There was a wise man in a village who resided on a hill. He would always give the right answers to the queries posed to him by villagers, they found him to be always perfect when answering any of their questions. Some naughty kids of the village thought of making fun of the wise man by proving him wrong. Once they caught a small bird in their hand and took it to the man, they posed the question to the wise man whether the small bird in the hand was alive or dead. If the wise man said, ‘dead’ they would allow the bird to fly, if the wise man said it was alive, they would squeeze the bird and kill him proving him wrong. But when they posed the question to the wise man and asked him whether the bird was alive or dead, the wise man smiled knowing their trick and said, “It is your choice”.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. These words remind us that we always have the power to choose the path we take in life. This is true of leadership too. Conscious Leadership is a choice!
So, what is conscious leadership? Conscious leadership is becoming aware of the higher purpose that your business and you have and building a culture of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’. The one company that comes to our mind at the mention of conscious leadership is the ubiquitous Tata Brand. Jamshetji Tata when talking of the purpose of business said, “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in the business, but in fact the very existence of it.” This philosophy has always been carried out in the leadership lineage of the Tatas. Sudha Murthy who was a former employee of Telco tell us of her encounter with JRD Tata when she was leaving Telco as her husband was starting a new company that we know today as ‘Infosys’. JRD reminded her, “Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to the society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate…” That is conscious leadership.
Remember CSR activities of an organization should not be mistaken as practicing conscious leadership. The simple reason is that CSR activities practiced by companies take it as an extrinsic activity that they are bound to do to satisfy their moral compunctions. Conscious leadership believes, as seen in the above example of the Tatas, that creating value for the community is an intrinsic part for the success of the business.
A conscious leader has a paradigmatic shift in terms of how he/she views capital and practices the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism viz. Higher purpose, Stakeholder orientation, Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture according to John Mackey in his book ‘Conscious Capitalism.’
So what does a conscious leader practice or do that makes her a Conscious Leader?
- Servant Leader – A conscious leader becomes aware that beyond his/her position as a leader lies the responsibility to serve the people that he/she is responsible for starting with the employees, customer, clients, stakeholders, the community and the world. When the American Industrialist, Andrew Carnegie died, they discovered a sheet of paper upon which he had written his major goals in life, ‘To spend the first half of his life earning money and to spend the last half of his life giving it all away.’ That’s an example of Conscious Leadership. Many businessmen like Bill Gates have followed this path of serving humanity through their resources.
- Create Shared purpose – A caterpillar does not just exist to eat. It discovers its higher purpose is to be a butterfly and add value to the world by its beauty. A leader who thinks of just profits is like a caterpillar who forgets that it has a higher purpose and lives to eat. A Conscious leader has a higher purpose, that of creating value for all. Milton Friedman argued that the Social Responsibility of Business is to increase its profits. He was of the view that a company has no social responsibility and has responsibility to only its shareholders. Sounds familiar? Many businesses around the globe have been victimized by this philosophy of business.In 2019, the Business Roundtable in USA – a group of CEOs of big corporations, declared that the purpose of business is no longer to maximize profits for shareholders but to benefit other ‘stakeholders’ as well, including employees, customers and citizens. The Father of modern Economics Adam Smith talked of the ‘invisible hand’ that brings about beneficial social & economic outcome from the accumulated self-interested actions of individuals. Simply put he said business activity may start with self-interest but over time it will or has to discover that it exists for a higher shared purpose.
- Make a positive impact – Simon Sinek in his book, ‘The Infinite Game’ says there are finite minded leaders who look at businesses within a time line and then set out to do everything to emerge a winner. But they are mistaken, he talks of leaders with infinitemindset who know that the business is beyond their time line of existence. Those businesses survive where leaders don’t set to win but to grow, contribute their part to make the business have a positive impact on the society and humanity. A Conscious Leader asks the question, ‘What legacy would I be leaving behind?’
- Create workplace with meaning and high energy – Conscious Leader knows that he/she is not in the leadership position to be responsible for the outcome but is responsible for the people who in turn are responsible for the outcome! So, they set out to create a Conscious Culture by creating a workplace with meaning and high energy. People in organizations will give more when they know that beyond earning livelihood they are contributing to a higher purpose and it is the responsibility of the Conscious Leader to communicate to them this higher purpose. Apple’s vision is ‘To make the best products on earth and to leave the world better than we found it.’ Steve Jobs did not set out to make money, his passion was to build things of beauty and use to help people. The vision of Apple is pervasive in its culture, employees, customers and products.
- Help people grow and evolve – Finally a Conscious Leader believes in helping people to evolve in a better version of themselves. Someone said, “Before you are a leader, leadership is all about self-growth, after you are a leader, leadership is all about helping your people grow.” Conscious Leader looks at his/her people ‘not as they are’ but ‘what they can be’. A Conscious leader in that sense progressively becomes unnecessary in that she helps her people grow where they are capable of carrying the mantle after the former leader is gone.
Consciousness is being awareness of yourself and the world around you. Conscious Leader has self-awareness and the awareness of his/her surroundings and the impact that his/her thoughts, actions, leadership influence has on the whole. It is easy to be tempted to stray on the path of unconsciousness where you are influenced by the surroundings and your vision and voice are lost as you tread on the path to mediocrity. But Conscious Leadership is a choice to find your voice and help others find theirs.
By Sohan Tiwade,
Professional Speaker, Corporate Soft Skills Trainer, The Edge
Asst Prof. Sanjay Ghodawat Institutes.