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A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK


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Women and Conscious Leadership

Taken from the forthcoming spring ‘e-Organisations and People’ journal – For more information and to purchase a copy look here. This article asks whether the time is finally right for women to take on leadership roles without needing to give up their core values, needs and behaviours.  Evidence is put forward showing how essential it is to include women in leadership roles if we want to attain a sustainable future.  Lasy Lawless explores what might prevent that from happening.  She considers how much of this problem is self imposed and how much of it relates to gender politics in the workplace.  She asks each reader to do one thing to accelerate change.Keywords: Inequality, women in leadership, gender, prejudice, diversity and sustainability

My discovery of gender prejudice

I grew up on a farm in a large family in Ireland.  There was an equal number of boys and girls in my family.  This description probably conjures up a stereotypical image of simple country folk following strict catholic doctrines, women in the kitchen supporting men in the fields.  But that’s not what it was like.  My mother was the first female to study law at Cork University.  She experienced severe prejudice from male lecturers, who assumed she chose the subject to be the only female amongst men so that she could flirt with them.Despite being awarded a first class degree, she never got to work as a lawyer.  In those days the economic policy to address unemployment was that women gave up work when they got married.  Those women who did not go on to have children simply struggled to contribute and to live full lives. This background set the scene for my upbringing because in my home we never distinguished between male and female roles along traditional lines.  Boys cooked and girls worked on the farm – if that suited our strengths, rather than tasks that were assigned based on our gender. So natural was this to me that it wasn’t until I actually entered the workforce in 1980 that I discovered gender prejudice and I found it both shocking and stupefying.  It simply made no sense to me.

Slowly it dawned on me that although women were a core part of the workforce, they rarely ran companies, sat on boards or shared equally in rewards. Throughout my twenties I watched and learned just how agonisingly slowly systems of power change, irrespective of whether they are effective or satisfying.  I have oscillated between irritation with the system, rage at men and frustration with women themselves, each playing a contributory role in ensuring that change cannot be immediate. However, in the last ten years I think I can see the roots of a sea change.  I hope that when we look back at the noughties we will all be as shocked and stupefied as I was in the 1980s.

Conscious capitalism for gender equality?

And I believe that conscious capitalism is the movement that captures the attitudes and values that will make it possible for women to take their rightful place as equals in the business world.  I believe that gender equality requires three major shifts:  a new economic structure, the buy-in of men and women being more assertive. Conscious capitalism is that system.  I will try to address the other two conditions later in the article.Conscious Capitalism by Mackey, Sisodia and George (2013) identifies some key qualities of the conscious leader.’Conscious leaders abundantly display many of the qualities we most admire in exemplary human beings.  They usually find great joy and beauty in their work, and in the opportunity to serve, lead, and help shape a better future.  Since they are living their calling, they are authentic individuals who are eager to share their passion with others.  They are very dedicated to their work, which recharges and energises them instead of draining them.  Conscious leaders commonly have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence.  They also have an orientation toward servant leadership, high integrity and a great capacity for love and care. (Mackey, Sisodia & George 2013, p183). While so many of these qualities are gender neutral, others (love, care, emotional intelligence, sharing passion, servant leadership and helping shape a better future) are attributes frequently associated with women.  They might even be described as nurturing or maternal characteristics.

Because of the roles traditionally played by women – supporting partners, enabling children towards independence and reaching their potential, running households and finances, it could be said that women have been in training for leadership positions for thousands of years. ‘Conscious business’ is a way to describe organisations that operate within a conscious capitalist structure. Conscious businesses positively encourage women to embrace leadership roles outside of the home, but this is only the structure.  For real change to occur we need women to step into the roles and demonstrate our effectiveness in leading.

So what are the issues that women will have to address if they choose to step into leadership roles?  I think they fall into two main categories – things that women need to do for themselves, and things that men need to support us with.  Equality for women is happening slowly, but for change to happen quickly both genders need to collaborate.  The greatest hurdle is to raise general awareness of the challenges and of the amazing opportunity if we address the issues.  We need to take the conversations out from the feminists and futurists to every layperson. The major challenges we face are: women’s preference for collaboration over competition; scepticism about how their accomplishments will be reported by journalists/men; women’s fear of being humiliated by being judged on how they look rather on their accomplishments; young girls low aspirations based on their lack of belief that they will succeed; and ignorance by female graduates of the benefits of working in SMEs rather than in corporate cultures.

Collaboration vs competition

It would be easy to idealise women and to pretend that they completely avoid conflict or competition.  They don’t. But research shows that there are significant gender differences in frequency when entering into ‘winner-takes-all’ types of competition, and yet no significant gender gap in other types of competition.   Women are averse to entering competitive forums that result in a single winner walking away with the prize and the kudos, but women are equally competitive where the agenda results in rewards for the majority (Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. 2007). Conscious leaders believe that the most successful and sustainable results come from including the interests of all stakeholders – employees, investors, suppliers etc  rather than simply focusing on shareholders short term returns.  Conscious businesses need leaders who favour collaborative, empowering attitudes rather than ‘shareholders-take-all’ behaviours, and women compete as frequently and as successfully when these conditions exist.

Respect for the long-sightedness of how women compete needs to be applauded, rather than their aversion for winner-takes-all outcomes to be portrayed as a weakness.  After all, we have seen the outcome of pure capitalist attitudes – the majority lose while the minority continue on in a self-serving manner. I ran a workshop this week for “Women in Leadership” that included an hour of dialogue with three significant female leaders.  I was struck by their passion to share success and power, which was reflected in these three responses: “In the Green Party we spent a long time considering how to do leadership so that it was not something that we did to people, but something that we do with them.” Caroline Lucas (First Green MP). “When I got above the glass ceiling I threw the ladder down so that other women could climb it.” Polly Toynbee (Journalist for The Guardian). “I have never knowingly turned down any conversation with anyone who wanted to talk about their career development.” Penny Thompson CBE (CEO of Brighton & Hove Council). These responses were not constructed to gain PR advantage.  They were authentic responses embedded in answers to various questions on “Women In Leadership.” It demonstrates their natural preference for “power with” as opposed to “power over”.

Scepticism about the press

I am currently working with an amazing female MD running a successful international business. The company is a conscious business moving towards employee ownership.   A year ago I invited her to speak about the company’s culture at a business event but she found the idea horrifying.  Besides a fear of public speaking, which is a common fear for both genders, she just didn’t trust the media to get that the success of the company and its culture was down to her team and not to her alone. She was not going to risk her team feeling undervalued. Since then I have introduced her to books and articles on conscious capitalism and very, very gradually she is becoming hopeful that there is a growing appetite for change in how business is done.  We need to get more information about conscious business out to women so that they know there is a system that absolutely relies on the feminisation of business.  I believe that they will take the risks necessary to step out of the shadows if they have faith that something is changing.Caroline Lucas resigned as formal leader of the Green Party after four years because she “had benefited so much from the position and she wanted to pass on that opportunity to someone else in the party”.  She told us that the press could not accept this explanation and so instead they were creating stories about an affair or her mental health.  This is the type of personal assault and misinterpretation that women risk when we openly offer an alternative explanation for our motives than the winner-takes-all model.

Fear of humiliation regarding personal appearances

Women fear the limelight of greatness because they risk being judged on their appearances rather than on their accomplishments.   68% of girls across all groups agree with the statement “ability”. At the workshop that I mentioned earlier, Penny Thompson told us that when a picture of her appeared in the paper after her appointment and announcing her amazing prior achievements she had to tolerate comments on her appearance such as suggesting she “use her huge salary to do something with her hair”. The most atrocious recent example of what women have to endure is captured here by the Financial Times about the first female prime minister of Australia: “Few politicians in a western democracy have endured such personal abuse as Gillard, whose three-year term as prime minister ended in June amid a welter of recrimination about the nature of Australian society and its treatment of women in top jobs”. (Parker, 2013)

But the Welsh-born lawyer did not go down without a fight. Gillard reflected on her role as the country’s first female prime minister: “I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other PMs in the past but then concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the political position of the Labor party.” With tears in her eyes, she talked about what her term as prime minister might mean for other female leaders: “What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that, and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that”. While this type of attack didn’t stop Penny Thompson or Julia Gillard from embracing leadership roles, not all women are resilient or brave enough to survive it.  Just as it is not every man who is brave enough to be a Nelson Mandela or Ghandi.  It takes a huge amount of self belief and faith in the underlying higher values for a person to put themselves consciously in these positions.  What we really need is the support of men, the press and all powerful thinking individuals everywhere to make this kind of ignorant behaviour a thing to be ashamed of.

Young girls’ aspirations

Women lack self belief in their ability to succeed in business.  Girls across every level of affluence are almost 10% less likely to believe they could start their own business than boys of a similar level of wealth.  (Click for link to survey results.) For me, this is the most depressing piece of research available.  When I compare this perception to how I described my beautifully, naive beliefs in my teens it feels tragic.  We need more female role models in all walks of life.  Change of this type has to begin at home. So if you are reading this article, make one little change – point people towards Guardian Women, attend an event to support women in leadership (there are loads of them), vote for female leaders, challenge the status quo in companies.

Corporate careers vs SME offers

Women do better in SMEs, and SMEs do better because of women.  The number of women on FTSE 100 boards has risen from 15% in 2012, to 17.3% in 2013 (Dr Sealy, 2013 – Link). Career breaks, bias and having babies certainly account for some of the shortfall but it cannot account for all of it and gender prejudice must account for at least some of it.  In contrast, recent research also found that 80 percent of family owned businesses are more gender balanced, having at least one female director and that this diversity meant that the companies were less likely to fail than companies with less diversity (Myers, 2013 – Link). The study highlighted the fact that family-orientated goals such as preserving unity, wealth and providing employment for family members may also contribute to their survival.  The team analysed data of over 700,000 medium and large private family and non-family firms with an annual sales turnover of at least £6.5 million, a balance sheet total of at least £3.26 million and at least 50 employees. This information is available to corporate boards but because they are so entrenched in traditional thinking and averse to taking risks they often appoint women as a token gesture and to appeal to corporate social measures rather than in the full understanding that they need to do this for their own survival.  We need this kind of thinking and behaviour to change.

Some hope

I think it is significant that although conscious business culture is only recently emerging as a solution to addressing the pitfalls of capitalism, and that democratic management and empowerment are being touted as the way to run successful businesses, it was an exceptional female political scientist – Mary Parker Follet – who wrote about it almost a century ago.   Her work was largely ignored by business writers, all men, until recently. “Follet was profoundly interested in society and how one could attain personal fulfilment while striving at the same time to create the well-ordered and just society.  The answer, she concluded, lay in democratic governance, an abiding belief that was to inform all her activities and become the goal that inspired her for the rest of her life”.  (?Graham 2003, p: ?)  In ‘Prophet of Management’ (2003), Pauline Graham explores the reasons that she was so ignored by her peers – was it a sign of the times or simply because she was a woman?   Like my mother, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, Penny Thompson and the female MD mentioned earlier,

Mary Parker Follet continued to say what was true for her despite being ignored or misinterpreted by her male peers.  It is remarkable how ahead of her times she was, and it is testimony to her message that approaching 60, and without any experience in the business world, she became a management thinker eagerly sought after by the business communities of both the United States and England.   Those business leaders, mostly men, were also ahead of their time.

Summary

Conscious business is a successful, sustainable way of addressing the failure of pure capitalism.  Conscious leaders require additional qualities that have been traditionally described as feminine.  Companies that have at least one female director significantly reduce the risk of business failure and conscious business culture was originally captured in the writings of a woman over 100 years ago.  So all of this bodes well for women who are ready to aim for leadership roles.  And having a more balanced mix of the genders across business leadership roles would appear to  lead to more sustainable success for everyone. It would seem that the time is ripe for women to share more equally in leading the world towards a better way to do business.  It is now up to women to embrace the moment and aim for greatness, for the good of everyone, rather than fearing the comments of small minded individuals.  It is also up to men to support women in the journey because it has finally become clear and evidenced based that this is the only intelligent choice for us all.

References

About the author

Lasy Lawless is passionate about change and transformation. She likes to combine this with pragmatism, strategy and business focus. Her approach is person-centred – which means, she expects and supports others to take their own, full responsibility.As a trained accountant, Lasy worked for Big Finish – a conglomerate of TV and film post production companies – at a time when that world was being radically changed by digital technology. As Group FD, after 10 years sitting in over a dozen boardrooms devising strategy, she realised that the old ways of doing things were finished. Traditional power structures no longer delivered.That’s, at least in part, why she re-trained as a psychotherapist. Lasy believes that understanding what motivates people, and how to create strong challenging relationships at all levels, is the single most critical success factor for any business. Lasy is one of the founding partners, with Pete Burden and Jamie Pyper of Conscious Business People, a consultancy a business consultancy helping leaders build 21st century business cultures. She can be contacted  via  http://www.linkedin.com/in/lasylawless.


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Conscious Capitalism – a case for optimism

Last night I had the good fortune to hear Raj Sisodia at the launch of the Conscious Capitalism UK Chapter. Raj is co-author of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (with John P. Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market). The book was published by Harvard Business Review Press in 2013, and rose to #2 on the Wall Street Journal Business Bestseller list.

What struck me most about Raj’s talk and his book is his optimism. Taking a long term view of GDP he argues that ultimately business is good, pulling people out of abject poverty:

What capitalism has enabled

He goes on to say that:

  • Business is good because it creates value
  • Business is fundamentally ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange
  • Business is noble because it elevates our existence (for example funding and creating time for artistic pursuits)
  • Business is heroic as it lifts people out of poverty (in a more sustainable way than fund dependant NGOs)

His call is to change the toxic narrative that pervades society – that of business being a force of bad, when in fact it has great power to be part of the solution to many of the world’s problems.

How can business to do this? One of the key challenges is the fact that the world has changed a huge amount in a very short period of time. And businesses have not adapted quickly enough and so are operating using obsolete structures – largely based on an out-of-date military model and language.

Raj points to 1989 as a key year for demonstrating change in the world. It was the year that:

  • The Berlin Wall came down marking the end of the Cold War.
  • The student led Tiananmen Square protests and massacre shocked TV sets across the world.
  • A fatwa was issued by Iran against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses.
  • The median age in the USA reached 40, signifying a ‘midlife crisis’ in terms of the nations psychological centre of gravity, increasing questioning around meaning and purpose in the world.
  • Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.

This last change has had wide spread implications: we are now better informed, better connected, better educated (women especially), and more intelligent (with underling IQ on the rise) allowing us to better deal with complexity. The rise of better educated women in turn means that there is increased emphasis on feminine values, with increased focus on collaboration and relationship.

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Despite the impression that the media is creating, we are also more peaceful than ever before. We are also more conscious, with greater awareness about the impact of our decisions and lives, allowing us to make better decisions.

Sigmund Freud commented that “love and work are the corner stones of our humanness.” Can we build businesses on love rather than fear? We should at least try. And there are examples: Raj highlights Whole Foods Markets as a business “built on love and care rather than fear and stress.”

The question is not around whether profit is good or not – it creates sustainable organisations that can make a positive impact in the world. Rather it is around HOW you make money.

Business is not a game (there is too much at stake). Business is not a war (competitors are not enemies to be killed, or customers targets to be caught). Business is not a machine, or a maths problem designed to maximise one thing.

Business. Is. One. Of. The. Most. Human. Things. We. Can. Do.

As well as profit, measuring success needs to be based on widespread impact, acknowledging the many different types of wealth that a business can create and destroy: financial, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, physical and natural.

Ultimately we need to acknowledge that we are all in the same boat after all.

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The main source of hope comes from the fact that humans are not finite resources that expire after use like fossil fuels. By contrast we are an ongoing source. The challenge for business is how to create the right conditions to release that source and draw on the best of humanity.

So how do we actually do this? This was touched on in the Q&A session where Raj was also joined by Rajiv Joshi and Richard Barrett.

The start of the journey towards more conscious business can come in several forms. Perhaps with an awakened leader, a wake up call (the processed food CEO whose grown up children refused to eat the products the company made), or a journey into purpose. The underlying essence tends to be the same – an increased focus on service rather than pure self interest. It is notable that Adam Smith also spoke of the primal drive of caring, as well as self interest – and that it is the latter that up to this point has had the most attention.

Raj spoke of his commitment to to building awareness about the importance and value of conscious capitalism. Without this the value of introducing tools, such as an accreditation and logo, will be limited if people don’t know what it stands for. This means gathering evidence to show the benefits of the approach, and the evidence does it exist.

There are of course cultural changes that are also required in the longer term  – training future leaders in our business schools; creating and incentivising a long term goal mindset; changing the focus on fortune lists so that they also celebrate people by the impact they have on the lives of others; and changing consumer habits by helping them become more conscious about the impact of their decisions and giving them alternatives.

Other practical measures that we can take? Raj mentioned that on one of his courses, the first class introduces silence and mediation. The following classes then all start with 10 minutes of silence and meditation. What would happen if all businesses adopted this practice?

As Raj concluded: “the situation is serious, but not hopeless”….

Click to view a visual summary of Raj’s talk:

 Visual summary of Raj Sisodia's talk

Credit: Jaroslav Dokavail

 Bella Cranmore has a keen interest in Conscious Business having been a client of Conscious Business People in 2013-2014.


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Conscious Business: Senior Management Briefing

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This guest post is by Paul Levy of CATS3000

The Starting Point

The starting point is this: As a senior manager, you have no eternal right to exist. It is not a taken for granted assumption in a conscious business that you are always needed. Your starting point is one of being always humble, and ready to step aside and to allow in whatever is truly needed by the organisation.

The business does not exist to serve you, nor even to satisfy its shareholders. It exists to behave consciously in order to meet the needs of its customers, the users of its products and services. Shareholder satisfaction, in a conscious business, is a by-product, an outcome of conscious business practice, not an aim.

A conscious business is an organisation that is awake and aware, alert and responsive, internally and externally, in real time.

Sometimes, dear senior manager, your personality, your habits, your self-image, your subjectivity are all blocks, limiters of the consciousness of your business. Sometimes you behave in deliberate ways that diminish the consciousness of your business, thinking that you are being “smart”.

Political game-playing, power-mongering, fear-engendering, all ultimately shatter the innovation potential of your business by stifling and suppressing the energising qualities of people that exist when they feel more free and awake. Senior management, when it is a leading example of institutional, over-fixed behaviour, defensiveness and aggression, damages the very organisation it claims to serve. Even benevolent, but egoistic acts that achieve success are short term victories that still undermine conscious business.

A conscious business has a very different role in mind for senior managers. In the emerging fields of conscious capitalism and conscious business there are many stories and examples appearing in the public domain.

Overview and Inspiration

Senior management has the often fairly permanent role of acting as the overview, the “helicopter view”, the inspirer of vision, and the identifier of what needs to be done at the strategic, “overview” level.

In a conscious business, senior management is a leadership role – a role that is sacred, a privilege for all those who step into those roles.

In a conscious business, senior management identifies the essential in what needs to be done. Senior managers focus on naming things truly, based on real time flow of information, knowledge and experience. This “Pool of Knowing” crystallizes into an up-to-the-minute knowledge base that informs where and how, as a business, we step next.

Time to Drop the Personalities

It isn’t about personalities; it is about awareness, from personal to business self-awareness. The role of senior management is to remain objective. What does that mean? It means both inner and outer observation. In a conscious business, senior managers practice introspection, (they look at their own biases as if they were objects to be studied) and they subject their opinions and intuitions to third party “devil’s advocacy”. Senior managers seek out different points of view. Senior managers prioritise

  • Sensing and serving the needs of the organisation’s customers and key stakeholders
  • Enhancing business consciousness
  • Keeping the organisation awake, aware and alert, internally and externally, in real time.
  • Changing organisational structure to meet environmental changes, including the transient need for senior management itself. Hierarchies are temporary, emergent and flexible in a conscious business.

Welcoming the New and the Useful

Senior managers develop and practice emotional intelligence, active listening, and welcome and seek out useful and new ideas and suggestions from any helpful source. Status is not a cultural default in a conscious business; respect is earned not given by favouritism or clunky vertical structures. Measurement is authentic, and focused on identifying how the business can improve its consciousness.

Senior managers see their “higher viewpoint” – awareness of risk, taking of critical decisions, and ability to hold authority over others – as something sacred, something they steward rather than own. They do not see themselves as more important; they tend to view their role as part of the whole system. Both the chief executive and the cleaner are fundamental parts of the whole system. This isn’t a form of socialism of clunky equality; it is a form of systems thinking, where senior managers see themselves as parts of the integrity of the whole. Everything needs to fit together in whatever way it needs to in a conscious business.

Ten Features of Senior Management in a Conscious Business

  1. Senior managers are much more “present” in the processes of the business. Consciousness is high – meetings are more emergent, alongside more regular “rhythmic” processes such a monthly strategy reviews etc. Senior managers are both “overview” and “out there”.
  2. There’s an ability to quickly undo decisions, reshape key processes and structures, identify technological paths to innovation of products, services and processes, learn from mistakes and be humble with that learning.
  3. Roles morph and change, even pass away. Senior management is drawn from whoever and wherever, whenever and however it is needed.
  4. Reward is based on self-motivation, a wish to serve professionally, and there is no place for primitive “motivation by bonus” which warps commitment and consciousness.
  5. Information systems are seem, not as “below” senior managers, feeding upwards, but “above”, feeding down. Information is real-time, useful, accessible and accurate, truly informing overview reaction, proactivity and direction-finding.
  6. Senior managers are ethical, emotionally intelligent, able to listen, dialogue, inspire, and challenge. Truth is seen as vital to “clear-seeing”.
  7. Senior managers are self-aware, practice introspection, aware of their own biases, and open to devil’s advocacy and different points of view. Cronyism is banished. Freedom of thought, without fear, is a core value.
  8. There is a culture of seeking out the real needs of those who are served by the business. Shareholders are also aware of the business purpose and in tune with the business’ culture of practising conscious business.
  9. The business is led by managers who are an example – transparency, openness and honesty are core values, lived in practice.
  10. Promotion is based not on years worked, nor on any favouritism and delivery of narrow measures. Promotion marries business need with capability, motivation and “fit” with the integrity of the business.

 

And, Yes – It is still about Leadership

Senior managers are leaders. Leadership is a role and process in a conscious business that enables inspiration, motivation, strong decision-making (when needed) and strategy-making to happen. The role never fixes for too long or in one particular way. Leaders emerge, from different parts of the organisation. Permanent leadership roles are only created if needed (for example, if stability of a role is needed).

Leadership is largely associated with process rather than personality in a conscious business. Leadership can, and should happen anywhere in a conscious business, even in its realm of digital working. Leadership may arise out of digital processes as much as physical ones. Leadership involves direction-finding, true-naming, inspiring others, fitting parts together into a bigger picture, and unblocking conflict and difficulty.

Senior managers in a conscious business are “senior” for different reasons. Sometimes that seniority is bestowed because the senior person is wiser, and has experience and wisdom that helps guide the wider organisation. Sometimes it is born of the unique position of ownership of the business. Here leadership is only assumed if the owner has a unique contribution to make to the organisation and may also carry the inspiration and passion that will later be shared across the organisation. Sometimes the senior manager will be a temporary specialist, with temporarily needed skills and oversight. Sometimes the leader will emerge because a leader is needed, a hero helping the organisation on a “quest”. The leader’s role then coincides with the post of a senior manager.

In all cases, reflection is practised and permanence is never assumed. Rewards are never for the position in the hierarchy, but for the quality of the work done for the business.

Daring to be Different

Senior managers are often very different in a conscious business. Their career isn’t to climb up the organisation, but to serve it with a unique and important skill set and experience base.

Senior managers in conscious businesses are not  the same people as the senior managers at an earlier stage of that business’ development, when it was more traditionally structured and managed. They represent and reflect the organisation radically transformed.

Conscious businesses perform excellently, because senior management is a role that practices excellence. And excellence is born of consciousness. Senior managers have the vital role of occasionally acting as the eyes and ears of the enterprise, but not always. Often they interpret and articulate the essence of the organisation’s will. But they are one of the means to the business’ consciousness, not the sole cause of it.

In a conscious business, as a senior manager, you might just have to wave goodbye to yourself and become less attached to the word “senior”. Yet it also might be the hello to the authentic, genuinely useful and fulfilling next step you’ve been wishing for.

 

 


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Conscious Business Leadership – A Checklist

 FEBRUARY 10, 2014 BY 

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By Jamie Pyper and Paul Levy

“The old leadership models increasingly no longer apply. A new type of conscious leader is emerging whose style is fit for 21st century purpose.” Jamie Pyper

There’s been a lot written on leadership in recent years. We’ve heard of visionary leaders, charismatic leaders, strategic leaders, and even servant-leaders.  Less has been written about conscious leaders. Conscious Leaders lead conscious businesses.

A conscious business is a business that is able to sense internally and externally in real time. It is awake and aware, a bit like a person, not just in its “head” but also in its ability to sense emotions and act on intuitions. A conscious business is led, not only by one or more leaders but also by leadership as an inherent process. Leadership can arise in different people, at different times in a conscious business, even though there may be people designated with the more permanent role or title of “leader”. In a conscious business, leadership never becomes stuck in habits. It is flexible and emergent. Leadership is a conscious activity inasmuch as it forms itself appropriately around organisational needs.

The leader in a conscious business will tend to exhibit some identifiable behaviours that reflect the notion of being “conscious”. Here we present some of the major elements of conscious leadership that we have identified so far in working with conscious businesses largely in an European context.


Nine Characteristics of a Conscious Business Leaders

Conscious Business Leaders…

  1. …are reflective, and invest in lifetime learning

  2. …act as enablers not dictators

  3. … distribute power where it is needed

  4. … share credit

  5. … share knowledge

  6. … are collaborative

  7. … are future focused

  8. … invest in relationships with all stakeholders

  9. … are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego


A Deeper Dive…

Conscious Business Leaders are reflective, and invested in lifetime learning

Too many businesses are almost compulsively in ‘action mode’ for too much of the time. Too many leaders tend to equate “busyness” with productive business. Yet silence is vital in so many areas of performance. The silence of a pause in a play, and the silence of resting after a long day. Silence and pausing are the essential spaces between activity. They are opportunities to pause to reflect. When we reflect on our experience we can turn that reflection in learning; we can develop wisdom from experience. That wisdom can be put to good use, but only if we take time to reflect. Reflection is an essential part of the ‘cycle of learning’. Reflection helps us to harvest wisdom from experience.

A conscious leader experiences reflection as being as essential as being active. Reflection is the means of making action more productive and effective, via the process of learning that arises: Learning from mistakes, learning from success, identifying knowledge and skills gaps, developing new insights for innovation.

Reflection is a life time process, necessary as long as we are in action. A conscious leader practices reflection and ongoing learning and embeds this as a critically importantbehaviour in the rest of the organisation.

Conscious Business Leaders act as enablers not dictators

In a conscious business it is a sign of strong leadership that the leader enables work to get done. This isn’t about ordering people but, instead, encouraging “order” around the realisation of work in action. The leader directs, not the work, but the narrative, holding the role of providing overview when needed, guidance and direction when situations rise into such complexity that a “helicopter view” is needed. The leader inspires others (literally “breathing in”) by acting on behalf of the organisation and sensing externally and internally needs to be done , then becoming the assertive and motivating mouthpiece for it The leader articulates direction through dialogue. The leader holds authority as a role not a rule. Authority is given by the organisation. Leadership is always a response to the organisational and community need. That response will often be proactive, anticipatory. Sometimes it will be reactive, arising from a direct response to urgent, real time signals.

Conscious business leaders, when needed, articulate the conscience of the organisation, encourage its conscientiousness, and raise the quality of its consciousness. A conscious leader waves the flag for the need for the business to act consciously and consistently.

Conscious Business Leaders distribute power where it’s needed

Conscious business leaders are never power-mongers. Power in organisations to the more or less bounded permission and resources to get things done. When power is linked to formal consequences and threat, people are “forced” to comply. When power is born of dialogue and freely given mandate, it becomes “empowerment”. A conscious business leader, with an often unique helicopter view, senses the power needs of the organisation ensuring resources, and mandate to act is located where and when it is needed, with whom and for how long. The culture of the business is one of respecting power to act; power is temporary and moves in different places. In a company making computer games, project leaders may become very powerful at different times. Power is given to enable work to get done, not to boost egos or allow power games. A conscious business leader removes power when it is misused.

A conscious business needs leaders who understand power as resources mandate to act in the best interests of the organisation. It is a skill and draws on negotiation, diplomacy, assertiveness and dialogue. It requires humility and sensitivity, an ability to be flexible and to hold a clear overview. Literally, with this kind of power role, comes great responsibility (Response-ability!).

Conscious Business Leaders share credit

Egoism can be what gets a dream realised. It can also atrophy and become a barrier to consciousness. Conscious Businesses do not set their employees up against each other. Motivation tends towards being intrinsic. Self-motivation is linked overtly, not to bonuses and “prizes” but to organisational need. Employees are committed citizens, freely committing to the organisation’s evolving purposes, exiting when that commitment wanes. Self-esteem arises from personal and collective victories and successes. Naming and celebrating success energises and this is recognised fairly and consistently by conscious business leaders. Conscious business leaders are “tuned into” the local challenges of individuals and teams, as well as the overall business goals. When success is realised, celebration is specific and aimed at authentic recognition and motivation. Conscious leaders do not take the credit for the hard locally based work. Credit is also shared openly so that local learning from success can take place fully and usefully.

Conscious Business Leaders share knowledge

Knowledge is a vital part of internal and external “sensing” in a conscious business. Conscious business leaders ensure that knowledge is located where and when it is needed, in the right form and with as much clarity, accessibility and accuracy as possible. Knowledge is never couched in bullshit and unnecessary acronyms. Knowledge is never “tossed over the wall” nor is there information obfuscation or overload. Knowledge sharing is focused on learning, proactivity, needed reaction and innovation. Often a conscious business leader ensures that the right “inquiry” is taking place – targeting research and the asking of questions to elicit further knowledge. Conscious business leaders foster a climate of openness to enable knowledge sharing. Staff are trained to knowledge share effectively, and the conscious business leader leads by example.

Conscious Business Leaders are collaborative

A conscious business does not respect departmental or functional boundaries that inhibit openness, learning and flexibility. Roles and job descriptions are designed to capture the needs of the moment, and are never fixed forever. A collaborative culture pervades, through skilled overlap between systems, shared access to knowledge as needed. Collaboration involves developing trusting group behaviours, internally and externally. Trust is a core value and forms part of the leadership’s strategic agenda. Conscious Business Leaders do not lock themselves away on office, are accessible and treat others as colleagues, bot subordinates, trusting that their “strategic leadership role” will be honoured and respected. When don’t mind being told what to do because they trust the role of the leader and “suspend disbelief” in favour of longer term trust. Equally, there is no collusion of niceness, and feedback is welcomed in ALL directions.

The business uses collaborative platforms (including digital platforms) that foster collaboration, seeking synergy where collaboration creates a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Conscious Business Leaders are future focused

Through a culture of continuous learning, the conscious business leader harvests learning from the past, clearly senses emerging business needs in the present, and then ensures a realistic and inspiring vision is created, shared, agreed, and regularly reviewed. This vision is based on a pathway into the future that the organisation is awake to and committed to. Consensus has been reach where, even if there is disagreement, all have authentically committed to the plan of action.

The future begins to reveal itself and the conscious leader articulates this, adapting to it, and ensuring the vision is never unhinged from emerging “reality”. This is always openly shared and also open to correction from real time feedback from internal and external “viewpoints”

The future is never framed in unrealistic dreams and, though the leader may offer a “vision” for the organisation, sometimes this vision will be offered by other people inside or outside the organisation. Not all conscious business leaders are personally “visionary”; some will articulate and realise the vision created by other connected to the enterprise. In all cases, the vision is drawn from a clear picture of the “future”.

Conscious Business Leaders invest in relationships with all stakeholders

A conscious business is only “conscious” in terms of the relationships that help it to sense effectively internally and externally. Conscious Business Leaders are an overview “hub” for that dialogue, ensuring that relationship nurture the quality of its consciousness as an organisation. A conscious business leader ensures that all of its stakeholders are able to give useful and often vital input into the organisation’s strategy and activities. Suppliers feel safe to be open and honest, and share in the schedules of the business, able to plan and innovative in harmonious ways. Customer feedback becomes part of the lifeblood of innovation.

The conscious business leader invests time and resources into the development of partnerships that enable learning, knowledge sharing, innovation, and the lean and effective use of resources.

Conscious Business Leaders are awake and responsive to real need rather than a filter for their own ego

Being a leader of a conscious business requires that leader to work on themselves – to remain awake and self-aware, in tandem with the organisation they lead. A conscious business leader will regularly “check in” with others, may have a mentor, and will seek out feedback on their own biases.

Conscious business leaders are humble. Their humility ensures that  their own ego doesn’t become a distorting filter for truth.This humility doesn’t mean they are weak or lacking in assertiveness; quite the opposite, conscious business leaders need to be highly responsive, prepared to challenge and to keep challenging, prepared to be formal and directive if needed. But this comes from organisational, not personal need. Conscious business leaders regularly check in with their own behaviour, attitudes and ensure their personal and professional development harmonises with unfolding change in the organisations they lead./


Some other elements of  Conscious Business Leadership

In our own research into, reflections on, and conversations with conscious business leaders, we’ve identified a range of other characteristics and attitudes that conscious business leaders often exhibit.

 Conscious Business Leaders…

  • show a willingness to take mindful risks (they do not habitually flee fro risk-taking, nor do they rashly court danger)

  • are eager listeners

  • demonstrate a passion for the cause (the core values and reason for the organisation’s existence)

  • are optimistic about the future (though this never clouds realism, they focus on the energising nature of consciously derived optimism)

  • find ways of simplifying complex situations for staff (because confusion born of over-complexity inhibits consciousness)

  • prepare for how they are going to handle conflict and difficulty well in advance (they are not fire-fighters)

  • Recognize that there are some people or organisations aren’t easy to partner with (so mavericks and introverts are employed openly and for known and agreed reasons with reasonable adjustments made)

  • Have the courage to act for the long term

  • Actively manage the tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships

  • Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels (recognising uniqueness and the nuances of people)

  • Inject energy, passion and drive into their leadership style (as they hold a unique, strategic “whole picture” and are often first readers of “urgency” and priority)Have the confidence to share the credit generously

  • Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular: empathy, patience, tenacity, holding difficult conversations, and coalition building.

There are, undoubtedly, many other characteristics of conscious business leaders. Our nine-item check list above offers an attempt at a holistic view of conscious business leadership. We are continually adding to the list and developing it.


Contact Jamie Pyper at Conscious Business UK for a further conversation to develop conscious leadership in your business. See this for courses around Conscious Business.Visit the Conscious Business Realm


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CASS Report shows Employee Owned businesses more resilient

This is a great piece of research from CASS Business School. It shows that employee owned companies are at least as resilient as non-EOB’s in good times but have a huge advantage in hard times such as recession, outperforming non-EOB’s in growth, turnover, profits, productivity, etc.

UPDATE-Employee-Ownership-Report-January-14-2014

It’s short, to the point and there are graphs and picture to make it easier to digest. So why not have a read…


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We’ve come a long way baby

In its short history, the human race has achieved some magnificent things. But together we’ve also created a host of complex, and very serious, social and environmental problems.

Of the three powerful forces in society – business, the public/charitable sector, and politics/religion/media – I believe it is only business which has the power and the flexibility to address these problems.

Power because of its reach – the ability to touch many lives, even from a small base.

Flexibility because only business seems to be currently capable of transforming itself – reinventing itself. Away from greed and personal profit and towards really addressing those broader, much more important problems. Above all, business listens, and people are crying out for change.

But change alone isn’t enough. Too often change just means small improvements to delivering the status quo. We need ‘step-change’ – real transformation. Transformation is beyond change – it means adopting a new purpose, and a completely new way of operating, with new energy.

I am reminded of the story of one visitor to Ray Anderson’s visionary company Interface. A fork-lift truck driver, working for a company that makes office carpets, after helping her all he can, tells the visitor he must get on, because he’s “busy saving the planet”.

That is the new kind of energy we need in business people. Energy released by belief in a new kind of purpose.

How do we get there? As the author Jeanette Winterson said in her New Year resolution: “It is important to work out what is important. Living consciously has never mattered more.”

Individually and collectively we need to raise our consciousness. To become part of the group who are trying to transform things, systemically, radically – at the root.

We need to become more aware of what matters, why it matters, and what we can do, and are doing, about it.

And often are not doing. We need to become aware of our habits and the other things that hold us back. Conscious of our failings, as well as our successes. That means internal, personal work. As much as putting our heads above the parapet.

There are many, many people on this journey. It is not my place to tell you what you should do. But I can tell you what we are doing.

We are building a business – Conscious Business People – that helps leaders discover a more important purpose, a transformational purpose for themselves and their businesses.

Then we help those leaders develop transformational strategy, structure and culture – to create businesses that are part of the solution. Businesses with positive purpose, and radically better behaviours, and much higher levels of awareness.

We help businesses and the people in them become more conscious, and stay that way.

Many will say this is foolhardy, it will never succeed. That mixing business with purpose is simply wrong and doomed to failure. But I think it’s the only game in town. The only game worth playing.

I’d love to know what you think, what you’re doing to “save the planet”.

Happy New Year.


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Research and Practice in Organisations and People

If you’d like to get a handle on some of the deeper thinking around Conscious Business, you might find it useful to buy and download a copy of the latest issue of eO&P.

We think this is probably a world first – an issue of an academic journal dedicated entirely to Conscious Business.

e Organisations and People is the quarterly journal of AMED – the Association for Management Education and Development. If you download a copy you’ll be supporting its work:

“AMED is a long-established membership organisation and educational charity devoted to developing people and organisations. Its purpose is to be a forum for people who want to share, learn and experiment, and find support, encouragement, and innovative ways of communicating. Our conversations are open, constructive, and facilitated.”

What I really like about AMED  is its focus on research and practice.

Remember Everett Rogers’ bell curve – the diffusion of innovation? If you’re at all interested in Conscious Business you’re probably an innovator or an early adopter. Conscious business is still very early in the adoption life-cycle – indeed the term only really emerged a few years back.

Rogers' Bell Curve

Rogers’ Bell Curve – Source wikipedia

Now research is really useful, but I believe that research combined with testing, practice, experimentation is the way to really get to the heart of a new innovation.

To find out what it is good for. It’s strengths and weaknesses. How to mitigate those weaknesses. How to refine it – and pivot if necessary.

I believe it is only through real immersion in the practice of something that we can properly get to know it.

eO&P is not a peer-reviewed journal. I like that too.

Peer-review has its strengths. But Kuhn’s famous work on paradigm change has shown us that there are dangers too – that elites can, for example, suppress the emergence of new ideas. And that this can slow innovation and hence paradigm change.

And boy do we need a new paradigm for business 🙂

Most of the academic publishing houses seem to be very conventional businesses. Where will the energy to overturn the existing paradigms come from, if not from us?

Not being peer-reviewed doesn’t mean that we (@smilerob and @peteburden) didn’t work very hard to ensure the quality of the pieces. We did.

And the authors did a fantastic job too. Some had written for journals before but for others it was a  totally new experience. All brought their practical, hands-on experience as well as critical thought to the project. We’re really proud of every piece, and of the overall outcome.

I’d also really like to thank the publisher of eO&P, Bob MacKenzie and everybody at AMED (especially David McAra) for their massive help and support during the publishing process. We’re currently starting work on the next edition and we’re looking forward to that collaboration too.

So please take the trouble to download a copy, or better still if you are really interested in supporting the development of management and leadership education please consider joining AMED. There’s an annual subscription option at their website.