Ever wondered what conscious leadership looks like in the workplace? An approach to running organisations where sales, revenue, and profits are achieved through a more responsible approach to leadership where employee wellbeing is a central focus?
It can be done and it has been done.
Read on to find out how one person’s neglect of their own wellbeing became the inspiration for the embodiment of conscious leadership.
Imagine the scenario
You’re at work and you’ve accidentally emailed something you shouldn’t have to a client. You’re utterly mortified. You genuinely care for the employer you work for, coming in every day to do the best job you can. It was a terrible mistake and there’s nobody more upset than you.
The next day, instead of your boss giving you a good dressing-down in front of your peers; he actually gives you a hug and says thank you. Why? Because he can already see you’re devastated, so chastising you is pointless. You’ve also highlighted a process gap for him, which means it could happen again. Thanks to you though, it won’t.
Picture the scene
You’ve left university and you’re job hunting. Your mentor puts you in touch with a CEO who could potentially use your skills, so you go and have a chat with him. Afterwards, your mentor asks how the chat went. You tell him it was a great meeting and you even got to talk about a deeply personal matter, your suicide attempt.
Despite your mentor’s recommendation to never again share such intimate details with a prospective employer, the CEO offers you a job. Fast forward three years, you are now running the company’s Customer Success function as a Director in the business.
Real life conscious leadership
The two situations above are true stories. Plus, the “boss”, and the “CEO” are in fact the same person.
Somebody who, while setting up his first business, threw himself into it by working non-stop, to the detriment of his own health and wellbeing. Eventually he developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which manifested as constant flu-like symptoms; eventually he burnt out.
This experience, combined with the arrival of two adopted children who needed their father to be around, led to the creation of a brand-new enterprise that would have to be built in a very different way.
Success, but not at any cost
Inspired by the mistakes made the first time around, the second business was created in a new way, and although he didn’t use the term ‘conscious’ to describe it at the time, it was the epitome of conscious leadership. In fact, when setting up, the first question the founder asked himself was: “What would it be like to run a company where we actually put people first?” Here’s how that manifested itself.
As an HR technology provider that provides software to help facilitate performance development conversations (also more regularly known as performance management), he had to make sure they were living by the same principles they were encouraging others to live by. So, conversations, and lots of them, paved the way for great quality relationships and transparency across the business.
They worked hard to make sure their speed of growth matched what their people could realistically handle, without compromising their own wellbeing needs, growing in a responsible way. Recruitment was focused on attracting people who were better at their job than the leadership team, freeing up the leader’s time to set direction, provide clarity and get out of the way so that people could get on and do their jobs.
The reward strategy was designed to give fair and good pay. People were paid well, but not incentivised by money. This removed it from performance development conversations; and an HR function wasn’t required, because the leaders were there for support, and the company started from a position of trusting its people.
They hired a coach and leadership development specialist as employee number 15 (that was me) to work across the team, making sure that everyone was as focused on their wellbeing as they were their performance. And monthly Wellness Wednesdays provided the opportunity to build emotional intelligence, helping the team to work more effectively.
And they weren't afraid of breaking what they'd built. The fortnightly “break and remake” sessions, like retrospective sprints, provided opportunities to get together to talk about workload, what’s getting in the way of progress and what needs to be better.
And this is how the company continues to operate today. Although, as with any growth mindset company, there is always room for improvement and new ideas get put in place all of the time.
The conscious leader revealed
But who was the conscious leader behind all of this great work? It was Stuart Hearn, CEO of Clear Review.
Having got used to Friday 121s at university to review his dissertation progress, he was brought down to earth with a bang when he entered the job market and his first employer had two discussions a year to discuss performance. With the annual appraisal being the mainstay of most organisation’s performance management system, he recognised that things needed a shakeup. Now he’s made a successful living from helping organisations to have more regular conversations to discuss performance and development, using technology to nudge people along.
The conscious leadership fundamentals
I have the pleasure of working with Stuart, who is a real life example of what can be achieved when leaders take a responsible approach to delivering high performance. And the company makes money. The focus on people has led to over 100% year-on-year growth since launching the business.
So, what can you learn that will enable you to operate as a Conscious Leader?
1. You need to be awake enough to learn about yourself, how you're programmed, and how to behave in a way that acknowledges everyone's needs and point of view.
2. You have to maintain resilience and a healthy mindset. Keeping things in perspective, working on your own mental health; and recognising any unhelpful thinking getting in the way of you or your company's success.
3. You must create a compelling purpose that everyone can get behind, so that work is focused on what matters most and so that everyone has a sense of meaning in what they do.
4. You must create an environment where people can do things together, where leaders partner with their people, and where there is the psychological safety in place to allow people to speak up and be themselves.
5. And you must reinforce the importance of a growth mindset and the recognition that everyone is on a journey, everyone will make mistakes, and with the right support, focus and environment, people will deliver amazing results.