The global pandemic awakened so many of us to the severe disparities in our world. For business leaders, in particular, that awakening became a call to lead with intent and “do well by doing good.” In this piece, Corey Blake of Round Table Companies discusses the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and outlines how leaders can create psychological safety to foster truly Conscious Capitalist companies.
The pandemic has opened our eyes to severe disparities in our world, causing many leaders, including myself, to contemplate how to build socially conscious companies with more rigor. And as more consumers choose to support businesses that demonstrate social and environmental values that align with their own, we need to find new ways to lead with intent if we are committed to creating a world where businesses are forces for good.
For me, the tenets of Conscious Capitalism are the place to start. At its foundation, Conscious Capitalism focuses on elevating humanity through business and relying on profit to power impact, as opposed to profit being the sole goal. Conscious Capitalism is a movement and a lifestyle, not a trend. As a business leader in the movement, I address the challenges of owning greater responsibility for the impacts our companies manifest, intentionally or otherwise.
Addressing Limitations in Becoming a Conscious Capitalist Company
It’s appropriate to recognize that humans are not endowed with perfection or omniscience. We won’t be the change we want to see overnight, and we’ll have to deal with our missteps more often than we prefer. The admission of having only so much time and talent to give is both healthy and honest.
Based on the tenets of Conscious Capitalism, “doing well by doing good” is always top of mind. We want to generate financial returns in ways that are conscious of our impact. But it’s imperative for us to acknowledge that doing good in all segments and at all times is an impossible task.
For example, at Round Table Companies, we have a higher focus on conscious communication, storytelling, language, and presence. But we’re further behind in other domains (like conscious finance, conflict, and benefits). As we concentrate our efforts where they’re most aligned with our purpose and values, we also acknowledge our shortfalls in the areas where consciousness could be better applied.
Practicing the Tenets of Conscious Capitalism
At the heart of what Conscious Capitalist companies espouse is intention, particularly around the resource of time. I know that if I over-schedule myself — as I’m prone to do — it can be challenging to stay grounded and present to what’s in front of me. Rather than spreading myself thin to the point of losing sleep and then defaulting to less conscious behavior, I support my consciousness by prioritizing the needs and principles that matter most to my organization and life.
This is leading with intent. The process is inherently messy and imperfect, but when I lean into that imperfect intention, I give myself the grace to meet each moment in the way that’s most appropriate to the situation, rather than defaulting to reactive behavior that can damage relationships or sabotage my efforts.
Further, there’s a difference between mindfulness as a concept and its implementation — between knowing what to do and actually doing it. For instance, during the coronavirus pandemic, some 82% of consumers reported making more sustainable choices. While we might see some reversion, this behavior will ultimately push all businesses to consider adopting Conscious Capitalism mentalities.
Customers demand that our businesses create wins for stakeholders that elevate humankind. Yet we see even self-dubbed Conscious Capitalists falling into the trap of talking a better game than they’re playing. We must spend as much time elevating the consciousness of our behaviors as we do speaking about what we aspire to. Otherwise, we risk whitewashing purpose and values as a marketing tactic that will ultimately backfire when the truth is revealed.
Classically, we could view this whitewashing as valuing profit over people and the planet — the opposite of Conscious Capitalism. This is a problem we’re facing presently, where less-resourced socially conscious businesses may feel pressure to revert to what maximizes revenue to survive, even if it comes at the expense of their values.
There are no tailor-made solutions to this conundrum. Tough circumstances are tough to manage. Rather, it becomes the task of leadership teams to ask, “What’s Conscious Capitalism as it relates to my company at this moment?” Ultimately, we do best as leaders when we set out to foster mindfulness, promote the growth of each individual in our ecosystem, and implement a stakeholder orientation that works to ensure everybody wins.
Decurion, a California-based corporation that owns and manages real estate, is one such leader practicing organizational consciousness. In 2014, it was recognized as a “deliberately developmental organization.” Decurion is at the cutting edge of Conscious Capitalism because it’s consciously developing the individuals within its organization and its processes. So regardless of how conscious any particular worker is, the systems ensure consciousness.
Awakened to this approach, we must now ask ourselves, “If I removed my conscious leaders, would my organization still be conscious?” Among a select group of other Conscious Capitalist companies, Decurion can answer affirmatively while acknowledging that the work is always incomplete.
PayActiv is another Conscious Capitalist company leading by example. It invented Earned Wage Access, a product that allows workers to access the money they’ve earned between paychecks, rather than waiting weeks on an antiquated disbursement scheme. It’s an excellent solution for those who might otherwise rely on high-interest payday loans or succumb to the debt spiral of late fees and penalties. And it didn’t exist until CEO Safwan Shah saw a solution.
Creating products, services, systems, and processes that elevate the consciousness of all of us is the direction in which the future of leadership for Conscious Capitalism runs.
Leading With Intent by Example
Being conscious in business begins with acknowledging the complexity of the human experience. Expanding our understanding of that complexity requires a firsthand connection to our people. The most important step that we, as leaders, can take today is increasing psychological safety within our organizations. When employees feel psychologically safe around leadership, they’re more likely to reveal their humanity within a system that typically rewards armoring up over demonstrating vulnerability.
Enhanced psychological safety in the workplace allows for more freedom, drive, purpose, and thoughtfulness in how employees respond to one another and meet challenges. So how do we create psychological safety to foster a truly Conscious Capitalist company? It begins with our relationship to the following three agreements. The more we practice these, the more our people will follow suit over time.
- Demonstrate valuing presence. To support our people, we need to hear and understand them. This requires being present rather than giving in to the distractions that life — and particularly technology — throws at us throughout the day. Presence speaks volumes. Saying, “I respect and value your time” through our actions shows our character as a listener. It also lets our teams know they can confide in us while also encouraging them to do the same with one another.
And what’s the key to presence? As Dr. Timothy Dukes says: “The ability to show up in the present moment, with awareness of your experience as well as the experience of others, while maintaining authentic connection is either enhanced or diminished by your capacity and ability to sustain empathy.”
- Suspend judgment. Humans are wired to judge — constantly sizing up one another and reflecting that judgment back on ourselves. Judgment distances because it presumes hierarchy. When we work to suspend judgment, we see someone at eye level as they truly are, rather than looking down (or up) at them.
- Don’t fix or solve. In more vulnerable moments, our reflex may be to sprint in and rescue. The reality is that such entrances erode trust. When we play the hero, we force the other person to play the role of victim without agency. It’s better to let go of this instinct to solve problems and, instead, focus on listening and being present as a coach or challenger. The goal is to provide support in ways that allow others to find solutions within themselves.
These are steps leaders can take to develop consciousness in the ecosystem around them. Remember: The more trustworthy we are, the more room we make for those around us to step into more powerful versions of themselves that can advance our companies.
Practicing conscious leadership and becoming Conscious Capitalists are not goals we can simply think our way into or checklists we can knock out and be done with. Consciousness is an ongoing commitment to awareness — to acting appropriately and thoughtfully with each moment that unfolds before us. And in allowing ourselves and those around us to become more mindful, we will elevate everyone through sustainable outcomes for our business and communities.
Written by Corey Blake. Have you read?
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