Contrary to the way most people think today, the biggest crisis in the world is not climate change, political divides, deforestation, water pollution or any of the other global threats that make the headlines these days. The biggest crisis in the world today is the lack of really effective leadership – what I call “conscious leadership.”
Conscious leadership is leadership that is not only skilled and competent but is embodied in someone who is self-aware and mindful, someone who practices some form of self-examination and constantly seeks to expand their awareness. When leadership in this world becomes conscious and more self-aware people embrace conscious leadership our institutions will begin to recognize how dysfunctional they have become and the mediocrity their cultures have come to expect from them.
Social scientist Willis Harman observed that we are at a point in our history when security for some can’t be achieved until everyone feels secure. Said a different way, when the well-being of everyone becomes more important than the ambitions of a few, we will have turned a corner in the transformation of humanity.
But this requires a new consciousness. The leadership being called for today is not making the most of circumstances but rather creating new circumstances that serve the conscious evolution of humankind.
If we don’t actually live in a state of awareness we only have an intellectual concept of what conscious leadership is. Even though we may speak of it, think about it, even write about it, all that has nothing whatsoever to do with creating the reality of people leading more consciously. Conscious leadership is a lifestyle, not merely a concept or tool to be incorporated into one’s quiver of skills and talents. It is a way of being.
Executives with leadership responsibility can have much greater positive impact by embracing self-awareness or mindfulness and integrating it into the way they live, work and lead. While many executives aspire to emulate role models from the past and present most of them compromise their aspirations as matter of reasonability or convenience – “going along to get along” – and end up being mediocre leaders at best and ineffective at worst.
Reasonability will lead us to extinction. As Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable person adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”
There is plenty of know-how when it comes to leadership styles and techniques. There is a plethora of leadership development programs, workshops and books on the subject, some of which I have created. So we don’t need more books or trainings about how to lead. What is sorely lacking, however, is self-awareness, mindfulness, and a practice that keeps it fresh in the hearts and souls of the people who choose to lead. Practices vary from meditation, yoga and any variety of ongoing programs that continue to challenge leaders as they grow in consciousness and become more mindful. Here again we see that being a conscious leader is a lifestyle, not a course one takes or a single process that creates a single shift but a practice that allows shifts in consciousness to continue over a lifetime.
Harlan Cleveland, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, wrote, “Those with visible responsibility for leadership are nearly always too visible to take responsibility for change…” The conscious leader is 100% responsible for the influence he or she has in the world. Imagine that! Think of the kind of world we could have if everyone was 100% responsible for the influence they have.
Psychologist Parker J. Palmer, Founder and Senior Partner Emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer who challenges us: “If you value self-knowledge, you will become the leaders we need to help renew this society. But if, for some reason, you choose to live an unexamined life, I beg of you: do not take a job that involves other people!”
Conscious leadership does not rely on a person’s title or position of authority. It can be adapted by anyone who sees a need for leadership and is willing and courageous enough to take a stand for change. Again, it is a lifestyle for which one volunteers.
The cost of becoming a conscious leader is quite trivial when compared to
the cost of continuing to deal with one global crisis after another – like political disharmony, global warming, deforestation, genocide, nuclear accidents, and terrorism. Planet Earth is slowly becoming less capable of providing life support for we humans. The cost of refusing to grow up as a species and become conscious leaders could lead to our extinction as a species.
Why not give it a try? What harm can come from all of us consciously evolving beyond our adolescence and maturing as more conscious people and more conscious leaders?
One of my favorite quotes is from hockey super star Wayne Gretzky who said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” What harm can there be for our leaders to become more self-aware and for more people to take on greater responsibility for the impact we are having on one another and our planet? Isn’t it worth a “taking a shot”?
To return to the wise thoughts of Harman, for any of us to feel secure all of us must feel secure. In other words, when the we starts to have greater priority than the me, we will begin to tip toward a world that works for everyone.
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