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Extreme innovations in employee welfare

Jack Hubbard, CEO Propellernet
(Extract from Winter eO&P AMED journal edited by Rob Warwick and Pete Burden)

Jack Hubbard Cartoon

The business world puts profit before people and in doing so cuts off its nose to spite its face. Inspired people and goodwill in relationships are where the true value lies in a business, but in an effort to organise and industrialise we stifle people and throttle value. Jack found that the tools and ideas of the business world were not fit for his purpose as CEO and has been on a 10 year journey trying to build a new mindset and toolset, one that recognises and harnesses human value potential. In this article Jack shares his credo and some of the thinking and initiatives that have helped him on his journey.

Having recently topped the Guardian’s honours list, Propellernet is officially the best small company to work for in the UK. Our company is also accredited with the Investors in People Wellbeing Award and made the Worldblu list of the most Democratic and Free Workplaces in the world. And because of our complete commitment to the health and happiness of our staff, they return the favour by delivering outstanding work, market beating growth and record profits. We were also recognised as the Best Agency and for the Best Campaign at the European Search Awards earlier this year.

The credit for this success belongs to kind hearted MD Nikki Gatenby, everyday genius Gary Preston and the diverse cast of wonderful characters I am privileged enough to work with. For my part, as CEO, I strive to hold a vision and space for them to do their thing. I believe the way to make a company the best version of itself is by hiring outstanding people and creating a culture within which they can become the best versions of themselves. In this article I share my thoughts on how the business world gets this wrong, and how we get it right.

 

People create the future

For the last 150 years the prevailing business paradigm has been one of industrialisation, globalisation and automation. The business world strives to do more at a lower cost. As a result, products and services that were considered high value just a few years ago have been copied, commoditised, automated and outsourced to Asia. Creating more of the same stuff for less money belongs to the robots and the Chinese, so creating better stuff is the only way to go for us.

This is the business of innovation and it is done best by companies who invest in their people because the requisite qualities for innovation (curiosity, creativity and adaptability) are fundamentally human attributes. Innovation is done best by people who embrace the uncertain future with a spirit of adventure, compelled to design a better one. A culture of fear kills this spirit.

Business at its core is about people working together to meet their needs and improve their situation. It is a tool to serve people, not the other way round, as is often forgotten. Employees and customers are human beings and the things that really matter are how these people feel, think and relate. Business is a design tool for improving the things that matter in life, and we should use it for this purpose; to improve life for employees and customers.

 

We are Superheroes

When we start a job, we are given a job description. How we perform this list of tasks is measured through our appraisal process, which forms the basis for how the company values our contribution. Our employer only places value on our ability to perform a narrow set of tasks. We are encouraged to limit our potential, which is why Clark Kent hides his cape at work.

Billions of years in the making through nature’s great evolutionary design, we human beings are pretty special creatures. We are amazing in ways that are beyond our own comprehension and have many superpowers we don’t even know about yet.

At Propellernet we encourage full use of super powers. Every one of our superheroes has a rich tapestry of history behind them and a world of possibilities ahead of them. As individuals they are vast reservoirs of energy, alive with experiences, ideas, contacts, dreams, opinions, emotions and abilities just itching to find a creative outlet. We are discovering new superpowers all the time, and as a team we’ll save the world from the clutches of evil.

 

There’s no accounting for people

The business world is run by accountants but accounting is not about people, it’s about numbers. Accountants regard people as unpredictable liabilities. We have lives, get sick, change jobs and exercise rights. We are an obstacle to profit and a cost to be minimised. HR departments too often exist to protect companies against the legal repercussions of treating their employees badly. Is it any wonder people get sick or leave in search of a better life?

I believe people should be accounted for as assets who appreciate in value over time as they develop relationships, goodwill, knowledge and ideas. The more a company invests in each person, the more of themselves they invest into the company and the more valuable they become as an asset. This value is not recorded in modern accounting practice and until it is, bad decisions will be made at the top, destroying value and creating a mess on the shop floor.

Financial reward is an important but small part of investing in people. People need to rest, to learn, to be inspired, to be challenged and to grow. We all have different needs at different times in life, the most important thing is to be interested in people beyond their job role and invest time to get to know them.

 

Growth isn’t always good for people

Small businesses want to get big enough to be bought out by big businesses so that the founders get rich. Big businesses want to get big enough to become PLCs so that their executive team can liquidate their stock and check out before it all goes tits up. The unsuspecting public then acquire what’s left through pension schemes and wind up holding worthless shares in something they know nothing about, have no control over but are dependent upon for retirement. We blindly chase arbitrary targets around a hamster wheel to serve a system that will ultimately screw us over. Ask your mum or dad if their pension was as good as they were led to believe.

Companies chasing this dream often grow too fast and go pop. More clients increase service headaches, more employees increase HR headaches and more products increase administrative headaches. I don’t know anyone that likes headaches, so why does the business world dedicate so many resources to producing them? Ironing out these issues is easy for an agile gymnast, but impossible for an unwieldy juggernaut. Growing a business of value and happiness is a worthy pursuit, but scaling a business full of suffering is toxic and should not be allowed. Stay small, iron out the pain and scale the joy later.

 

Employees make great shareholders

Many businesses give away big chunks of equity to outside investors, particularly in the early years, because they believe they need money to hire staff, develop products and find clients. They invariably regret it and there’s no going back. If you are creative and keep things lean the money from your early clients will finance cash flow. This way you learn valuable discipline, stay in control of decisions and see a greater share of the rewards.

If you want to sell shares, sell them to your best employees. If they can’t afford it, get creative, there are ways. These people understand your business better than anyone and know exactly what to do to grow the value of it. If they have a stake they will drastically increase the value of the company, along with the value of any remaining shares you hold.

Employee owned companies perform brilliantly because the people who best understand the company retain control of key decisions and share the rewards of good performance.

 

Pay your Fun Taxes

When you have fun, the tax man assumes it can’t be work and taxes you on it as if it were salary. If a business expense can be seen to provide a level of enjoyment to employees it is deemed as a benefit in kind and subjected to an extortionate fun tax. The Inland Revenue assume that work is meant to be miserable and don’t understand that you might be inspired to create something of value while climbing a mountain, dancing in a forest or gazing upon the northern lights. Their perverse logic leads them to believe that the most valuable work gets done in drab offices under fire of angry bosses and RSI injuries.

Most companies ban fun because the fun tax makes it too expensive. Christmas party budgets are slashed, benefits are scrapped, employees become miserable, they leave, then profits start looking miserable. We think it’s worth paying fun taxes and go to great lengths to maximise fun levels despite the cost. We create beautiful workspaces, throw outlandish parties, take adventurous holidays and feast at fine restaurants. And guess what, we boost the economy, attract and retain top talent and do world class work.

 

Champion Wellbeing

When we feel great we do great work and so we are always looking for new angles on health and wellbeing. Meditation, yoga, Pilates, reflexology, head massage and mind clinics can often be seen taking place around our offices, and we regularly invite experts to talk to us on a wider range of wellbeing subjects. As a result we have a caring, healthy and happy culture. If our people experience adversity in life, we are there for them and try to signpost them to appropriate support networks such as doctors, counsellors and legal aid, often picking up the bill.

We encourage the creative arts and have sponsored employees through courses as diverse as glass blowing, improvisational comedy, street dance, pottery and learning to draw. This has strengthened the foundations of our culture and unleashed a wave of creative energy which has driven many innovations. The learning to draw course, for example, sparked a revolution in visual communication which has transformed the work we do with clients.

 

Art for Inspiration

The ever curious Sophie Tanner was astounded by how interesting her colleagues were and saw this as the company’s primary asset. She set about interviewing everyone and documenting their life story, what kind of childhood they had, their philosophies, hobbies, ambitions, favourite music, what animal they saw themselves as. She hired a local artist to draw a cartoon scene capturing each person, commissioned the build of a beehive room and placed a cartoon world for each of our people in a honeycomb cell. Sophie’s “Honeydrome” is a powerful metaphor for our collective intelligence and a great example of art for inspiration.

For a new starter it can take years to get to know just a few people, now they can get to know everyone on day 1. Employees can see that the company places value on the fullness of who they are in life, not just what they delivered at work today. And when we lack empathy for a client project we have a visual signpost to the parents, the skiers, the travellers, the foodies, the musicians, the fashionistas and the yoga teachers.

 

The richness of the Honeydrome

rich honeydrome

 

Will it make life better?

Nikki Gatenby and I were inspired by Olympic gold medallist rower, Ben Hunt-Davies. His crew in the 8 man boat were average at best and without the natural talent of Pincent and Redgrave. They had toiled away for years and gotten nowhere. They had to try something new so they replaced their training programme with a single question, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
They all came up with ideas, and every idea was put to the test. Over the months, bit by bit they discovered many ways to make the boat go just that little bit faster. On the big stage their boat went the fastest and the underdog crew each picked up an Olympic gold medal.

It wasn’t a lengthy plan or set of arcane principles. It was a simple mantra that drove their behaviour every day in a way that would achieve their desired goal. We loved its simplicity and wanted our own one: “Will it make life better?”
The real purpose driving us, the motivation for getting out of bed, turning up every day, hungry to run a great business and deliver great work over and over again, is to make life better. Now if we are ever unsure, we simply ask “will it make life better?” and the way becomes clear. Consequently life keeps getting better.

Instead of making happiness a goal for a tomorrow that may never come, we design it into our everyday experience. And we become more successful tomorrow because we are happier today.

The glorious Dream Machine

The dream machine

 

Revenue-per-person

To calculate revenue-per-person we divide revenue by the number of people in the company. It is this number we are driven to grow because it indicates the relative resources available to make life better for everyone in the company. If we doubled revenue and doubled staff numbers, revenue-per-person would remain the same and there would be no more money to make life better with pay rises and perks. More of the same growth means more work for the same reward. Revenue-Per-Person is aligned to our true purpose of making life better and powers innovation to create more value, not grow more volume.

 

The Dream Machine

When we achieve our revenue-per-person target we make a dream come true by drawing a dream ball from our giant yellow 80’s bubble gum dispenser, our very own “Dream Machine”.

We ask everyone to consider their dreams in life, the things that would really make life better for them and we help them understand how they can influence company performance in a way that will make theirs and other people’s dreams come true.

Our business plan is to make everyone’s dreams come true. It gives us a reason to dream and puts us in control of achieving our dreams. Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup next year, Alan is riding a motorbike across Africa.

 

Making life better begins at home

Only by discovering the fullness of what life has to offer am I in a position to share it, and by living as an example I give the people around me permission and inspiration to explore life and pursue their own dreams.

 

Steve and Jim are off to the Rio World Cup

dream machine

As a mere mortal, time is not on my side. So I seek extreme experiences which help me learn about life in an accelerated way. I’ve scaled the Matterhorn, danced on pirate ships, driven the getaway car from a jail break, challenged CEO’s in their boardrooms, eaten 30 courses in a single day and performed on the main stage at Glastonbury.

This of course is the ultimate in work life balance, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is an oppressive assumption in the business world that if we enjoy something, it isn’t work and doesn’t create value. It’s as if we equate the level of suffering we endure to the amount of value we create. When business leaders behave in this way, sacrificing health, family life and happiness for the cause, they set a destructive precedent for everyone around them and create a culture which sacrifices people on the altar of profit.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally love making life better for myself on company hours, but because it’s not the normal behaviour the world expects from a CEO, I find myself swimming against the tide to make it work, and this can be exhausting. As long as I stay positive and focus my intentions on holding a vision, living the values and making life better for people, I can trust that I’m doing my bit in holding the right space for everyone to do their thing.

Staying positive is an essential part of it, and here are a couple of the practical brain tools I use.

 

Curate Positive Beliefs

We attribute meaning to our experiences through our belief systems. We all have different belief systems, which is why different people experience and perceive the same events in different ways.

For example, I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and that it serves me in some way. So when something doesn’t go my way, instead of affirming the negative “bad things always happen to me” which will only help you make more bad stuff happen, I instantly think the infinitely more helpful “OK, that wasn’t meant to be for a reason because there is something even better that it would have prevented happening.” Then my mind searches for something better, finds it and makes that happen instead.

I curate my beliefs like a football team and field the team I know will score goals. I’m always scouting for talent and will regularly try out a new player. If they perform badly they’re out. Only consistent performers maintain their place in the squad.

The act of believing tricks the mind into perceiving our experience in ways that are consistent with that belief. I also choose to believe the mind is just another muscle to be put to work for the benefit of my greater self, so I have no problem deceiving it.

Developing an awareness of a conscious self beyond simple mind function in this way enables me to understand people and situations from a broader and more objective perspective. This is a vital skill for business leaders with responsibility for vision and culture.

As this awareness becomes more habitual, I find I can switch off my mind, relax and allow the world to make good things happen in my space. Less effort seemingly delivering better results.

 

Star in your own movies

The media promotes a belief that life is happening somewhere else, and we can only observe it from the sidelines. This gives us a feeling of powerlessness over our lives. When I came to realise this I stopped reading newspapers and watching TV and started paying more attention to my own world, the physical one that I actually live in and can influence.

A friend recently joked that I was too busy starring in my own movie to have time to watch the ones on TV. I thought that was a powerful metaphor which captured it nicely, so now I choose to see myself as a screenwriter and producer for my own life. I write the scenes in my mind then watch them unfold through my eyes. It’s great, I get to play all my favourite roles and cast all my favourite people in all my favourite places.

When you get really good at producing reality it’s essential to stay positive because our moods and emotions control the sort of films we make. If we feel negative we might make drama and horror, if we stay positive we can enjoy action, comedy and romance.

 

Whatever next?

I said earlier that putting people first isn’t an altruistic principle and that’s because for 20 years I have had my own dream that has motivated me to overcome the countless challenges along the way. I close my eyes and this is what I see.

I’m living in a large chalet, surrounded by lush green forests and snow-capped mountains, the faint sound of a waterfall crashing in the distance, wild deer grazing in the valley and eagles soaring high up above in clear blue skies. This is my base of operations for a lifetime of adventures. I select the mission, assemble the team, consult with experts, gather intelligence, pour over maps and check equipment. We set out, the fires of excitement in our bellies. We return, enriched by new experiences and treasured memories. Then we feast.

Tomorrow I fly to the Alps where I am viewing 8 chalets in the valley of dreams. Next year my team will be joining me on a host of new adventures designed to make our lives better. Feel free to join us.

 

Heroes and influences

Here are some of the great people and ideas that have helped me along my journey.
Endless inspiration for conscious business – Karen Smithson
World class mentoring – Simon Conroy
Inspirational Spaces and Dream Machines – Nicola Gobat
Will it make the boat go faster? Ben Hunt-Davies
Freedom and democracy in the workplace www.worldblu.com
Wellbeing and creativity courses www.evolutionarts.org.uk
Business as an enabler of dreams – The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly
On lifestyle design – The 4 Hour Working Week by Tim Ferriss
A spirit of adventure – Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Right brain business – A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Embracing change – Who moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
The importance of values – Built to last by Jim Collins
On hiring – Who by Geoff Smart
How the mind works – Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Effective brain management – Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins

 

About the author

Jack Hubbard is CEO of Propellernet
info@propellernet.co.uk

 

About eO&P

eO&P is an e-journal published by and available from the Association for Management Education and Development (AMED), a charity and membership network for business people interested in knowledge, innovation and networking in the digital age. The Spring 2004 edition of eO&P, guest edited by Pete Burden and Rob Warwick, will be published in April. AMED are always looking for guest contributors.


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Conscious Business Discussion Paul Levy & Jamie Pyper

A brief chat about conscious business…

http://rationalmadness.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/paul-levy-and-jamie-pyper-on-conscious-business-feb-2014-1.mp3

Jamie_200x300paullevy


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Conscious Business Leadership – A Checklist

 FEBRUARY 10, 2014 BY 

roots4

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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Conscious Leadership: The Challenges of Empowerment

Laziness is my primary motivator when empowering others. If a thing is worth doing, I believe it’s worth getting someone else to do it.

This, however, is not as self indulgent as it might seem. I know that as a leader one of the first things I need to learn is to let go and trust others to get on with it.

I have not always been very good at this. However, over the years I have learnt why my old, more controlling ‘I’ll do it for you’ ways don’t really work and why empowering others is essential.

First off, lets look at confidence. My mother’s “Let me do that for you darling” – while I’m performing some simple task like making a cup of tea – is probably meant as an act of kindness. How I actually feel it is: “I am an idiot that can’t be trusted to make tea, despite the years of apparent evidence to the contrary.”

This not only irritates me but it also kicks my confidence, as it’s a tacit implication that I’m incompetent. There’s a subtlety to it though because cognitively I know I’m not, however I still irrationally feel it at some level and feelings tend to beat thoughts.

Learning is another key benefit of empowerment. In today’s fast moving, customer-centric world it is essential that everybody learns, and learns fast. Best of all is when they are so confident and engaged they take responsibility and drive their own learning.

When it comes to learning new things Mum is very much of the school of “probably shouldn’t try as it’s likely to be too difficult”. For me this is less than ideal. When I’m learning, what I really want is lots of encouragement and belief, as this helps me push through the self doubt.

Challenge is also very important to us. Solving something like a crossword puzzle or winning a video game is all the evidence we really need for this. Overcoming challenges helps us grow our self belief (or confidence) and it usually gives us a little frisson of excitement, and a sense of deeper resilience.

So why is empowerment so important? In my quest for a work free life, it is fairly obvious that once I let someone do something little – like a task I have handed them – then I  can give them more and more responsibility – until ultimately they are acting more like a leader themselves.

Effective leaders actively offer responsibility by distributing leadership power among the people that need it, allowing leadership to occur where it is needed most, often in the front line of business.  Most importantly this helps get a lot more done. It’s also likely to help teams be happier, more engaged and show more initiative.

It’s also probably helpful to think of leadership more as how you enable others to do what they need to do and then get the hell out of the way.

Although this is obvious in theory it can be quite hard to get right in practice. If you’re a control freak, for example, not only are you likely to be killing off your team’s motivation and innovation but you are likely to need more than a little help overcoming this urge.

A good and challenging place to start is delegation, and to get good at that. The more you are able to do this the more you are getting closer to allowing others around you to lead.

Inexperienced or untrained managers are most at risk of sabotaging themselves and their attempts to delegate.

The problem is, even if you are a ninja level engineer with technical insight gifted seemingly from the gods, management requires a totally and utterly different skill set and will exercise very different personality traits and emotional muscles, including some you might not have developed yet.

Many organisations miss this obvious fact and expect people to just figure it out, without proper investment in management training or personal development.

Not knowing how to be effective as a manager (common in those newly promoted to management) and without any help from those around them, before long the freshly challenged become frustrated and revert to what they do know – in this case “engineering”. They then start interfering with the “engineering” people in their teams are trying to do – showing them how they are doing it wrong and how the new boss can do it better.

As I said above, the thing most likely to undermine my confidence, motivation and general goodwill is poorly veiled criticism over my shoulder. Every “suggestion”, implies that I’m doing something wrong and thus can’t be trusted to perform the simple thing in front of me. And so I disengage.

Psychologically, I’m in a “double bind”: I’m feeling things are wrong even though I can see my way is working or valid. So I stop trying – because I’m wrong either way. I’ll go and look at what my friends on Facebook are doing instead.

Challenge is also removed – if my manager does take over and do my work for me. I lose the opportunity to learn. And, of course, I now believe he thinks I’m an idiot, so trust between us is destroyed.

It is worst of all when this exists at the top of hierarchies. Perhaps we are genetically predisposed to look up the hierarchy for tips on how to behave. So if someone senior is guilty of micromanagement, this crime can infuse the organisation below them like an unwanted inheritance.

An antidote follows. Let’s imagine the team player we’re delegating to is called Bob and he reports to me. Here is a way to set up delegation, broadly in line with the approach espoused by the late Stephen Covey. This is a mechanism that should catch any possible derailment and put the task back on track.

Bigger picture: I help Bob understand where he and what he’s doing fits into the bigger picture. What the organisation he is part of is trying to achieve. This taps into Bob’s sense of purpose and connects the task he’s achieving with that broader purpose. The context also helps him understand the implications if he does not get it done.

Ownership: I give Bob total ownership of the task. It’s up to him to get it done. This is so he is clear that no one else is responsible for achieving the desired outcome. No one is going to pick up his toys or tie his shoelaces for him. The buck stops with him. Essentially this is an invitation for him to “step up to the plate” of responsibility.

Expectations and Results: I also make sure Bob is very clear about what kind of results are expected. This will be helped if Bob already understands the bigger picture. It’s even better to ask Bob to consider the position of the other stakeholders and figure out what a good outcome for all might be.

For example, Bob might decide he needs to finish the project on time with a high quality, technically robust solution, and on, or under, budget.

Booby Traps: If there are some big obvious pitfalls in front of Bob then it’s only fair to warn him of these in advance so he can try to avoid them.

Support: If Bob is experiencing any problems, is unclear or struggling with the task, or if the delivery of the project is in jeopardy, I make it clear I am available to support to him to get through it, or to re-agree expectations. But I definitely am not going to do it for him.

Mistakes: Bob will undoubtedly make plenty of mistakes, we all do. This will help him learn and become more resourceful and do his job better, especially if all “mistakes” as are treated as learning opportunities. Not with punishment or disapproval, but with encouragement and support.

Feedback: Feedback should be a gift not a weapon. If given as a gift your teams will grow, develop and make you look good. If used as a weapon then your groups will regress, be generally unhappy and perform badly – they will be fearful of taking risks or “getting it wrong”. This kills innovation, creativity and energy.

Finally, having set all this up, you now need to live by the rules you’ve created. Again this is  basically because “monkey see, monkey do”. Other people will do as you do, not as you say. Any ambiguity also creates “wriggle room” – space to allow people to wriggle out of their responsibility. However, if you are consistently well boundaried and do what you’ve said you will do, the opportunity for others to wriggle will be minimised.

Good luck!


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Too big to fail?

A recent post in the Conscious Capitalism LinkedIn group made me think about what happens when a group – a company – gets too big.

Is this the end for consciousness? Can large companies sustain the consciousness that small groups can?

As a young man I worked for a Fortune 50 company called Digital Equipment. (No relation to the much smaller and less successful Digital Research – the company that produced the operating system CP/M).

This was a company which grew organically from a $70,000 investment in 1957 to a $14bn corporation employing some 120,000 people. Eventually it faltered and was sold to Compaq in 1997 – in what was at the time the largest merger ever in the computer industry.

As some of you will remember Compaq itself faltered and was acquired by HP in 2002.

But my story is about growth. And demise.

Following its meteoric rise over 40 years, the hard fact is that DEC was a large company that faltered and eventually disappeared.

You could put this down to all sorts of reasons. Unseen flaws in what was a highly collaborative, innovative but also caring culture? Failure to adapt to a changing marketplace? Even narcissism amongst the top team? We can speculate endlessly.

Or maybe it just got too big.

But there’s a letter from a friend and colleague of mine in Ed Schein’s book on DEC (DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC – The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation).

Schein was a consultant with DEC for many years, and it was seemingly where some of his enduring ideas about organisational culture – and process consulting – emerged.

My friend’s letter suggests that when a big corporation disappears we can talk of death. But we can also talk of new life.

He suggests we picture a sunflower. When the flower is ready, the hundreds of thousands of seeds – the employees – spread far and wide, born on the wind. They take with them the DNA of the organisation.

And indeed look around the world today and you will find many ex-DEC employees still following the values that attracted them to DEC -we could call them ‘power’ and ‘love’ – and bringing them into their working lives with new colleagues and new companies.

I like this story – obviously, because it is little self-flattering. It also helps me make sense of what happened, and the loss – of great culture, great dreams, great experiences and great friendships.

But I also think it is a story worth telling. Because it reminds me that at core organisations really are only people.

Yes, something special can happen when a group of people coalesce together in a special way – a new matrix is formed. I think groups and companies are really important. I also think that we are attracted to groups that share our values anyway – that is why we get together.

Companies – groups of people working together (literally, breaking bread together) – give us strength and collective power. And that is good if linked with generative purpose.

But we can also sustain our values individually, even if we move from one organisation to another. Our identity as individuals continues.

In many ways it is harder – being together is great. But I think being alone also contains strength and power.

And sometimes it seems to me to better than relying on any one organisation – however comforting it may be – for our sense of identity.

I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Is the “great group” the be all and end all of working consciously?

Or is there something to be said (heroism, for example) for being alone with one’s values?


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Enough is enough

I came across a really neat little report today – “Enough is Enough” – that summarises in just ten pages the reasons why we need a steady state economy, and what we need to do to get started on creating such a thing.

It was produced by two British non-profit organisations: CASSE and Economic Justice for All, and is based on work at the first Steady State Economy Conference held in June last year.

The ten straightforward proposals seem very much aligned with what we are trying to do with Conscious Business. In fact, so much so, that I have added links to relevant past posts in the list below. The ten proposals include:

  • stabilising population – sensible in a finite world, but what a challenge to achieve and maintain this;
  • reforming the monetary system – if you thought stabilising population was difficult, imagine successfully reforming banks, bankers and all that;
  • changing the way we measure progress – something so deeply entrenched in establishment thinking, and in the education system itself;
  • improving global co-operation – vital to balance the needs of countries where growth is necessary with developed countries like ours, but an immense political challenge;
  • engaging politicians and the media – another daunting task; but there are always early adopters in these groups.

And five in particular standout as of specific relevance to business:

  • limiting resource use and waste production – this, to me, is the only sensible route in a finite world, and business as a huge user of resources and producer of waste clearly has an enormous role to play in this;
  • limiting inequality – lots of practical things we can do here and are already exploring – like limiting the gap between the highest and lowest paid; and introducing new models of business ownership;
  • securing full employment – this requires a change in the way we think about employment – for example, to allow us to reduce the working week. I have written before about the real, underlying challenges of this;
  • changing consumer behaviour – we have the technology, and probably the know-how; but do we, collectively, have the will: this means, ultimately, changing ourselves?
  • rethinking business and production – the key here for me is changing the primary goal of business towards developing the people in the business – helping them become more conscious and happier.

All of these things are difficult individually. And overall the list of 10 priorities can make the whole exercise seem overwhelmingly hard. But two things strike me:

  1. We are already some way down the track on many of these things. I know more about the business elements than the others but I know we have been experimenting – going around the loop of failure and success – for many years. Conscious Business itself is already a broad and growing church.
  2. What an exciting and amazing overall goal? A true Big Hairy Audacious Goal – something stimulating and exciting for a whole new generation of younger business people. Young people who in many cases aren’t held back by the attitudes and outlook of their older colleagues. People who are happy to shake up the status quo and challenge “Establishment” thinking.
Game on!


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What a week

What a week that was.

Momentous change in Egypt, people power in action – again. The process that Ghandi helped start in India in the 1920 to 40s, that continued in the U.S. Deep South in the 1950s and 60s, continues today. And, it seems, enabled by ever faster, more democratic media to be, if anything accelerating. Despite the fears of a surveillance culture, centralised control and so forth, we seem (at least to this optimist) to be moving slowly in the right direction.

And on another front it was pleasing to read and hear Michael Porter, the eminent business guru, apparently joining the bandwagon of “democratic business” (WorldBlu?), “social business” (Yunus?), “sustainable business” (Anderson?) and “conscious capitalism” (Mackey?) – all things related to what we might call Conscious Business.

Pleasing as it demonstrates how mainstream these ideas are becoming.

But beyond that it is also interesting to ask “how are we to ensure that this innovation, once underway, continues?”. Many, many forces are able to kill off good ideas long before they really get established. Indeed, does entering the mainstream always represent a good thing?

Two very familiar phenomena are backlash and whitewash.

Examples of backlash are all too common – everyone is watching Egypt with concern, for example. Will the “uprising” cause a backlash from the “system” that initially appears to allow it?

Whitewash, while less violent, is perhaps more worrying. And it is equally common when change “threatens”: for example, we all recognise “greenwash” in relation to the response of mainstream business to environmental concerns. As this new type of conscious business emerges, as my friend and colleague Tom Nixon asks: “how many of, say, the FTSE 100 or the Fortune 500 have made it real?”

In response, I’d like to quote Hunter Lovins: “Hypocrisy is the first step to real change.” His point is that once somebody says something, then we can hold them to account for it.

So let’s listen to what Porter and the gurus have to say. Then see whether corporate America and corporate UK actually change. Or if they just pretend to.

And then, personally, we need to hold the line. Hold on to our own beliefs and hold others to account for what they are saying. To make sure their actions follow their words.

Of course, that requires awareness, self-knowledge and, most of all, personal strength and courage. It’s all too easy to want throw in the towel when faced by force and threat or by duplicity and pretence. Easier to give in – especially when the power of the “establishment” seems overwhelming.

For me, overcoming those desires is what Conscious Business is really about – not the big trends, not what happens in the world, not what others say and do – but what goes on inside me, the choices I make, and what I do as a result. Exploring that, in the context of business, is “the road less travelled”. But also the route to momentous change.