“Human leadership has always been underscored by the principle that even in the world of business, who you are matters. I believe men and women who lead from the inside out have the greatest impact on their businesses and companies, and the personal and professional lives of those who follow them.”
In early 2013, while driving to an event, I had a sudden inspirational “hit.” As was customary for me, this download of information came in the form of a book title. In this case, it was The Conscious CEO. At the time, the wide-scale importance of true consciousness at the leadership level within the corporate sector was not yet present, but my felt sense told me that what was emerging would, potentially, change the known systems and paradigm through which “corporate structure” has been built, practiced and identified.
I began to consider, if written, what this book might be about. At the time, although exceptions existed, most top American and foreign corporations were run by men. I began to wonder what would happen if these corporate leaders were to have a deep, “coming home” experience with themselves where their consciousness raised and their authentic identity became aligned personally and professionally. How might this impact their approach to leadership and the concepts of value, power and success? How might this transform and amplify their relationships, with themselves and others, and the authority and very industries they so heavily influenced?
These thoughts stayed with me throughout the following week, and the opportunity arose for me to share my insights with a colleague and friend who was running a transformational program for male inmates. Many of the men she worked with fit the profile of the successful, corporate leader I had been considering. All had experienced power, prestige and the pressure of performing in high-profile positions. It was this power, prestige and pressure, they shared, that had led them down a path that had landed them in federal prison.
“Many of these guys are the Bernie Madoffs of various industries,” my friend had told me. “I would love to have you join us and bring your skills and visionary ideas to what we are doing within this program.”
That began a three-year stint, during which time I learned, first hand, what it was like at the top of the corporate ladder. Every single leader I worked with shared that they wished they had known how to follow their hearts and instincts more. Working with these men allowed me to learn what was needed to bridge the gap between how things were and where things needed to change. I came to see just why “coming home” and claiming authentic ownership of who we are and why we are (value, purpose and mission) is crucial at any level or position in life, but especially critical when you have far-reaching influence that comes from a place of leadership and power.
Fast forward to today. Much has already begun to emerge in this arena of conscious leadership. 2020 challenged us in many ways. It also permitted us to slow down and take stock. Going into our homes during the quarantine has provided the opportunity for many to come home to themselves and discover, define and align more of what their hearts and creative centers have been calling them to acknowledge and reconcile. And, as I see it, this time is far from over. As forecasts go, I believe 2021 is the beginning of 4+ year rebuilding of many, if not all, of the systems and structures that are now revealing they simply cannot support what we need and where we are meant to go.
The current leadership model speaks of the ability to develop higher levels of emotional intelligence. Empathy is spoken about more and bottom line less. Our ability to connect with people is leading the charge, and heart-based leadership models are rolling out faster than the Model T coming off the first mass production assembly line in 1913.
This time feels and is chaotic because everything is changing. In the next few years, we are going to see massive innovation, as we pivot to create the procedures and systems needed to support a new paradigm.
Heart leadership will lead us all into the development of more diverse, agile, collaborative and inclusionary practices and cultures. It will force us to think intentionally and build from our individual and collective core values and visionary goals.
We cannot simply give lip service to these new ideas, approaches and practices either. It can and will be rightfully challenging to lead others who have opinions and perspectives that are different, and in some cases, counterintuitive, to the way we want to lead and govern.
We must be, legitimately, concerned and curious about the interests and needs of others and how our decisions impact them. We must refine our capacity to listen and learn, to be humbled regularly and turn from the need to look good and be right, comfortable and safe in order to feel “in charge.”
We must learn to respect and make room for thoughts, perspectives and ways of doing things that are different from our own without creating cultures of polarity and separatism. It will take commitment, reflection, a willingness to fail and try again, and lots and lots of humility.
The good news is that when we are truly coming from a place of heart-centeredness, this work becomes far easier. The heart wants connection, and all of these things breed connection.
Paul Keijzer is the CEO and managing partner of Engage Consulting, a firm that helps transform top teams and manage talent across emerging markets. I love his advice for developing heart leadership:
“I am of the firm belief that the first and foremost hallmark of a good leader is their ability to make their employees feel special. Heart leaders are generous when it comes to giving due recognition to the contributions that each team member brings to the company because heart leaders take the time to get to know their employees on a personal front. Remember that your style of leadership depends on the conscious and subconscious rules you apply to the workplace. What you give to your team and how you practice decision-making are critical aspects of leadership. Notice the distinctions between your different points of view and observe which strategies you currently tend to use. Always be open to trying a variety of different strategies to see how you feel about them and what kind of outcomes are generated in your workplace.”
So, as you enter this new year, I invite you to use this heart-centered lens as you give meaning and apply action to the various experiences that you have. As we all attempt to create a new “normal,” there will be plenty of chances to listen to what our hearts are saying and where they want to lead us.
I recommend we listen and allow ourselves to be transformed by the process.