creating conscious corporations
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Can you picture this scene? It’s 6:00am and your alarm jolts you from your semi-conscious dream state; you had finally drifted off after a restless night worrying about your impending presentation. After a moment of confusion, you realize the day has arrived and you feel even less prepared than you did yesterday under the groggy weight of last night’s sleep deprivation. You mutter a lifeless “good morning” to your spouse and decide to skip the gym with the excuse that you should really go to the office early to rehearse before the chaos of the day begins. After a rushed shower, you jump in the car, swing through the corner drive-through for breakfast on the go, and embark on your 45-minute horn-honking and profanity-abound commute. Throughout the drive, you anxiously catch up on the nights’ email barrage at each red light; your heart rate increases as you prepare to respond to the latest crisis and onslaught of demands that await you when you walk into the office…
How many of us are living the daily grind, the routine, the stress and sacrificing what we really want or who we really are for who or what we think we should be or do? Is it even fair to call that living? More like surviving. It feels like we are hamsters running on a wheel – the faster we run, the faster the wheel turns. And what is the cost of this daily routine not only to ourselves, but to our families, our teams and organizations? According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, an internationally renowned author, lecturer, researcher, and corporate consultant whose books have made a significant impact on me, most of us spend the majority of our time in a state of heightened arousal, or fight or flight mode, such that it has developed into chronic stress. This prolonged stress response is maladaptive and prevents our bodies from conducting their normal intended functions, including fighting viruses and bacteria that lead to illness and chronic disease. As we stay on high alert, our bodies become so conditioned to these chemicals that they even become addicted to them. Aside from the destructive physical impact, when the brain is aroused by this constant tension, we have to keep shifting our attention in our outer world (think obsessively checking email, social media accounts, calendars…). As we do this repetitively over time, the act of habitually redirecting our attention actually compartmentalizes the brain and leads to its inferior overall functioning: mismanaged energy, lower productivity, and sacrifice of most of our creativity. In summary, we become victims of our lives instead of the creators of it.
This unnatural and detrimental way of operating casts an even wider net into our communities. Many of us spend most of our waking hours at work (and often too many of our resting hours working or thinking about work), and our stress is both generated and recycled in this environment. How often are you torn away from the time you planned to prepare for your important meeting or presentation in order to “fire fight” the latest crisis that has arisen? In both my own personal experience and based on consistent comments from almost every other professional with whom I have engaged, we are constantly reacting to someone else’s “urgent” problem (or otherwise escaping in trivial busywork), rather than focusing on the real value-added work: planning, relationship building, coaching and developing our employees and recognizing new opportunities. What would it mean for leaders and employers if we all stopped being a collection of reflexes and nerves triggered by other people and unpredictable circumstances? And what is the secret to overcoming living in a conditioned, defensive survival state in which we feel at the mercy of every 21st century “tiger” attacking us from behind the trees?
The solution, in my opinion, is actually not such a big secret. In fact, it’s our own uniquely human capacity for self-awareness or consciousness that allows us to shift from defense to offense, from victim to creator, from worker to true leader. Consciousness is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself. It is consciousness that makes any experience possible; it’s the executive control system of the mind. If we can harness this capacity to combat reactivity, we can achieve peaceful awareness, which is the seed of intuition, insight, vision, creativity, and freedom to create the reality that we want. In the workplace then, consciousness is essential to be effective, happy, engaged and productive. At the team level, effectiveness is driven by a shared vision, psychological safety and an openness to speak the truth, and finally, leaders who really see us. There is emotional bonding, empathy, compassion, support and recognition of our strengths. Undoubtedly, engaged workers make a company successful. Disengaged employees cost companies up to $550 billion a year and highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability according to Gallup, which underscores how important engagement is to the bottom line. It’s no wonder that the most successful organizations make employee engagement central to their business strategy. They give employees clear expectations and provide them with the tools and support to do their best work. Why are engaged teams more profitable? Those teams who score in the top 20% in engagement realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover, and engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy. Nothing comes for free, however. Engaging other people first requires an awareness of self, which is then translated into a larger mission and purpose at the company level.
Now that we have a compelling why, the question is how do we as individuals become more self-aware leaders and contributors, and then how does that convert to results for our teams and organizations as a whole? Just as Stephen Covey describes in his timeless book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it starts with the individual or what he calls “private victories.” Only after we learn self-mastery can we put our attention towards others, or the “public victories” such as teamwork, cooperation, and communication. He describes three endowments that make us uniquely human: self-awareness, imagination, conscience, and independent will. As we’ve explored, self-awareness or consciousness is foundational as we think about our thoughts, learn and evaluate from experience, and make or break habits. We are not our feelings, moods, or our thoughts. Our ability to not only understand that conceptually, but practice actively stepping outside of the daily grind to observe ourselves (our inner dialogue, behaviors, reactions, and temperaments) is what separates and elevates our species over all others in this world and it is also what allows us to evolve and advance. From a place of self-awareness, we can use our imagination to create beyond our present reality - create our futures, be creative, and invent new creations - using our principles to guide our behavior and act in alignment with our values, and finally to exercise our independent will to make our desired futures come alive. Consciousness is inherent in all of us, but it requires an intention and practice in order to reap the benefits of deploying it. Today’s buzzwords are mindfulness and meditation, and while all the studies demonstrate the power and healthfulness of quieting the mind, the concepts and practices are still a long way from being de-mystified in most corporate environments. Nevertheless, the reality is that just as companies are waking up to the necessity of providing wellness programs for their employees, more of them will eventually incorporate or add mindfulness to their vocabulary and repertoire of benefits because the evolving consumer consciousness will demand it. My hypothesis is that as customers continue to look for more from the companies they are patronizing, it will create a new paradigm in which all successful businesses must also do more and be more, both externally to generate profits and internally to attract and retain employees. It’s no longer just about the dollars and cents, companies themselves will eventually (if they are not already) be compelled to demonstrate how they are expanding the consciousness of the world, making it a better place for everyone to inhabit.
This shift requires that as leaders we rise above the daily hustle, thoughtfully learn to step outside of our ego lenses and really engage our teams. We must become leader coaches and employ many of the principles that I have learned in my professional coaching certification such as the three levels of listening and self-management. In the first level of listening, our attention is on us; we listen to the words that are being spoken and pay attention to our thoughts, judgments and opinions about ourselves and others. In the second level the attention is on the other person, which makes him or her feel heard. Level three listening, however, opens the focus to everything: what is going on personally, with the other person, and the environment. Only by listening at all three levels, which requires managing our own minds, are we able to reserve judgements and be curious and open for our intuition to help guide us. The other coaching principle that is available only from a place of awareness is the ability to focus on the whole person, whether it be our boss, our employees, our work teams or our customers. Under the enormous pressure to demonstrate short-term results, leaders’ and managers’ tendency is to focus on the problem to be solved. But leaders manage people, not just problems. Sustainable results come from developing talent and creating a more resourceful and effective organization, long after the problem is solved. Even under organizational stress, this whole-person mindset sees opportunity that cannot be overlooked and fosters an environment of safety, respect and growth. When was the last time you asked your employee how he was doing and really, care-fully listened to his response?
Ultimately these practices and fundamental changes in organizations need to occur from both ends: top down and bottom up. While it’s critical that a company have a conscious, compelling vision, mission and values, it’s equally important that employees, managers and leaders contribute to defining them as well as create and sustain the culture that drives their success. When a company not only supports the creation and development of a greater consciousness in all of its employees through its culture, programs, processes and even technology, imagine the possibilities. And that is the real truth – whatever we can imagine, we can create. We just have to wake up to the simple knowing that we can step out of the hamster wheel and take charge. In the words of the great Dr. Seuss, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go...” My call to action is this: decide to create your most fulfilling life and then act to be a conscious contributor for yourself, your team and the companies whose missions make the kind of impact you want to see in the world.