Many leaders aren’t conscious, even a lot of the famous ones who get results. A conscious leader is one who is “here now in a non-reactive non-triggered way and therefore able to access greater IQ, EQ and BQ.” What a mouthful that is. The first key is being here, now. Dr. Ellen Langer of Stanford University says that most of us aren’t here now, and we’re not here now enough to know we’re not here now. This is really true of leaders. Instead of being here now they are in the future or the past. Instead of listening to the person right in front of them, they’re checking email or texting a client.
Being here now is a cornerstone of conscious leadership. When leaders are here now they are often triggered and reactive. Being triggered and reactive actually gets them to be present. But they’re present in an ineffective way. When a leader learns to be here now in a non-triggered, non-reactive way, several things happen. First, they think better (greater IQ). Second, they connect with others better and build better teams (greater EQ, or emotional intelligence). Third, they can access the wisdom, intelligence and decision making of the body (greater BQ, or body intelligence). In doing so they make better and faster decisions. They innovate and collaborate better and they, along the people around them, have more fun. Finally, conscious leadership is sustainable and unconscious leadership isn’t. It burns out the leader and the team. So, how do you become a conscious leader?
Responsibility is not something that can be assigned, though many leaders try to assign it. Responsibility has to be taken. Conscious leaders step up and take responsibility for whatever is occurring in their lives. If their team misses a delivery date, the conscious leader takes responsibility by asking the question, “How did I contribute to this outcome by what I did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, or by how I was or wasn’t being?” They bring great self-awareness to this question, not from self-blame, but from wanting to learn and lead. They speak to their team from this place of ownership, and in doing so they invite others to take responsibility as well.
Conscious leaders bring curiosity, openness and wonder to everything. Their highest priority is growing in self-awareness and learning. Regularly they say to themselves and to those around, “Hmmm … I wonder what we can learn from this situation?” rather than “Who messed up?” This openness invites openness and creates a climate of learning and growth, which leads to incredibly high engagement and radical innovation.
Really? The third “how to” of conscious leadership is feel your feelings? Yes. Remember that EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important than IQ over the course of a leader’s career. First, EQ is the ability to accurately label your feeling states in any given moment. Second, it is the willingness to actually feel your feelings and not suppress or repress them. Third, it’s the ability to communicate your feelings in a non-attacking, non-defensive, non-judgmental way. When leaders are masters of following feeling they actually create a safe environment where people can both feel their feelings and, equally important, get all the incredible wisdom that every feeling is here to give us.
Conscious leaders become black belts in candor. The entry point of candor is telling the truth. Most leaders lie. Most people lie. “Honey, how do I look in this dress?” “Great.” Conscious leaders not only tell the truth, they also learn to reveal and not conceal. They are both truthful and open. What makes them conscious is that they can be truthful and open in a way that invites others to be truthful and open as well. Their candor doesn’t shut people down it opens them up. Jack Welch said that the team that sees reality the best, wins. One key to a team seeing reality accurately is the persistent practice of candor.
An agreement is anything you have said you would do or anything that you have said you won’t do. Conscious leaders build trusting relationships because they can be counted on to be impeccable around their agreements. If a conscious leader says, “I’ll meet you for lunch at 12,” you can count on them to keep their agreement. You can also count on them to only make agreements they want to make. They don’t make agreements from should or ought to or because they have to. They make agreements because they want to. Conscious leaders keep 90% of all their agreements and the 10% they don’t keep they renegotiate so you don’t have to wonder. “Hey, I said I’d meet you for lunch at 12 but I want to renegotiate that to 12:30. OK?” And on the incredibly rare occasion when they break an agreement, they clean it up. “I didn’t keep my agreement to meet you at 12 for lunch. I take responsibility for that and want to know if there’s anything I can do to restore trust with you.”
Blame is the toxic sludge of unconscious leadership. Conscious leaders end blame and criticism. They don’t blame others, themselves or the system. Blame is a low level form of motivation. If a leader wants quick, short-term results she can get it by blaming others, but blame leaves a toxic residue. Conscious leaders put themselves on a blame-free diet. They announce to their team that they want to end blame and criticism and they want the team to point out to them in the moment if they have slipped back into the old habit. When blame is pointed out they stop it.
Unconscious leaders are desperate to prove to everyone they are right. Being right is the booby prize of leadership; learning and growing is the grand prize. Insecure people need to be right and to be seen as being right. Secure people know that if they’re right, they’re right and they don’t need everyone to know it. They get much more interested in learning all they can from every situation. How much time do you spend in conversations proving, defending, explaining, justifying—all in an effort to prove you’re right? Conscious leaders know this is a cosmic waste of time and energy.
Leaders lead or live either from entitlement or appreciation. Entitlement comes from expecting the world to be a certain way and believing you have a right for it to be that way. I have a right to a traffic-free commute to work and when it doesn’t happen I get mad. I have a right to being understood and respected and when I’m not I get hurt. Unconscious leaders have a long list of expectations about how things should be and these expectations are just veiled entitlements.
Conscious leaders live and lead from appreciation. They actually see the world not as how it should be or as how they deserve it to be, but as it is. They also choose to appreciate it for being just the way it is. This doesn’t make them complacent or indifferent. In fact, it makes them just the opposite. It makes them engaged and it makes them great change agents because they lead with appreciation. Conscious leaders offer five appreciations for every one constructive criticism. 5 to 1 -- that’s a game changer.
Unconscious leaders live as though life is a zero sum game. Everything you get is something I lose. Conscious leaders get the new economics of the whole. They commit to win for all outcomes, understanding that in order to create a win for all solutions we need to increase the size of the pie. Together we find a way that is good for all of us. This is not some Pollyanna pipe dream. Rather, this is the only way for leaders to create sustainability. It begins with the simple question, “What do you most want?” Great leaders ask this of everyone around them and of themselves. Then they commit to creating an outcome where everyone gets what they most want. What fun!
The more serious you are or you think the situation is, the less conscious you are. Now, there’s a statement you’re going to want to argue with. Many leaders believe that the key to effectiveness is intensity, and the key to intensity is to see that every little detail (and of course all the big ones) are serious. Being serious just increases your fear and anxiety, which can serve as a short-term motivator (like blame), but it puts us in a low learning and teaming state. Mammals (and most leaders are mammals) love to learn and play. Play is the opposite of being serious. The more that your work is play, the more creative, innovative, connected and sustainable your life will be. Being playful doesn’t mean being frivolous or having a foosball table in your office. It means that when you’re working you’re like a child at play. Focused, un-self-conscious and loving the doing of things for the sake of the doing. This playfulness is highly contagious.
Unconscious leadership is a relic of the past. It’s still hanging around but it’s days are numbered. Conscious leadership, being here now in a non-triggered non-reactive way, is the sustainable leadership of today and tomorrow. The old way simply won’t work in our new and emerging world. It’s too slow, reactive, fear based and disempowering to deliver the speed, innovation, energy and aliveness required to lead in today’s environment.
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