A key skill for leaders in an increasingly complex future is to become more conscious of the systems in which they function – individual, team, organisational, societal, planetary etc. Conscious leaders need to be alert to the energies across the whole system, working in service of the purpose and coherence of the whole system. Becoming a systems thinker is closely tied to the ability to identify patterns and to have a language to talk with others about these patterns. The ability to see patterns can be developed, thus unlocking one’s ability to understand systems and developing one’s systems intelligence.
A system is an interconnected set of elements that is organised in a way to achieve a purpose (such as your body, your team, your organisation, within society, on the planet and so forth). SysQ involves the ability to understand the interconnectedness of many elements, to grasp the bigger picture and adjust our behaviour based on feedback we receive from our environment.
With the ability to think at ever-greater levels of systems and integration, the conscious leader naturally takes an evolutionary perspective of the development of human beings over time. This might even occur beyond humanity – conscious leaders will typically think in terms of evolution itself, incorporating all aspects of the universe and life, and see the greater whole of which we are all part as it expands and evolves. This evolutionary perspective informs their leadership of organisations.
Spiral Dynamics is similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution, but covers the arena of our social and psychological development. It touches on our inner being and our external world, our individual viewpoints and our collective cultures and systems. It frames the dynamics of change in a way that helps us to see how humanity evolves vertically on a journey over time. Learning about these evolving systems profoundly informs our development as people and our leadership of others.
In a globally interconnected world, complexity defines the leadership experience: a large number of elements interacting with each other in nonlinear ways according to a few rules, so that small changes produce disproportionately large effects. Prediction and control gives way to experimentation, multiple perspectives and the ability to handle ambiguity.
Derived from military vocabulary, meaning:
VUCA is a term used to describe the experience of the context that is becoming ever more familiar to leaders today.
Vertical development is characterised by an increasing level of mental complexity and inclusiveness in how a leader makes sense of the world. Vertical development indicates an 'upgrade in the leader's operating system'. It increases our insight into the world, people’s perspectives, our ability to connect the dots and see systems, to hold multiple perspectives in mind, to access our intuition and to navigate paradox and complexity. To succeed in the new world, a leader's thinking must be equal or superior to the complexity of the environment (Nick Petrie, Centre for Creative Leadership). Conscious leaders demonstrate advanced capacities along this vertical axis of human development by the way they take into account ever-increasing levels of complexity and perspective. This worldview is commonly referred to as post-conventional.
The term, used by Torbert, Cook-Greuter and others, describes the point at which we come to realise that our reality and even our sense of self is constructed and relative to each one of us rather than belonging to some objective, external and permanent truth. Adults develop through stages as we become more conscious and are able to look at our lenses of the world that we could previously only look through. This every increasing ‘awareness of being aware’ is the essence of vertical development and enables greater levels of consciousness, connection to systems and the sense of being part of one indivisible whole, that profoundly influences a leader’s view of the world and therefore the way they lead.
Organisations are living systems with centres of energy and these centres, when blocked, can radically reduce the ability of an organisation to perform to its full potential. When these centres are clear and balanced this creates optimum health and performance for an organisation. The conscious leader can learn how to work with the organisation to create this flow of energy and information.
Megatrends are global social, economic, political, environmental or technological changes that are slow to form but have the momentum to influence perceptions and behaviour across the world, possibly for decades. Megatrends are the forces that drive trends (e.g. the megatrend aging population drives the trend adults taking care of their parents). Five typical megatrends are: demographics; shifts in global economic power; accelerating urbanization; resource scarcity and climate change; and technology (source: PwC). Being conscious of megatrends helps leaders to be better at forecasting the future in an unpredictable world. Vertical development helps conscious leaders to work within these levels of complexity.
Conscious leaders recognize the impact of their actions on the wider ecosystem – economic, societal and environmental. They understand the interconnectedness and interdependent nature of organisations and think into the systems in which they operate. They act in the interests of evolving a healthy, sustainable world and economy that promotes prosperity for all.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." (F. Scott Fitzgerald). In an increasingly complex world leaders will need to work with dilemmas (problems that can’t be solved by existing logical means) by moving away from either-or thinking and compromise towards both-and, win-win solutions that uses both ends of apparently contradictory poles.
In a world in which the problems and challenges are too great for the single mind to solve, conscious leaders join and collaborate with others, sometimes even prior competitors, to encourage finding innovative solutions. Conscious leaders encourage and shape new realities through their use of innovation, creativity and synchronicity. Because conscious leaders are less attached to their viewpoints, and are comfortable with devolving responsibility with accountability, they welcome diverse perspectives that hothouse innovation.
The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity), regardless of the situation (Cindy Wigglesworth: SQ21). SQ comprises skills developed with practice and is not necessarily linked to religious belief. These include awareness of ego, living one’s purpose, awareness of the interconnectedness of life and being a compassionate, wise leader, amongst others.
The process of individual development that people undertake throughout their lifespan (whether they are aware of their personal growth or not). The conscious leader is not only aware of and awake to this in themselves – they also encourage and stand for this in others.
Purpose exists at the level of individual and the organisation. When purpose is aligned in the individual, the leader is whole (incorporating all aspects of themselves), rooted in their values and connected to their purpose. When expressed, this purpose contributes towards being authentic. When individual purpose is connected to organisational purpose, the true power of the organisation emerges.
Organisational purpose addresses the fundamental question of 'why a company exists'. In addition to individual purpose, conscious leaders cultivate and maintain an organisation's sense of purpose and use it to guide congruent actions and behaviours. A conscious leader resides in purpose when they make decisions and uses purpose to help inform strategy. They ensure it is hardwired into the organisation and they hold people accountable to it. The greater the nobility of the purpose, the greater the potential engagement and passion in the organisation.
Intuition can be seen as the direct perception of truth independent of our reasoning process. It is the aspect of consciousness that allows leaders to connect the dots and see around corners. Intuition is one of the most important abilities a leader can cultivate. It allows leaders to access their deeper intelligence and the collective intelligence of the organisation. It is one of the qualities of a self-transforming mind. Although most leaders will use intuition in their decision-making, as they connect with their higher self and become more conscious, intuition deepens. As a leader’s consciousness expands, the shift from values-based decisions to intuition-based decisions is further developed
The coming together of apparent separate and disparate events emerging as meaningful coincidence that has something to do with the intended outcome. Conscious leaders watch for and notice synchronous events as part of their suite of abilities in creativity, intuition and intention.
Ego in the conscious leader context is the organising principle in all of us that gives us a continuous sense of self over time. One of its main functions is to hold us in one view of reality. Ego can be thought of as being concerned with three things:
Ego drives our survival instincts, both biologically and psychologically. To become conscious requires stepping outside of our ego and seeing these patterns at play in ourselves, so that we have choices over them.
Together with mastery over their inner world, conscious leaders take responsibility for their impact on the outer world. They adopt a holistic and global view of the systems in which they and their organisations operate. This extends to reading the patterns and future trends that inform their actions to actively help shape a positive future, and taking responsibility for acting into the system in such a way that creates benefit for all.
Future forces are the megatrends that all leaders need to consider, such as the new emerging communities (both virtual and real), purpose and sustainable profit, and connectivity and reciprocity, among many others. As we move ever forward into the future, leaders will need skills in winning collectively in larger systems and redefining the boundaries of competition. For an excellent text, see Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World (Bob Johansen).
Conscious leaders represent a highly evolved form of leadership that is fit for dealing with the complexities we have entered into in the world. They practice partnering with others to find new ways and solutions. More evolved leaders of today will make for a more evolved, conscious and sustainable world of tomorrow.
The Millennial Generation or Generation Y is the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends, though researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Typically, this generation is associated with portfolio careers, greater needs for meaning, purpose, flexibility and autonomy at work, and for the authentic expression of their values and individuality.
A conscious leader senses responsibility to positively influence central and local government to act for the elevation of humanity and promotion of a sustainable economic and social environment. Conscious leaders within government act from within the system to achieve this.
'Common-sense Capitalism', a new reality for businesses in the 21st century that returns – albeit at a more evolved level – to the original purposes of business in society. Conscious Capitalism upholds profit, and promotes that it is not that you make a profit, but how you make a profit that counts. It is founded on four principles: Higher Purpose, Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Leadership and Conscious Culture.
Organisational cultures, as defined by Conscious Capitalism, that are characterised by a higher purpose, transparency, trust, collaboration, innovation and continuous learning. Management practices are decentralised and emphasise empowerment and accountability. This drives innovation and agility, and requires employees to be accountable to the power devolved to them. There is a high level of care and love and an active avoidance of fear in a conscious culture.
Our ability to be aware of, manage and appropriately express our own emotions while being aware of other people’s emotions, and to use this awareness to successfully manage our interpersonal relationships with empathy.
Conscious leaders use their emotions as another source of information, connection and influence, and trust feedback from the heart and intuition as much as from the head and logic. When conscious leaders expand their emotional intelligence they strengthen their visioning abilities, gain greater clarity in decision-making and build effective relationships through enhanced empathy.
True dialogue promotes the flow-through of communication across an organisation. Dialogue requires moving from one-way to two-way communication and from tell to deep listening and co-creation of outcomes. It dispels stereotypes, inspires collective intelligence and builds trust. The conscious leader uses dialogue to encourage the free exchange of ideas and information across the organisation, and between the organisation and its stakeholders, to resolve complex challenges, increase engagement and build coordinated action that results in positive transformation.
Embodiment is the practice of experiencing the self through a whole person, ‘felt’ sense rather than only through our minds. Embodied leaders have developed being and embodying who they are and what they stand for as leaders. This makes them more compelling and authentic because they are aligned, consistent and resonant. Embodied leadership develops the two-way relationship between the mind and the body. Intuition and the gut sense are developed to guide thoughtful reasoning and to arrive at better results. Deliberate embodied leadership practices can change built-in patterns and behaviours and can transform the leader and increase self-mastery.
The state of active, open attention to the present in which one is fully conscious and aware of the moment. Mindfulness practices are increasingly prevalent in leadership today and conscious leaders in particular make use of mindfulness to maintain their perspective and rootedness.