Time to wake up: The inner game of conscious leadership
Leadership, as with most roles or identities we hold in life, is never finite. There is no winning at leadership. We don’t get to a point in our lives where we have all the answers. Leadership is nuanced and complex, it’s dependent on our ability to continually adapt ourselves to the constant changes both with our context, our environment and the world, as well as within ourselves, our own self-discovery and personal leadership journey.
It’s the interplay between adapting to your context and adapting yourself, and the emphasis each leader puts on this duality in effectively managing this, is what we believe defines great leadership. But often we focus 100% of our time on our context, the stuff, the noise and very little (if any) on ourselves.
We make choices to exist in an interconnected and busy world, where we have 24/7 access to people in the office. Allowing busyness to dictate our work priorities. Putting our efforts and time into reacting to emails, to-do lists, and putting out perceived fires rather than truly and deeply connecting with ourselves and the people in our teams and organisations.
How regularly do leaders truly check in with how they are and how they feel? Let alone how their teams are doing? Not with the tasks that need completing, but how they are, as living, feeling, human beings in that moment. Without making true time to pause and reflect, how can any of us be confident in the decisions that we are making? We are so focused on reacting quickly to clear down our daily task list that we squeeze out space to explore, understand and connect.
It’s time to change our approach and look within
People are craving real connection, depth and meaning now more than ever. Our expectations are rising to see more authenticity and vulnerability in our leaders. We feel disconnected and distanced from leaders unable to access this, leaders who are still playing a game and wearing an impenetrable suit of armour. What people are seeking is more conscious leadership, where leaders recognise their impact and care about the consequences.
Conscious leaders are committed to personal growth and mastery, to building their self-awareness in service of supporting and developing other people’s potential. They are committed to a purpose that is beyond profit and operate with openness and compassion for others.
So how do I become a conscious leader?
In 2010, Harvard psychologists found that our minds are ‘lost in thought’ 47% of the time, that’s almost half our lives where we are not really here. Knowing this is one thing, but doing something about this is critical. How can we ensure we are not ‘lost’ or distracted, but instead conscious, focused and present? We need to observe, to work hard to notice how easy it is to get swept up in thought and to be the observer of these thoughts rather than an unconscious thinker.
We all feel stressed and anxious with the busyness of the mind, racing 100 miles ahead at the prospect of the work that needs to be done, or worrying about what might have happened in the past. Practically speaking, whether you call it meditation or mindfulness, it is the easiest way to observe. Giving yourself the time to pause, to reconnect with yourself and notice the fullness of your mind, and to give you space to breathe and to just be. Pausing and connecting into your body and how you are feeling, creating more spaciousness and calm, helps to broaden the gap between thought and reaction, to enable a more considered, conscious response.
“When you can arrive at the point where looking and listening comes from your entire being, you are setting the stage to be an inspiring leader”
A simple meditation practise to try right now, taking only 5 minutes. Breath in for 4 counts (1,2,3,4) hold your breath for 2 counts (1,2) breath out for 6 counts (1,2,3,4,5,6). Now continue this flow for 5 minutes. It’s that simple. Notice how thoughts will automatically jump in and distract you, and that’s ok. Just try to be the observer of the thoughts and see them as ‘thoughts’. Don’t let the thoughts take you over, and instead return to counting your breaths. Doing this once will give you a sense of calm and perspective. Doing it repeatedly will build a muscle of focus and consciousness that will allow you to observe yourself and others more clearly.
To be clear egos are not inherently bad, and is to some extent part of being human, and to operate without an ego is extremely challenging if not near impossible for most of us. So, we’re not talking about eradicating the ego, but leaders do need to look inwards and start to recognise some of the belief systems that underpin the egos they carry around with them. Only when you can start to perceive ego as of your own making can you begin to operate beyond it, rather than hanging on to it as if your life depends on it.
“We must go beyond the constant clamor of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul.”
Are you always wanting more? Disliking it when others succeed? Constantly comparing yourself with others? Always being defensive? Feeling superior or inferior to others? Setting unattainable goals? Feeling fear, anxiety, expectation, regret, guilt or anger? The list could go on and on. Learning to let go of your unhelpful ego is easy in theory. However, it can be very difficult to execute in the moment.
Delving into certain work situations that tend to trigger your ego more than others is a key to uncovering and understanding how to manage your ego. Where do these trigger stem from? Often, they are rarely due to the situation that triggers them and instead are more deep-rooted and may derive from your emotional history and belief systems. Through exploration of these triggers, and any unhelpful beliefs you may be holding, you can start to explore how your beliefs are holding you back and work to uncover the facts versus your beliefs to reframe these positively for you, or to move on from them.
Reframing is all about how you consciously choose to view a situation. Taking a choice to reframe the situation to have the least negative impact on you, or to choose to perceive the person who has triggered you as having positive intentions.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking it makes it so”
Notice, pause and act
This is all about growing the space between your reaction and action to help you to act in line with your true purpose versus reacting to an ‘emotional hijack’. Firstly, notice that you are being triggered or that an emotion is bubbling up in you. Try to be the observer of the emotion instead of letting the emotion overwhelm you. Next, find space to pause and take a deep breath which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, naturally taking the heat out of your emotional temperature. Finally choose your response – ask yourself what the most helpful responses right now might be? How have you handled similar situations in the past? Or what might your best self do right now?
It’s time for leaders to wake up, disconnect from unhelpful egos and beliefs and connect into their consciousness to better empower and enable others. Simon Sinek in his book the Infinite Game reminds us that “an infinite mindset embraces abundance whereas a finite mindset operates with a scarcity mentality. In the Infinite Game we accept that “being the best” is a fool’s errand and that multiple players can do well at the same time.” Becoming better equipped to observe, discover and respond as a leader provides strong foundations to develop more conscious leadership and a more connected, collective perspective. And that approach helps to create infinite organisations with a lasting, positive legacy.
Professor Marc Brackett (2019) Permission to feel: Unlock the power of emotions to help yourself and your child thrive. Quercus / Brené Brown (2018) Dare to lead: Brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Vermilion London / Dr Deepka Chopra (1996) The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success. Bantam Press / Simon Sinek (2020) The Infinite Game: How great Businesses Achieve Long Lasting Success. Portfolio Penguin / Eckhart Tolle (2016) – The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Yellow Kite / Shefali Tsabary (2014) – The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. Yellow Kite.