I was privileged enough to be sitting at dinner on Friday night with John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, co-founder of Conscious Capitalism and author of Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. We were a small group – about 10 CEOs and other UK business leaders, and a handful of the instrumental consultants in the UK who are fanning the fires of the conscious business networks and connecting like-minded business leaders.
It was an informal gathering. John Mackey gave the briefest of overviews of the four tenets of conscious capitalism and there was a convivial air as we enjoyed talking to one another about business and the possibilities it holds for transforming not just the UK but society at large.
As the conversation and the questions developed, it became clear that John not only cares deeply about conscious leadership, but sees the consciousness of an organisation as only being able to attain the level of the consciousness of its leaders. He recognises this freely within himself, talking about how he had had to grow and evolve himself in order to let Whole Foods Market grow and evolve.
I was impressed by John’s self-awareness and his humility. He knows that he, too, fails or falls short at times and he is humble enough to recognise this openly. Of course, this raises the challenge to all of us: who among us is perfect? We are all only human after all, and all on a continuing journey of the evolution of our consciousness. I also found him to have other qualities of a conscious leader, including a balanced view and even-handedness. Though he has a definite stand about conscious business, he is able to hold differing views and contrary positions at the same time without reacting to them or wanting to make them right and wrong.
John was candid about how he sees consciousness as a continuum and, refreshingly, this extends to companies like Starbucks and Apple and their recent tax scandals. It simply isn’t a conscious position to put a company on a pedestal (from which they are ever-likely to fall) or even to blame them when they do. This includes companies like Starbucks, which was on the original ‘Firms of Endearment’ list. It’s important not to write off all the good that a company like Starbucks has done in the world, when it makes a mistake like it recently has. We are all learning, all evolving. As the saying goes in consciousness, it’s important to guard against any sense that we’ve ‘arrived’.
In addition to John’s sound business logic, which had us all nodding in agreement at various times, there was a moment that’s worth mentioning. Sue Cheshire of the Global Leaders Academy asked a magnificent question, about John’s view of his own higher purpose. John talked with great clarity about how he saw his contribution to the world and the pull he felt towards what is important to him in the deeper purpose of his life. You could clearly see the links between who John is as a person, that he knows this about himself, and his business, Whole Foods Market and its purpose in the world. The whole arc from John through to his business was connected, aligned and expressed with conviction.
Something happened in that moment. As John spoke about his personal purpose and revealed more of who he truly is, we were inspired to let our own guards down even further and to consider our own purpose and its place within our companies. It was an example of conscious leadership in action: the one igniting the many. Even the atmosphere in the room seem to shift in that moment, towards more openness, collaboration and co-creation. Imagine the power of transformation in business as leaders become more conscious of themselves and their purposes, and can express this in ways that uplift their teams and employees, catalysing the same in others? I believe this is where conscious leadership really comes into its own.
I had gone to the dinner with John not really knowing what to expect, but keeping an open mind. I’d seen various videos on YouTube, of course, and had heard him speak at conferences and other events, but those were all a bit more formal. I came away from this dinner with a sense that here was someone who is easy to connect to, self-aware, who has humility and who has great passion for what he stands for in his life and expresses through his business. It was an honour to be in his company.