There are many different ways to lead, and some are far better than others. Too often, we associate our leaders with people who are always right. We imagine them like a stern, unflappable ship’s captain sailing along the black, frigid waters of the ocean. On their boat, their word is law. If the captain shows fear or admits doubt, all is lost… right? Well, the good news is, your business is not located on the Titanic, which means instead of trying to act like the captain, you can adopt a conscious leadership style that encourages honesty, candor, integrity, joy, and so much more.
In this post, we’ll speak about what conscious leadership is and break down the 15 commitments of conscious leadership to help you become a more conscious leader.
Conscious leadership is all about self-awareness, curiosity, intention, humility, and the pursuit of lifelong learning. Too often, we allow our own egos to get in the way of positive change; our fear of being wrong leads us to fight even harder to prove that we’re right.
Conscious leadership is about realizing when our thought processes have been hijacked by negative feelings, such as fear, sadness, or anger, breathing those emotions out, and returning to a state of playful creativity and curiosity.
Everyone is different, with different personal identities, cultural backgrounds, work habits, and communication preferences. Just because these habits, beliefs, or ideas are contrary to our own does not make them wrong. As a leader, it’s up to you to ensure all voices are heard. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when your own biases get in the way.
Imagine a straight, horizontal line. Leaders either operate above or below that line. Above the line, leaders are leading consciously. Below the line, they’re leading unconsciously. Above the line, leaders are open, curious, and eager to learn. Below the line, leaders are close-minded, defensive, and determined to be right at any cost.
When our biases and ego get in the way, and we become defensive, we are operating below the line. This happens to all of us every now and again, and, unfortunately, it’s actually the place many leaders do most of their leading from. Biologically, when we are challenged, we become afraid, angry, or both. We’re ready to defend ourselves, whether that means running in the other direction or preparing for a fight. This is when we lead from below the line.
But the first step toward conscious leadership is recognizing when we’ve slipped below the line. When this happens—and as you already know, it happens frequently—we need to take a few deep breaths, recenter ourselves, and take our ego out of the equation. Taking this pause allows us to bring our intention back and remember to be curious, which brings us back above the line.
The idea of conscious leadership was developed in the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success, which was written by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp and published in 2014.
The authors outline 15 commitments leaders can make to be more conscious. Focusing on and prioritizing these commitments will help you become a more curious, open, and self-aware leader.
“I commit to taking full responsibility for the circumstances of my life, and my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. I commit to support others to take full responsibility for their lives.”
Conscious leaders take complete responsibility for their thoughts and actions. They never pass the buck or play the blame game. When you blame your actions on external factors, you’re operating below the line. Conscious leaders search inward to discover why they are behaving in a certain way. Instead of blaming someone, they ask, “What can we learn from this? How can we improve next time?”
“I commit to growing in self-awareness. I commit to regarding every interaction as an opportunity to learn. I commit to curiosity as a path to rapid learning.”
Self-awareness is foundational to conscious leadership. Conscious leaders want to truly know themselves, and they understand this is a lifelong process. There is always more to learn, so there are always ample reasons to stay curious. How deeply in touch are you with your thoughts, feelings, and personal motivations? Once you’re aware of these things, you can manage them better.
We all want to be right—and this is especially true of leaders. Whenever you feel yourself becoming defensive or reactive, take a moment to pause, breathe, reflect, and shift your attitude. Rather than dismissing someone you disagree with, stay curious, actively listen to what they have to say, and reflect on how interesting it is they came to that conclusion.
“I commit to feeling my feelings all the way through to completion. They come, and I locate them in my body then move, breathe and vocalize them so they release all the way through.”
Feelings have a bad reputation, especially in the business world. Many believe they get in the way of making smart choices, so too many leaders repress and deny their feelings. Conscious leaders do just the opposite, as they recognize that feelings and emotions are perfectly natural, and ignoring them only gives them more power.
Understanding our feelings, pinpointing their location in our bodies, and vocalizing them inspires and improves our emotional intelligence. What about the situation is triggering the feeling? Why do you think you feel that way? Feelings are our allies—and conscious leaders know this.
“I commit to saying what is true for me. I commit to being a person to whom others can express themselves with candor.”
Candor is honest and open communication—the hallmark of a trusting team. Withholding information breeds resentment and distrust in the workplace, whereas open communication encourages trust and deepens and strengthens the relationship you have with your team.
Conscious leaders are candid with their team, and they encourage their team to be candid with them as well. Team members know they can be candid because their leader actively listens to what they have to say without judgment. A conscious leader isn’t only waiting for their chance to speak; they are deeply curious about the thoughts and feelings of every member of their team.
“I commit to ending gossip, talking directly to people with whom I have an issue or concern, and encouraging others to talk directly to people with whom they have an issue or concern.”
Being candid with your team significantly limits the amount of gossip and misinformation that floats around an office. Feeling like you’re out of the loop is scary; why are people keeping things from you? People gossip in order to get their power back and stop feeling afraid, out of a desire to seem like they’re in the know and right. Gossip is way below the line. Conscious leaders speak openly and candidly and never operate on a need to know basis with their team.
“I commit to the masterful practice of integrity, including acknowledging all authentic feelings, expressing the unarguable truth and keeping my agreements.”
Integrity means being authentic, accountable, and committed to always expressing the truth. Conscious leaders keep their agreements, and they never pretend to be something they’re not. Team members can look up to conscious leaders and follow their guidance because they trust them based on their previous actions. Show your team they can trust you by always practicing integrity.
“I commit to living in appreciation, fully opening to both receiving and giving appreciation.”
Show your team appreciation, and allow them to appreciate you as well. Often, it’s easier to give appreciation than it is to receive it. How many times have you deflected a compliment? If you are unwilling to let your team appreciate you, they will be less willing to receive appreciation from you.
Appreciation doesn’t have to be complicated. The most effective appreciation is succinct, specific, and sincere. Let your team know how much you appreciate their hard work, and don’t shy away from being appreciated as well.
“I commit to expressing my full magnificence, and to supporting and inspiring others to fully express their creativity and live in their zone of genius.”
Your zone of genius is where the magic happens. It’s where your deepest passion meets your natural talents and abilities. The work tasks that fall in your zone of genius don’t even feel like work because they’re fun and leave you feeling fulfilled. Conscious leaders know how to enter their zone of genius, and they are committed to doing all they can to help their team find their own genius zones as well. How do each of your team members work best? Which work tasks do they enjoy most? How can you facilitate their zone of genius?
“I commit to creating a life of play, improvisation, and laughter. I commit to seeing all of life unfold easefully and effortlessly. I commit to maximizing my energy by honoring rest, renewal and rhythm.”
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Conscious leaders know that working 24/7 isn’t heroic—it’s destructive. It leads to employee burnout and higher rates of turnover. While there is often guilt and shame associated with play when you “should” be working, individuals, teams, and organizations that take breaks to rest and play together are actually more productive, creative, and energized. And it all starts at the top.
🥳 Looking for opportunities to have fun with your team? Take a look at our virtual team building activities round-up.
“I commit to seeing that the opposite of my story is as true or truer than my original story. I recognize that I interpret the world around me and give my stories meaning.”
Everyone looks out their own window. What’s true for one person may be completely false for another. Conscious leaders know this, so they consistently challenge their own beliefs by asking questions like, “Is it true? Can I say this thing is true with absolute certainty?” Don’t be certain; be curious.
“I commit to being the source of my security, control and approval.”
Conscious leaders don’t allow external circumstances to dictate their behavior or self-worth. They understand what is within their circle of control, and what is outside of it. Whether or not someone approves of you or likes you is completely outside of your control. The only approval that matters is your own.
“I commit to experiencing that I have enough of everything... including time, money, love, energy, space, resources, etc.”
Making this commitment tempers our competitive side. Conscious leaders care about their team and wish to support each member in their personal and professional development. Everyone deserves an opportunity to shine. Conscious leaders know there’s enough success and happiness to go around.
“I commit to seeing all people and circumstances as allies that are perfectly suited to help me learn the most important things for my growth.”
Every situation and every person presents an opportunity for personal growth and learning. There is something to be learned from every experience, no matter how good or bad. Regardless of the outcome, conscious leaders know they'll be richer for every experience, so each person and circumstance they come into contact with is an ally on their journey.
“I commit to creating win for all solutions (win for me, win for the other person, win for the organization, and win for the whole) for whatever issues, problems, concerns, or opportunities life gives me.”
Not everything needs to be a competition. Conscious leaders don’t approach situations with a win/lose mentality. They ask how everyone can win because conscious leaders aren’t ruled by their ego. They don’t need to put others down in order to prop themselves up because their fulfillment comes from within.
“I commit to being the resolution or solution that is needed: seeing what is missing in the world as an invitation to become that which is required.”
When you see a piece of trash on the ground, do you pick it up, or do you keep walking? Do you mutter under your breath, “Well, that’s not my problem?”
Conscious leaders do just the opposite. Every problem is their problem if they recognize it first. They don’t look for someone to blame or someone to shift the responsibility to; conscious leaders willingly take on that responsibility and commit to being the solution.
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