By Kimberly Zhang
There are many aspects of effective, inspirational leadership. Leaders need to be decisive, self-aware, honest, communicative, and the list goes on. But what about cultivating a better sense of consciousness?
Conscious leadership is a fascinating (and integral) part of any successful leader’s resume.
In this article, I will break down what the term means and provide conscious leadership principles that can help anyone be entirely present as they lead.
What Is Conscious Leadership?
Conscious leadership is an idea that came to the forefront of popular thought almost a decade ago. In 2014, the book “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership” challenged leaders to reimagine how they could lead more effectively.
Since then, the concept has continued to percolate throughout the upper echelons of business. In most cases, we define conscious leadership as the simple act of being entirely present and fully aware when leading.
The literal definition of the word consciousness bears this out. The dictionary tells us that the word means awareness or “the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact.”
While being fully aware and “in the present” may sound simplistic, in reality, it’s a very nuanced subject. A genuinely conscious leader can “read a room,” quickly understand others, and make wise, self-sacrificing decisions—and will do so consistently.
Being a conscious leader can lead to many benefits, not just for a team but for leaders, too. For instance, a fully conscious leader is more self-aware. They understand themselves better. They tend to act with greater intentionality and with bolstered confidence, too.
In the end, conscious leadership empowers you to be the best leader you can be.
How to Be a Conscious Leader
The lingering question is, how can you take steps toward integrating conscious leadership into your life?
Here are a few suggestions and some examples to help get you started.
1. Strive to Be Authentic
Ground zero for conscious leadership is the ability to be authentic. If you aren’t yourself, it’s impossible to expect to lead well. You can’t lead well by pretending to be someone else.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should blurt out every thought you have or release raw emotions. We all need to have filters in place to protect others and ourselves. Instead, a good example of authenticity could be speaking candidly to your employees about a tough situation.
Let’s say that sales are down. Of course, everyone knows it. Many fear that there will be layoffs or other cost-cutting measures that will prove painful.
No one responds well to a leader who acts as though nothing is wrong. Not addressing the issue directly will only add to the sense of dread that’s already permeating the workplace.
Instead, a conscious leader will provide outlets for employees to safely and privately share their concerns. If layoffs just might be on the horizon, a conscious leader will avoid the temptation to provide false assurances.
Practicing integrity is also an important part of authenticity. While you should censor yourself at times as a leader, whenever you speak, make sure you’re telling the truth and building that trust between yourself and your employees.
2. Consider Perspectives Other Than Your Own
Your perspective makes a huge difference in how you lead. If you see the world through the lens of “me,” it’s far more difficult to be aware of your circumstances. Instead, you need to strive to shift your perspective to see things through the lens of the collective “we.”
A good example of this—and one that comes straight from “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership”—is being an above-the-line thinker. This is a leader who is open to understanding their surroundings. They approach each circumstance with curiosity and creativity.
An example of “above-the-line thinking” could be staying calm and asking others to provide constructive information when your team gets some bad news. You don’t need to solve the problem right there on the spot. Just setting the tone is enough.
Again, a conscious leader knows full well that there is a huge difference between what an individual employee will say in a group setting vs. what they will feel empowered to share over a one-on-one cup of coffee with their supervisor.
Yes, collecting feedback from multiple sources is time-consuming. However, a fully conscious leader will view time spent with employees as an investment. It represents an opportunity to collect information, address employee concerns, become aware of previously-hidden issues, and strengthen the employee-supervisor relationship.
3. Listen More Than You Speak
Active listening is an integral part of any good, functioning workplace.
As a leader, it’s also a key way to avoid that “me” perspective highlighted above. By actively listening to others, you invite your team members into a creative, problem-solving process. Reflecting on what they say assures employees that you hear them as well.
Active listening also empowers others to take the lead. For instance, consider a scenario where you’re trying to solve a technical issue. You listen to and implement a solution from the head of your IT department. This reinforces their trust in your leadership and solves the issue more efficiently.
All too often, leaders can unconsciously bring a “been there, done that” mentality to conversations with subordinates. Because leaders often do know their business model from top to bottom, it can become all too easy to tune people out when they begin talking about something the leader thinks he or she has down pat.
Next time you catch yourself thinking you’ve heard it all before, pause long enough to formulate a relevant question. For example, “When we implemented that system five years ago, I was on the team that conducted the employee training. Would you say anything has changed since then?”
Questions such as this demonstrate that you respect the other person’s insights and that you are willing to admit that maybe you don’t know everything after all.
4. Don’t React, Respond
As a leader, there are times when you’re going to need to respond to unforeseen situations that are out of your control. However, if you lead from a position of reacting, it will undermine your ability to demonstrate conscious leadership.
Instead, be proactive about managing things in your environment that are within your control. A good example of this could be silencing notifications, phone calls, and other distractions in a meeting. Scheduling specific times of the day to respond to messages is another proactive option.
Urgent situations require enhanced focus. You might consider setting a “no laptop, no cell phone” policy for meetings called specifically to address an urgent situation.
If zero connectivity causes your team members to twitch, you might delegate an assistant to stand watch over personal phones just in case an emergency arises. However you implement an enhanced focus policy is up to you, the point is to model conscious leadership by being 100% present.
5. Be Mindful
Mindfulness is another core concept that contributes to conscious leadership. Leaders can’t always be thinking ten steps ahead. There are times when they need to slow down and focus on the present.
There are many ways to be mindful, but one of the best examples of grounding yourself in the moment is by the act of conscious breathing. Practicing deep breathing and paying attention to each breath is a good way to refocus on the present—and tend to whatever things need your attention at the moment.
“In through the nose, out through the mouth.” This can be a great starter device for slowing down your thoughts and the pace of conversation when a crisis emerges.
It might be tempting to think that slowing down for some conscious breathing is “a waste of time,” but in reality, the opposite is true. By allowing yourself space to reconsider and oxygenate your brain, you will invariably find that you waste less time following through on poor decisions.
Next time your thoughts begin to race, you might also try silently asking yourself the three questions below. As silly or obvious as they might appear, there are tremendous insights to be gained from forcing yourself to answer them, especially in difficult situations.
- Where am I?
- What am I trying to do?
- Who is best able to help solve this problem?
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, remember that conscious leadership takes time. If you want this powerful concept to influence your leadership style, you need to engage in deliberate practice regularly.
Push past your doubts that all of “this consciousness stuff” is just a waste of time or that your time would be better spent doing something. Think of adopting consciousness practices as a long-term investment in your mental health and a hedge against burnout.
If you’re still skeptical, set up a calendar reminder to try it out for a few weeks.
You will benefit. Your employees will benefit. Over time, you’re most likely to find that your bottom line will benefit, too.
If you’re feeling frustrated with your progress, remind yourself of the classic practice statistic:
- It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything.
- In other words, nothing comes quick and easy.
- There is always a price.
When it comes to conscious leadership, your willingness to put in the effort and practice the right skills is the only way to truly transform your leadership abilities for the better.
Conscious leadership is a powerful tool. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO with thousands of employees or a team leader guiding a small group through a temporary project. Embracing the conscious leadership principles outlined above can help you make effective, thoughtful, and inspired decisions every day.
*Kimberly Zhang is the Chief Editor of Under30CEO and has a passion for educating the next generation of leaders to be successful.
*This article first appeared on lifehack.org website.