The brain is a highly complex processing machine but still, it struggles to perform at levels the modern world demands. As the pace of change increases, life is becoming more complicated. We’re bombarded with information on a daily basis; according to UC San Diego, over 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information is presented to us every day. That’s enough to overload a laptop within a week!
Concurrently, developments in science and technology have made it possible for more of our basic needs to be met but digesting, processing, synthesizing and making decisions seems harder. For leaders, this is exhausting and ultimately, unsustainable. The conditions are ripe for an evolution. It’s called conscious leadership.
Instincts vs. Intentions.
Information and knowledge are functions of doing. The majority of leaders I work with have been successful because they’ve leveraged their instincts to navigate challenging situations. By reacting to changing circumstances, they’ve actively accumulated information and acquired knowledge.
Wisdom and truth are functions of being. Few of these leaders, though, have spent time in deep reflection, which is necessary to gain wisdom and discover universal truths. They typically don’t leverage the benefits of slowing down to widen their perspective and deepen their understanding. It’s a different, more intentional way to play the game—chess vs. checkers.
Being Self-Aware vs. Being Conscious.
Self-awareness is outer growth. Consciousness is inner growth.
Self-awareness is about experience. Consciousness is about existence.
In leadership terms, horizontal development is how individuals interact with the outer world. Typically consisting of training, surveys and feedback based on personal preferences/experiences, horizontal developmental leads to increased skills and behaviors. But the limitation of using personal experiences to increase self-awareness is that they’re processed though the self! A self with perspectives, opinions and assumptions that get in the way of seeing things as they truly are.
Vertical development focuses on the inner world. It allows us to identify and better understand trends, patterns and truths. It helps us see, manage and master higher level forces. A conscious leader experiences without judgment, seeing the world as it is. Consciousness is not relative to an individual, it’s absolute.
As the World Speeds Up, Make Time to Slow Down.
Information and knowledge are functions of doing. Doing can be intense. Back-to-back meetings about different topics, with various levels of importance and expectation, conducted through the complex interplay of interpersonal relationships and all the subtleties of human connection, motivation and drivers—that we then have to process through our own perspective. No wonder people are so stressed and exhausted!
Wisdom and truth are functions of being. By slowing down, we can understand how systems function and how we, too, are a part of the system. Slowing down cannot be done without intention. At the executive level, slowing down and thinking intentionally is fundamental. We often call it strategy, but it’s simply a function of seeing a world that’s traveling at warp speed in slow motion, instead of stepping into a “doing” state.
Developing the Tools. (Spoiler: There are No Tools.)
In the current leadership paradigm, the tools executives use to attain self-awareness include: psychometric assessments, surveys and feedback. In the right hands they can be incredibly powerful, but their limitation is that they’re primarily focused on short-term behaviors on the horizontal, outer plane.
On the vertical, inner plane the tools are simple. There are no “tools.”
The journey of the self requires creating time, space and energy for deep reflection. It requires that we stop “doing” and start “being”—that is, experiencing life in a truthful, unfiltered and unbiased way. Getting out of our own way. Getting out of our own heads.
The Power of Conscious Leadership
The many upsides to conscious leadership can include:
– Self-mastery (transformation through realization)
– A systemic (not individual) approach to problem solving through a new paradigm
– Re-identification of our self and our purpose
– Greater peace leading to increased well-being and better outcomes
– Transformational not transactional results, created from living through your existence (being) not your experience (doing)
Developing conscious leadership is a path that goes from the self-oriented (egoic) nature of mind, body and emotions to a higher state; one that’s available to anyone who makes the time to listen to what the world is saying. And it costs you nothing—except your old self.
As Thich Nhat Hanh said:
“We have a tendency to think in terms of doing and not in terms of being. We think that when we are not doing anything, we are wasting our time. But that is not true. Our time is first of all for us to be. To be what? To be alive, to be peaceful, to be joyful, to be loving. And that is what the world needs most.”
Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting (www.adastraleadership.com). A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.