Our planet is far from being ok. And there’s still a lot of inequality and poverty to fight. What kind of leaders do we need to build a better future? What role can more conscious leaders play? And what is conscious leadership?

The Need To Reinvent Our World

“We believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it can elevate our existence and it is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.”

Conscious Capitalism Movement.

As you’ve probably noticed, our world isn’t really doing ok. Many (most?) governments aren’t really creating value and they’re often failing even at “just regulating the economic markets and protecting societies” – making it harder to believe they’ll take the extra mile. Not an easy task for sure, with the exponential developments of technology (and the long time it takes to create regulations to keep pace with it) and the need to work on policies to prevent and adapt to climate change. Still, it’s hard for many citizens not to expect more of their governments, responsible for managing the taxes we all pay hoping they do a good job and improve our living standards.

With few governments taking the lead, expectations are that it’s increasingly up to businesses to help improve society by developing CSR strategies. In fact, a Trends Report study pointed out consumers are asking themselves what (big) companies are doing for the world apart from the products or services they sell. Consumers are, therefore, wondering if companies are positively contributing and creating value to the broader community they serve. They hope businesses work based on a triple bottom line where people and the planet, also matter, and not just profit. Perhaps they’re unaware, but people expect conscious businesses with conscious leaders to take the lead.

Conscious Leadership And The Leaders Of The Future

conscious capitalism

Conscious leadership is the intentional process in which leaders take the elements of both long-term and short-term leadership effectiveness into account in the execution of leadership, according to Niekerk and Niekerk. At the same time, according to Inner Compass, while reactive leadership (how we respond and act when the pace around us is faster than we ever experienced)  is likely to cripple organizations, economies, and countries, conscious leadership has the potential of helping businesses unleash their collective potential. But what is really conscious leadership?

Barrett describes conscious leaders as the ones who are above level 3 in this 7 levels leadership scale. In this way, if someone is standing on level 3 or below it means this person will likely still have some unhealthy behaviors and manage others, instead of leading them. These unhealthy behaviors, Barrett described, come from the existential fears of people’s egos. He writes that the ego has 3 different needs and is scared that they might not be met. The need for being safe where one can fear a lack of money, protection or security. The need for belonging and the fear of not having enough love, caring or acceptance. And lastly, the need for respect and recognition and the fear of not having enough power, authority or status. On a professional level, these fears can significantly impact organizations and undermine their performance. At an even greater scale, they can put the planet and human lives at stake.

It’s only when people’s ego confronts the subconscious fears (that often come from childhood traumas) and learn how to manage, master or release them that they start becoming truly inspiring and conscious leaders. Once we soothe down the voices (ego) in our head we start understanding our true purpose and what makes us feel fulfilled. And from here Barnett identifies different leadership levels where people explore their creativity, learn how to combine their ego with their true motivations or even unlock other perspectives such as the gratefulness of helping others. Understanding we’re part of a whole and a complex system that is connected with nature’s cycles and that the planet needs protection also comes along in the upper levels of Barrett’s model. Routh from Inner Compass also uses a different methodology but ends up making similar conclusions, although with a more complete framework of the capacities leaders show in different stages regarding how they are, think and act.

Conscious Leadership And The Conscious Capitalism Movement

conscious capitalism leadership

The conscious capitalism movement started with John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods, and Raj Sisodia, professor at Harvard University. It is based on the belief that it’s necessary to re-invent capitalism, shifting it away from profit and greed to a path of sustainability and value-creation where the people and the planet truly matter. Conscious capitalism’s ideology is based on 4 pillars, one of them which has to do with conscious leadership:

1 – Higher Purpose | 1# Conscious Capitalism

Higher purpose means businesses should serve a purpose besides making a profit. Profit is necessary for businesses to survive and develop. However, increasing profits shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of organizations. Instead, companies and their employees need to work for a higher goal, from producing food to feeding people and improving their well-being, to protecting the forests, making transportation more efficient, helping other businesses thrive via consultancy services or digitalizing them, among many others. At the same time, perhaps if we individually find out our why, as Simon Sinek would put it, businesses will more easily find theirs.

2 – Stakeholder Orientation | 2# Conscious Capitalism

Stakeholder orientation means businesses must take a holistic view of all the people surrounding them. Just as investors should be taken care of, so should employees, suppliers, clients, and other relevant stakeholders. So when business is being done it’s important that not only the company benefits (many times at the expense of others) but that everyone involved can have a fair share of these positive outcomes. This can might, for instance, that companies bet either on fairtrade policies (where suppliers have a fair share of their work) or certification labels like FSC for paper, UTZ for cacao or RSPO for palm oil, meaning they are sourcing from forests managed responsibly.

3 – Conscious Leadership | 3# Conscious Capitalism

This one we’ve already discussed. Applied to this organizational context, conscious leadership in the conscious capitalism movement means leaders in organizations must make sure everyone is aware and living the company’s higher purpose. They should create a culture of integrity and transparency and inspire others to embrace a collective spirit where everyone can bring out the best of themselves for the use of all.

4 – Conscious Culture | 4# Conscious Capitalism

A conscious culture is one where people are transparent, integral, loyal, fair and accountable. Where everyone is taken good care of and where people live according to the same values, principles are practices they all understand, cherish and enjoy living by. In fact, a strong organizational culture is critical to success, according to business leaders. Moreover, why we work seems to determine how well we work, according to an HRB study.

Conscious Leadership, Conscious Capitalism, And A Sustainable Planet – Is It A Match?

conscious leadership leader

We need to do things differently – you can’t deny that. We’re on track to warm up the planet more than 2ºC by the end of the century. We’re speeding up the loss of biodiversity at an unbelievable rate of around 200 species a day. We’re (not really) dealing with ocean acidification. We’re polluting the soil, water, and air in so many different ways. All this damage has started to and will increasingly come back to us as extreme weather events become stronger, affecting businesses and their supply chains – at least as for as long as we keep polluting like this plus the time it takes the planet to recover. So much technological development and we still got the old days problems of poverty, inequality, and war.

Businesses share responsibility in all this – they have been (and are still) taking down forests and reducing Earth’s ability to store co2 and they have been (and are still) producing too much food, waste, clothes, everything – with all the consequences this brings along. It’s the responsibility of governments, too. They have been failing in regulating economies and creating policies for the benefit of most. It’s the responsibility of citizens. Citizens who consume too much of everything, causing the demand to which businesses respond. Some who drive their cars without second thoughts, others who don’t recycle or compost. Buying too many clothes or too many foods that are not local nor seasonal as well. Citizens who don’t demand governments to act or companies to change. In the end, it’s all up to one thing: people’s behaviors, whether in our professional or personal lives.

Would conscious leaders keep higher profits at the expense of paying others just enough to survive? Would conscious leaders take advantage of being part of the system as politicians and make decisions that improve their own lives at the expense of taxpayers? Wouldn’t conscious farmers, at least try to develop a plan that could not even be implemented, just trying to find solutions to grow food organically, trying not to pollute and harm ecosystems and biodiversity? Wouldn’t conscious citizens avoid using their car as long as the public transportation system is decent? Wouldn’t conscious operations directors see the interdependence of stakeholders in their businesses and try to work with more sustainable suppliers or help them improve? Aren’t we needing more conscious leaders, everywhere?

Might conscious leadership be the missing link for a sustainable world? It might.

Image credits to pollution on Shutterstock, business on Shutterstock, meditating on Shutterstock and capitalism on Shutterstock