Vote for your favorite SOCAPOpen sessions for a chance to see them at SOCAP21

5 Myths About Conscious Leadership

Tina Young June 28, 2017

Anyone on the conscious capitalism journey knows that you don’t get far with leaders who lack self-awareness or who focus on their own personal power plays. Yet there are some who, basing their opinion only on what they perceive from the outside, will still say that conscious leaders are “soft.” When skeptics see compassion, generosity, forgiveness, and flexibility, they often mistake it for a lack of toughness. Meanwhile, the daily decisions that conscious leaders make to center themselves in emotional intelligence while driving bottom-line results requires considerable professional resolve, perseverance, and mental toughness to make a positive difference.

It’s time to debunk some myths that are keeping more of us from pursuing the gratifying reality of truly conscious leadership. Are some of the myths below keeping you from clearly seeing the kind of leadership that will propel you and your organization forward?

Myth No. 1: Conscious leaders aren’t tough enough to do battle in the marketplace

Some people think conscious leaders are only about encouragement and appreciation — not holding people accountable to performance metrics and results. The opposite is true. Conscious leaders know that part of caring about the people they serve is helping them be their best. For example, Southwest Airlines, a leading airline in a highly competitive market, remains on top in part because its leaders know that demonstrating love for employees and customers returns more than just bottom-line results. Southwest leaders not only have “a servant’s heart,” as the company puts it, but also a warrior’s spirit that’s grounded in a strong work ethic and a desire to be the best.

These leaders hold high expectations for their teams, and with more than 55,000 employees helping to lift more than 4,000 flights a day off the ground, the metrics and results definitely matter. Yes, the tough conversations happen — whether about a logistical mistake or the way a situation was handled with a customer — but a conscious leader at Southwest guides these in the context of learning and developing that person, not with an air of punishment.

Myth No. 2: Conscious leadership is only aimed at building great workplace cultures

Actually, it’s aimed at building great businesses that best their competitors and attract top talent. The culture nurtured by a conscious leader is one of the main reasons top talent stays and embraces a shared purpose. But conscious leaders are looking to create positive change in the world, not just in their workplaces, and their mindset and actions drive them to build market-leading companies. Exhibit A: Dallas-based conscious capitalist company Interstate Batteries, which has built itself into the number one replacement brand battery in North America. Yes, its leaders are intentional about building a culture where others can grow and thrive, but their leadership end-game isn’t just to build that culture — it’s to build an enduring business.

Myth No. 3: Conscious leadership is only for those with an executive title

Conscious leaders show up in all levels of an organization, and they influence and inspire others around them — no C-level title required. Having conscious leaders across the organization, and especially on the front lines with customers, creates an environment where employees are motivated to do the right thing for all stakeholders.

Nordstrom knows this well. Its CEO, Blake Nordstrom, tells his leaders, “Rule number one is use good judgment in all situations.” And his next statement is always, “There will be no additional rules.” Regardless of title, the leaders at Nordstrom walk the walk on this retailer’s values, and they are empowered to do what’s right in every interaction with customers or other stakeholders. Conscious leaders empower others; having a certain title on a business card has nothing to do with it.

Myth No. 4: Conscious leaders don’t care about making money

Some look at conscious capitalism and think that the leaders are focused on achieving social impact at the expense of hitting financial goals. Some mistake it for philanthropy. Others mistake it for environmental sustainability. While these pursuits are often part of it, at its core is using the power of capitalism to create value and enable widespread prosperity. What conscious leaders know is that making money equates to making a greater impact on the world — whether that’s creating new jobs, innovating, serving others, or courageously addressing an issue that needs solving. Satori Capital is in the business of making money, but as a conscious capitalist company, its approach considers stakeholder integration and the long-term impact a portfolio company can achieve with the capital Satori can provide.

Myth No. 5: Conscious leadership is about how you lead others

In part, conscious leadership is about leading others, but I’ve found it’s really more about how you lead yourself. It demands authenticity, consideration of different points of view, and the ability to filter information and make decisions that consider all stakeholders. Conscious leaders are learners and take responsibility for their actions. They see mistakes as great opportunities to grow, and they persevere even through the storms of business. It’s often easier to look outward and address the areas where others can improve, but the look inward — paired with a commitment to improving as a conscious leader — is where the truly transformative impact occurs.

Become a heroic leader

The subtitle of the book “Conscious Capitalism” is “Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” I challenge you to think today about how you and other leaders around you can be the heroes of this new business narrative that conscious leaders are creating.

Leadership / Social Entrepreneurship
Join the SOCAP Newsletter!