Strong, Conscious Leaders

How Conscious Leaders Make
Organizations Stronger

The experience of working with large, global companies that perform at an extremely high level often brings a fresh perspective to my thinking.

One company I worked with had an interesting approach to doing work on large projects. The client would set up “war rooms,” dedicated space for teams to meet, strategize, post big notes up on the walls—essentially, creating a place for teams to work through meaty issues. Literally, there would be signs posted outside certain conference rooms that read, “War Room. Do not move or erase anything.”

In one respect, the client was doing something admirable by dedicating resources and space to help their teams work together. But there was a shadow side to this effort. Employees came to realize that the term “war” was changing what it meant to go to and be at work. Did people really want to wake up and go to “war” every day? Was a “war” mindset really required to be successful and solve the business problems at hand?

A viking leader is in a "War Room" with other disturbed employees that need more conscious leadership.

Once leadership became conscious of how their “war room” construct was impacting the environment, they decided to drop the reference in favor of “collaboration room.” By changing the name, employees were able to approach their work with a healthier, more positive attitude. Many were relieved; many more were energized that their leadership team empathized with their point of view and made a change.

This experience raised a few questions for me:

  • How could such a simple change make for a stronger organization?
  • What enabled leadership to change direction?
  • How can leaders be flexible and adaptable in the face of a new tension that had not been realized before?

What strong leadership looks like.

Although it probably goes without saying, research and experience tell us that high-performing organizations have strong leaders. Most people think of strong leaders as those that can lead what the business is doing. They visualize strong leaders that have great business acumen (high IQ), know a lot of stuff, and can do a lot of different things:

  • Develop a competitive strategy
  • Understand customer and market needs
  • Know what products and services are required to meet those needs
  • Understand what the numbers are telling them about the financial results in the marketplace

There’s just one problem with this legacy version of what a strong leader is…it only accounts for one kind of strength: a focus on what should be done. While strong leaders can (and should) lead what the business is doing, the strongest leaders do that AND lead how business actually gets done.

I have found that the strongest leaders have a huge business acumen AND something else. This something else allows them to connect with people, be persistent in the face of adversity, and have a dynamic decision-making schema that is open to the new. Some may call it emotionally intelligence, or EQ (coined by Daniel Goleman). In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins calls it Level 5 Leadership. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey of the Harvard Graduate School of Education call it the transformational mind.

The term that resonates the most is conscious leadership. Various perspectives of the term, including that of Conscious Capitalism, encompass leaders whose values and purpose drive them. Conscious leaders embrace conscious leadership in the broadest sense and are highly aware of how they run their business.

A leader has vision over many different icons showing the awareness involved in conscious leadership.

A conscious leader has awareness of all their business stakeholder needs: investors, customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities where they operate. Conscious leaders can shift their mindset and not get locked into a losing direction. (Put another way, they can adapt and adjust on the fly in an agile, flexible way.)

Embracing conscious leadership.

If you’re interested in becoming a stronger, more conscious leader (or in helping leaders at your organization become even stronger), here are some things to consider:

  • Become curious to understand your strengths and blind spots. Learning about your current state will help you become more conscious of what is required to show up in a strong way in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world.
  • Read Conscious Capitalism principles around stakeholder engagement to ensure you are taking a holistic view of leading your business.
  • Review research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership on horizontal vs. vertical development to better understand what your most impactful growth priorities are.
  • Take the free Barrett Values Centre personal values assessment and gain an introduction to their leader and cultural transformation toolkit for increasing conscious awareness of meeting individual and organizational needs.
  • Check out Patrick Lencioni’s and Google’s research on leading high-performing teams built on trust and psychological safety.