Gone are the days of the CEO for life. Today, when a well-intentioned, freshly-recruited CEO enters the doors of the highest executive office at the company, those doors typically are left propped slightly open.
In fact, over the past several years, the average tenure of a corporate CEO has plummeted to just under seven years – a worrying notion for companies with consistency on their minds. In reality, the notion of leadership has changed -- and the change has accelerated over the past few years, starting at the very top.
The CEO – and other C-suite inhabitants -- are now frequently moving to lead new companies, work with new leadership teams, and find new approaches to numerous business problems. At each stop, an executive must adapt to a new style and culture and quickly gain the ability to guide its destiny – no easy feat, to be sure.
The increased rate of churn and the pressure to quickly adapt to a new company has given rise to the practice of conscious leadership. Though not new, it has a value that resonates in today’s business environment. The concept and models have a remarkable way of aligning a leadership team, that, when successful, can foster heightened levels of success.
As the new interim CMO at a global cybersecurity company, I had the opportunity to experience conscious leadership in action, and from the perspective of a new person joining an executive team. The forward-thinking CEO of this company knew he needed to bring his leadership team closer together, to achieve greater alignment across the entire organization, and promote improved decision-making. As a result, he chose to incorporate conscious leadership.
There is much written about conscious leadership. Jim Fallon, a consultant with Conscious Leadership Group, breaks it down as a sum of two distinct parts: Conscious means to be “present” in a non-triggered, non-reactive way; leadership, according to Fallon, is a means of taking radical responsibility for the influence we have in the world.
"Radical responsibility,” said Fallon, “means taking 100 percent responsibility…not just for leading a team, but to take responsibility for our part in all of the relationships in our lives.”
Individuals and teams who are willing to practice this find they have less drama -- in all areas of their lives. And as drama goes down, energy and creativity naturally rise. Living in a state of heightened creativity is not only more fun, but the teams that do this together put themselves at a competitive advantage.
Many people are interested in becoming a more conscious (awake, present, engaged) leader. At the Conscious Leadership Group, Fallon says there are three foundational moves that are the basis of all conscious leadership. If you want to be a conscious leader, you must master these moves.
1. Move from drifting to committing.
No one has ever become a conscious leader without committing to being a conscious leader. Here’s what we mean: Every October, 40,000 people run the Chicago Marathon. No one will finish that great test of discipline and fortitude without committing. For many, the commitment started months or years ago when one day (and then on many, many consecutive days) they committed to run a marathon.
Conscious leadership is not accidental. It is intentional. This intention and commitment is not a one-time decision. In life, we all commit. We commit to lose 10 lbs., to be a more present parent, or to achieve our sales goals. We commit, and then we drift away from our commitment. We find ourselves eating a cookie, zoning out while talking to our kids, or doing something other than the next action step to reach our sales goal. The issue is not the original commitment; it’s the infinite number of recommitments. The pattern of life and conscious leadership is commit, drift, and shift. Shifting is the act of recommitting.
2. Move from blaming to claiming.
What most distinguishes a conscious leader from an unconscious leader is that conscious leaders claim responsibility by taking it. Unconscious leaders spend their time blaming people, circumstances, and conditions for what is happening in their lives. They blame others and they blame themselves. Conscious leaders understand that responsibility is not something that can be assigned. It can only be taken.
In every situation, conscious leaders notice their impulse to blame, to point a finger, and to find fault. They catch this tendency and then they choose to take responsibility. Choosing responsibility means asking, “How have I created or contributed to this?” and not “Who did it?” Conscious leaders understand that there is tremendous power in claiming responsibility, and no power in looking to the past to find fault.
The question, “How have I created this?” is not just code for blaming yourself. That would be unconscious leadership. When conscious leaders ask, “How have I created this?” they are asking from curiosity and wonder. They assume that whatever is happening is for the sake of learning, both their own and for their organization – so they seize the opportunity. Unconscious leaders can come up with infinite evidence that they didn’t create or contribute to the situation, while conscious leaders want to determine exactly how they did. They see that they contributed by what they did or didn’t do, by what they said or didn’t say, and by how they were being or not being as a leader. They lead their organizations by being the first to step into any situation with the words, “I take responsibility for my part, which is…,” and, “Here is what I’m learning.”
3. Move from being right to being curious.
Are you secure enough that you don’t always need to be right? Everyone’s ego desperately wants to be right and, more importantly, to prove that it’s right. The ego perceives admitting being wrong as a threat to its very survival. Unconscious leaders will fight to the finish to prove that they’re right. Conscious leaders have the same knee jerk ego-based reaction to being right. The difference is, they see the reaction, they breathe, and they choose to move from being right to being curious. In order to be curious, one has to be secure. Conscious leaders don’t need constant outside validation to prove that they are valuable, in control, or safe.
Because of this deep security (which is another conscious leadership core practice that can be developed over time), they lead with childlike wonder and curiosity. Like a child, they look at all situations with fresh eyes, and in doing so, they see things about people and situations that leaders who are attached to proving their “rightness” never see.
To apply this right now, think about a conflict you’re currently in. As with all conflicts, it’s rooted in two sides wanting to be right. In this conflict, what are you right about? Write it down. Make a list. Feel your “rightness,” and maybe even your self-righteousness. If you stay on this path, what you “get” is to be right. For many leaders this is the goal -- but not for conscious leaders. Proving you’re right is the booby prize. We tell leaders all the time what they already know from experience. If you fight to be right, you get to be right; you don’t get to be happy or connected to people or creative or experiencing life in a new and expansive way. Conscious leaders move over and over again from wanting to be right to being deeply curious.
Alignment and improved decision-making will always be important to forward-looking companies. Conscious leadership helps executive teams become more open in their communication and conversations, claim and take responsibility, and become secure enough in themselves that they don’t always need to be right. It’s not always the right approach for every company, but in today’s changing and challenging business world, it is definitely worth exploring.