What Is Conscious Leadership?
The world is crying out for Conscious Leaders who are aware, awake, and connected as they rise to the challenges of our times.
For millennia, human beings have been on similar journeys of self-discovery, pursuing knowledge, power, health, wealth, purpose, happiness and excellence. The human drive to look outwards, go further, run faster and build taller continues to inspire amazing feats of performance, science, engineering, medicine, and technological mastery.
Yet while the human race has achieved great things, we have also propelled ourselves towards significant problems, environmentally, socially and politically. Our societies work well for some and poorly for many, and we find ourselves poised at a moment in history where fresh solutions must now call forward an entirely new paradigm of leadership consciousness if we are to thrive in the next millennia. Conscious Leadership is that paradigm. As Dominic Barton, Global Head of McKinsey puts it: Leadership is less about what you do and becoming more of who you are. Here then, are ten practical ways to help you develop increased self-mastery on your journey as a Conscious Leader, whether you be an associate, manager, trainee, business owner, or CEO:
Start with awareness
Awareness is at the heart of being, so when it comes to Conscious Leadership, awareness is everything. The more aware you can be of yourself, others and the salient facts, the better chance you have of making the right next move. Yet to connect to the full potential of your awareness, the mind must be accessed in the right way. The route of access is as follows:
It may sound intelligent but is frequently disconnected, fearful and limited. This is why a large part of the fieldwork of a Conscious Leader is practicing body awareness and heartfulness throughout the day in order to remain connected to their higher resources.
Developing increased self-awareness will require some spaciousness in your day for contemplation, listening, and checking-in. Notice if your mind immediately presents resistance to this, and commit to breaking through. Build one of these elements into your weekday morning practice until it feels comfortable and habitual then reassess and add more if you wish.
- Digital-free wake-up. Commit to spending the first 30 minutes of your day without checking your smartphone.
- Meditate. Listen to the same 10-15 minute guided mindfulness practice every weekday morning for a month.
- Better-than-nothing workout. Each weekday morning choose three exercises you already know well, do ten reps of each, you are done.
- Look out of the window for 5 minutes with no other stimulus. Notice what is arising in the world. Notice what is arising in you.
You can keep building self-awareness throughout the day by checking in with yourself each time you catch your reflection at work today. Feel your feet on the floor and take a conscious breath. Inhale fully feeling the physical sensations of the inhale in the body, knowing that you are breathing in, exhale completely, feeling the physical sensations of the exhale, knowing that you are breathing out. Ask yourself what you’re experiencing in the moment and notice the mix of thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are present.
Start a done-list
We all have a to-do list yet most of us get to the end of the day with a mountain of tasks yet to complete, and then feel a mix of guilt, shame, and failure as we transfer the pile-up into tomorrow. Not a great recipe for happiness! Break the cycle of roll-over failure by creating a done list to go alongside your to-do list. When you record every task that you actually complete, you may soon realize you nailed it today!
Each time you tick a to-do item off the list (or pop something on the done list) take a mini-pause to celebrate. 10 mindful seconds is enough. The gaps between tasks are important.
Build your stress resilience
Part of the skill of the leader is being able to remain stable in circumstances where others are losing their grounding. Being a Conscious Leader asks you to go one step further – to remain stable and connected to yourself, others, your wisdom, and your compassion. So, if the proverbial hits the fan today at work, I recommend STOP, a pocket-practice taught on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses to help you remain in contact with your resources and respond with increased clarity and calm.
- Stop and pause. Ground yourself for a moment. Feel the force of gravity pushing you into your feet or seat.
- Take a conscious breath and bring both palms together holding your hands in a gentle clasp. Feel the warmth and energy of your body and your humanity.
- Open – widen the focus of your awareness by observing non-judgmentally what is happening internally and externally. Can you also notice If there is a new opportunity presenting itself?
- Proceed, or pause again.
At the end of the day make a list of three things that you are grateful for. Repeat daily. This is scientifically proven to improve relationships, mental and physical health, empathy, self-esteem and overall resilience.
Tough day de-brief
If things really did not go your way today, instead of dwelling in a soup of automatic negative thoughts, and feeding that sense of dread and foreboding for the days ahead, get proactive by completing these three sentences:
- 3 skills I am learning or developing
- 3 people I will positively impact this week
- 3 personal values I get to express in my role
In this way, even if there are some landmines ahead in your schedule, you can commence tomorrow with a clear intention of why you do what you do, and how it is feeding into your long-term vision of your values, life, and career.
Before bed, gift yourself a screen-free chill-down by trying this simple mindfulness practice:
- Take a seat and drop into the quiet moments, allowing yourself to sense a pause.
- Reflect on a small or large moment of happiness from the day and allow the feelings to return and be felt in the body.
- Take 5 breaths in awareness bringing to mind the details of the experience: where you were, who you were with, what you were doing.
- As you feel the sensations of happiness in the body, imagine those feelings increasing and becoming brighter.
- Finally, as you visualize tomorrow, allow yourself to notice one thing that fills you with optimism.
- Close by setting an intention for how you will move through the coming days.
Alignment is the new success
Alignment means harmonizing who you are (primary) with what you do (secondary). After all, you are a human being not a human doing. Pursuing alignment in preference to success means that as a Conscious Leader of your own life and career, each time you reach a fork in the road, large or small, you ask yourself which path takes you closer into alignment with who you really are. You will know you are moving into alignment because it brings with it happiness, purpose, and connects you with a sense of aliveness.
Finally, might I add that our world is in desperate need of Conscious Leaders just like you. As old models are being challenged and new ones are being born, Conscious Leaders need to be at the forefront speaking up for harmonic solutions to complex problems.
At whatever stage you are at in your career and life, Conscious Leadership boils down to mindful moments where suddenly you find yourself speaking up for a different way of doing things, challenging ingrained power structures, or making a bold request for something important that has been overlooked to now be considered. We practice, in order that we might meet those moments courageously and speak with confidence, purpose, and integrity.
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