In a world where the word “leadership” generates 799 billion results on Google, why would we need to define another form of leadership?

The answer is simple: Today’s world is different. Words like “disruption,” “innovation,” “megatrends” and “digital” jostle uncomfortably for space alongside demands for meaning, purpose, values and managing millennials. Business leaders are required to answer for how responsible their organization is in its impact on the wider world. Being a leader in this unfamiliar terrain requires an upgrade, not just of skillsets and knowledge, but of the very operating system of leaders themselves.

Conscious Leadership

This operating system can be thought of as conscious leadership, which includes four elements:

  • Strong self-awareness and an investment in self-mastery (the “I” domain)
  • Being conscious and self-aware in relating to others (the “we” domain)
  • Highly tuned awareness of the systems in which he or she operates (the “its” domain)
  • An inner drive to contribute collectively and responsibly towards the greater whole

These primary qualities of conscious leaders make them highly suited to leading in a world that is interconnected, where ripple effects caused by organizations have far-reaching effects on other parts of the world, where collective intelligence is needed to crack some of the bigger problems we face by using our combined resources and innovation, and where leaders are required to be authentic and transparent in their being and actions, because business is conducted in the public eye.

Take, for example, Laura Roberts, CEO of Pantheon Enterprises, a U.S.-based conscious chemical company. Laura is a highly self-aware leader who has been on a personal journey of self-mastery for many years. She is highly attuned to issues of sustainability and the responsibility of business to the world at large. Her personal purpose is to revolutionize the chemical industry, because she is concerned that chemicals are being produced irresponsibly with little regard for their long-term effects. That personal purpose feeds into her organization’s purpose, which is to support innovation in the chemical industry to ensure the responsible production of products.

In doing this work, Laura looks to form collaborations with Pantheon’s stakeholders, and even with its competitors, to amplify innovation in order to fulfil this purpose. In fact, competitors are even labeled “future potential partners.” At no time is Laura jettisoning the operational soundness of the business, nor is she putting aside the importance of profitability. She does what many conscious leaders do: She looks at how to lead her organization with due regard for profit and shareholder happiness, while looking for ingenious ways to fulfil its purpose.

Recognizing and Developing Conscious Leaders

How do you develop conscious leaders in your own organization? To a great extent, leaders have to be ready to evolve themselves and their worldview. They need to be ready to take on more conscious perspectives, and no amount of forcing them or training them will cause that to happen. It involves “vertical development” (growing a bigger mind) rather than “horizontal development” (growing skills and competencies).

In many respects, it’s about looking for those leaders where these qualities are in evidence and can be nurtured. You’ll recognize these individuals among your ranks by their willingness to see things from multiple points of view; by how they are in it for the greater good, not personal glory; and by how they seek out collective action and collaboration in order to solve big, systems-wide problems. They’ll be the people looking to the furthest reaches of the system and taking a stand for what needs to happen to bring about collective, even global, benefit to multiple stakeholders, inside and outside your organization.

There are interventions that can help. Certain “stage map” tools can be very useful. They plot how ready a leader is to embark on this journey and how evolved they are along the trajectory of adult development. This is particularly helpful when combined with high-caliber coaching, where the coach has an equally developed and nuanced perspective on life.

Providing systems-thinking training can always benefit leaders, as they are encouraged to see the interplay of stakeholders and consider the impact of their actions on the wider system. Transformational leadership development programs that increase self-awareness and insight into one’s values and purpose, rather than adding content knowledge, can be very helpful as well. And interpersonal solutions that develop a leader’s ability to collaborate, create dialogue, and use “both/and” thinking in his or her interactions can build the ability to relate consciously to others.

The future is by all accounts going to be unrecognizable from what we know today, and ever more rapidly so. Developing leaders with purpose who can evolve with the times will be crucial in helping organizations to survive and thrive.

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