What Is Conscious Leadership And Why It Matters

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What Is Conscious Leadership And Why It Matters

Conscious leadership is self-awareness, relational awareness, and behaviors that promote healthy interpersonal relationships and team collaboration.

Conscious leaders speak with integrity, lead with authenticity, and hold themselves accountable. They listen with the intent to understand and not just to respond, and they do it by being in tune with themselves and the world around them.
Jennifer Cohen, Forbes
Conscious leadership is the practice of being more aware as a leader. Awareness, or consciousness as a leader, can have some positive effects on the people you lead and the places where you work. If you become aware of habits or patterns that you can improve on, or new processes you can build for yourself during your workday, you may be able to develop more consciously beneficial habits for everyone involved with your department.
Jennifer Herrity, Indeed

Open Eye defines conscious leadership as self-awareness, relational awareness, and behaviors that promote healthy interpersonal relationships and team collaboration. Conscious leadership means looking after and taking responsibility for your inner world first and foremost, and becoming aware of when you might be languishing on caring for that world. Then, and this is the turning point, making a conscious decision to act in a way that supports your well-being and that of your co-workers.

Conscious leadership is framed by such forward-looking concepts as emotional agility, DEI, change management, human-centered design, and team compassion. This is the vision of transformed workplaces. The challenge is how do we integrate a slate of new organizational concepts with existing workplace practice and procedure? How do we unmake what isn’t working?

We cannot transform overnight. A recent Anatomy of Work report by Asana summed up the challenge, quoting Lawrence Miller of HAAS School, “Leaders can’t just prepare to adjust, they have to plan to adjust. You can’t say, ‘Well, it’s a free-for-all until we get to the perfect solution.’ You have to pick a direction, knowing full well that listening to feedback is an essential part of the path forward.”

What are the realistic steps for an organization to transition from tracking widgets and spreadsheets, to one recognizing and creating a work culture of safety, trust, inclusiveness, engagement, and peak performance? Asana concluded that 2022-23 will be a study in contradictions, as necessary transformation is underway, and this understandably will bring conflict and confusion.

It might seem like an easier path would be to turn away from challenges, especially during such turbulent and stressful times as these. But as the chaos theory reminds us, great discoveries and advancements are born in such times.

Building a Model for Conscious Leaders

Conscious leadership casts a wide net that covers anything from workplace yoga to prioritizing entrepreneurial thinking. Depending on the organization, it can expand into spirituality, which is not usually a natural fit for the workplace.

To refine conscious leadership, we unpacked what was at the heart of leadership that values people, and mirrors this through organizational policy and practice. In the course of our deep dive, one thread kept surfacing: conscious leadership starts with healthy interpersonal relationships at work. With that comes trust, respect, safety, and shared values; by having that in place, people have the space to be inspired and to reach their dreams.

Healthy relationships in teams and within the organization as a whole, can transform the status quo that is no longer working, to a more collaborative leadership model. We incorporate tools, techniques, content, coaching, and teaching, to develop a realistic and scalable model for conscious leadership that at its core promotes fulfilling relationships in the workplace.

“In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”
Baroness Minouche Shafik, Director London School of Economics

How Conscious Leadership Plays Out with Teams

Carly Hauk, a noted author who specializes in leadership development, calls on our inner capacities of self-awareness, empathy, and compassion to create psychological safety at work. Hauk’s research explores how this produces high-performance teams. She unpacks specific skills to support psychological safety and identifies mile markers to gauge team progress.

A growing body of research consistently shows that communication, trust-building, and strong interpersonal relationships correlate to a healthier bottom line. Conversely, when workers feel disengaged and isolated, loss of productivity, creativity, and presence become huge financial liabilities for businesses. The Conference Board estimates some $450B is lost each year because workers are disconnected and uninvested in the organization.

To avoid such loss it stands to reason that every individual’s commitment to self-care, well-being, and success is made exponentially stronger with the support of others and a shared vision for the organization. But achieving high levels of performance requires holistic commitment at all organizational levels.

What Stands in the Way?

If conscious leadership can prove to be an enormous benefit to leaders, managers, and staff, what’s standing in the way of wholesale commitment and adoption?

Conscious leadership is not for everyone and not for every organization. It’s important to realize and respect this, rather than try to force a different method of leadership onto a team. Change is neither simple nor easy and at any point in time, 70 percent of all change efforts fail. Charging ahead when the team isn’t ready is not the best path forward.

Traditional managers may suspect that conscious leadership is too soft and loses track of discipline that has brought predictable results. In a curious nod to the hedonic treadmill, Jim Dethmer of the Conscious Leadership Group notes that each of us has a threshold for happiness and contentment. Too much of a good thing on the team could ironically create dissonance. All this is to say that conscious leadership is not a panacea and before committing your team, be self-aware and other-aware to confirm the support and interest are there.

Conscious leadership is best when it’s introduced in the context of engaging and valuing team members and offers realistic, actionable practices and techniques to foster collaboration. With this foundation, an efficiently run organization can reach for higher aspirations, active engagement, and peak performance shared by all. Our research consistently shows improving interpersonal relationships is a win-win-win situation—win for the individual, win for coworkers, and win for the organization.

8 Simple Actions You Can Take Today

We’ve put together a checklist of steps that lead to conscious leadership in teams, to create, regardless of whether you’re sharing a coffee in person, texting a colleague, or meeting over Zoom. These interpersonal relationship tips can form a strong, trusting bond. Try out one, two, or a few and see how it goes. Take note of how you feel about yourself and your contributions before you focus on how others respond.

1. Start putting yourself first. Know what you want from your participation in the team and stop putting others first.

2. Say what you mean with respect and compassion. Note that honoring what you want doesn’t mean minimizing another; it means being open and honest with your thoughts and feelings.

3. Admit that you don’t know it all—that you cannot do it all. Healthy teams rely on all members.

4. You don’t always have to give advice. Some people think unless they pipe up with some opinion or improvement they won’t be valued or noticed. Sometimes validating another takes you much further than automatic advice-giving.

5. Learn to let go. Let others make their own choices without trying to control the outcome. Recognize what is in your control and what is beyond it.

6. But you don’t always say yes! Saying no makes you more honest in relationships. Trusted friends and colleagues support you by saying “no” when necessary.

7. Ask for what you need and be clear with your needs. Don’t sweep them aside even if it’s contrary to another’s view. Healthy conflict strengthens teams.

8. Own your ideas and participation. Take accountability for your actions. Be yourself and resist your identity getting wrapped up in others.

If you would like to know more about how to form and cultivate conscious leadership in your team, we’d love to chat!

This article is part of a conscious leadership series on thriving at work through self-awareness and internal well-being


RuthAnn Greuling, MA, Certified Relationship Coach, and Co-director, Conscious Leadership, Open Eye Partners

Hilary Osborne, Certified Relationships Coach and Co-director, Conscious Leadership, Open Eye Partners

Hilary Osborne & RuthAnn Greuling
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