon the principles of being a conscious leader.
“Conscious leadership refers to guiding others with full awareness of the self and cultivating growth in organizations by supporting the people in them. Instead of an ego-centric ‘me’ attitude, a conscious leader embodies all aspects of an inclusive ‘we’ approach,” writes conscious leadership coach Kelly Campbell.
“Consciousness is a tricky word in and of itself,” says Robinson, adding that a board or leadership team might ask, “can we measure it?” and “how does it add value to our bottom line?” But that’s missing the point of conscious leadership. “If your company cannot articulate how it makes people’s lives better, then you may want to rethink your organization’s purpose,” she says.
Benefits of conscious leadership
If the ROI of conscious leadership is not directly quantifiable, you might be wondering, what is the point then? The point, for one, is to create sustainable business practices and workplace cultures. Leaders are suffering from burnout too, and they can’t be changemakers if they’re struggling to keep up with the demands of their job in our post-pandemic climate.
A 2021 study by LifeWorks and Deloitte Canada revealed that 82 percent of senior leaders finish work feeling mentally or physically exhausted, and a quarter of senior leaders are considering resigning. Conscious leadership helps build resilient workforces and organizations – and yes, that also translates into improved productivity and greater impact, but not at any cost. It considers that people make up systems, that they need certain things to thrive, that they are constantly growing and evolving and so should the systems that they are part of, and banks on the idea that focusing on those things will create organizations that also evolve and thrive, which will create better solutions in the process.
“What if when you got home from work this evening, you were not exhausted but rather, deeply satisfied, and grateful for your people and what you offer the world? What if that future were possible? That is the reason to embrace conscious leadership,” says Robinson.
How to become a more conscious leader
If this sounds like biting off more than you can chew, fret not – becoming a conscious leader is something anyone can do with an open mind and some intentionality. “Conscious leadership is not something to be feared – any leader has the ability to become a conscious leader if they choose to do so,” according to Bourgeau.
Dedicate yourself to your inner work
“Conscious leadership is about self-awareness and living your life in alignment with your values. This allows you to show up authentically and intentionally as a leader,” adds Bourgeau.
It’s important to do your own inner work and gain greater self-awareness to be able to lead others consciously. “Work with a professional coach or counselor, or find a mentor to identify your blind spots and opportunities for growth. Get clear on your personal values and live them. Be conscious and aware of how you’re showing up in the workplace and with your employees,” recommends Bourgeau, who regularly gives leaders a values/behavior/alignment exercise. There are also countless books for business owners, entrepreneurs and other leadership figures to dig deeper if you are willing to do the work on your own time.
Here’s how it works. Think about all the parts of your life: home, work, family, community, health, spirituality, and finances. What are your values in each area? Once you have a list of values, write down your top five ones in a column. Create two more columns: one for behavior, and one for alignment. For each value in the list, ask yourself, what are your behaviors that support this value? And how aligned do you feel with this value in your current reality?
This exercise can help you identify gaps to bridge in areas where you are not living in accordance with your values. Leading consciously means living with integrity while encouraging others to do the same. Closing those gaps will thus help you become a more conscious leader.
Develop a growth mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck articulated the idea of a growth mindset – the belief that your skills and abilities can be developed with consistency and effort. This type of mindset is crucial for conscious leadership.
“When you are open-minded, you have the capacity to function at more complex levels and are better able to solve problems. This is the healthiest mindset and gives you the best opportunity to see possibilities in the world,” according to Bourgeau. “Conscious leaders understand the importance of growth and learning and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
Aim to step out of your comfort zone and try new things on a regular basis – even if they are not directly related to your work. Cultivate the mindset of seeing mistakes as learning opportunities. Leading by example will help your team cultivate a growth mindset too.
Increase your ability to hold multiple perspectives at once
Bourgeau says that to become a more conscious leader, you should practice understanding the perspectives of others – even when you don’t agree with them. It increases your ability to empathize, which is key for conscious leadership. Additionally, it makes you a better problem-solver because you learn how to hold multiple perspectives at once, even if they are paradoxical. This type of nuanced thinking is critical in rapidly changing environments.
“Rather than using traditional either-or frameworks, conscious leaders embrace the ‘and,’ considering both what needs to be done and how it can best be implemented. They can handle uncertainty and meld the best aspects of multiple ideas and theories to form something completely new,” says Bourgeau. This has an effect on teamwork and collaboration too. “Conscious leaders actively engage others in a way that fully leverages their talents and contributions. They understand the different value systems and perspectives and can focus on win-win solutions for all,” she adds.