Tag Archives: Leadership

Conscious Leadership or Leader Consciousness?

20 Mar

Up until a month ago, the term “conscious leadership” was new to me. However, as I’ve immersed myself in the literature and community, it’s become clear that while it may be a new term, it was not a new concept. I’ve been studying the great contemplative traditions for a long time and they in turn have exploring the boundaries of consciousness for thousands of years. So, while the term may be new, the truth it points to certainly isn’t. The benefit comes from the fact that conscious leadership is taking these mystical insights, integrating them with the best research and theory from organizational and leadership studies, and wrapping them it all up in business language that Westerners can stomach.

I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it also means that some things might be lost in translation. The sheer complexity of consciousness studies is awe-inspiring. The history of the great mystical traditions is overwhelming by itself. Then you add the important insights from philosophy of mind, and more recent contributions from good old cognitive-development psychology, and you have this massive amount of great information to pull together. And this is before you add all of the crappy information.

Now, I’m not one of those people who says that you shouldn’t even bother trying to define words like “consciousness” or “leadership.” Trying to define the words you use is an important exercise. It forces us to make difficult choices and create elegant solutions. So, for the purposes of this article, I’d like to offer my own definitions of both and see where that takes us:

Consciousness – The state of being aware of sensory forms (both internal and external).

Leadership – The process of intentional influence of one person upon others.

You’ll notice a few things. First, they are short definitions. This is because I believe that simplicity amplifies meaning. Second, notice that neither of these definitions includes a moral dimension. This is because I believe that the distinction between TRUE and FALSE is much more relevant than GOOD versus BAD. Third, the two primary verbs are awareness and influence. When we put these two definitions together, we start to see that conscious leadership is primarily about the ability to be aware and the ability to influence based on that awareness.

Now, most leadership models would have you believe that you need to be aware FIRST, then you influence others (this would be accurate linguistically because “conscious” modifies “leadership”). This would certainly fit the hero-style leadership models of the past. The leader is worshiped as an omnipotent deity and the central lever when it comes to organizational change. But we know that this is only one side of the coin. The primary focus on the individual is often shorthanded as “leader development” and the collective focus is often called, “leadership development.” The whole of the field is then called, confusingly, “leadership development.” Clearly, we need to do a better job with our definitions.

The field of conscious leadership seems to be a bit confused on this point. Conscious leadership is used almost exclusively to mean the individual awareness of a leader. I would like to submit that there should be an equal focus on “leader consciousness,” which would be the collective counterpart. As much as I respect the efforts of thought leaders in conscious leadership, I think it sells itself short if it just repackages ancient wisdom. It’s a noble service on it’s own, but it won’t really contribute to the leadership literature if it doesn’t expand its questions. What would collective leader consciousness look like? How would it operate? To me, these are far more interesting questions.

Radical Acceptance

25 Feb

I just got back from the BOLD Academy in San Francisco and I came away from that experience with a renewed appreciation for the personal change process. I’ve tried to capture that insight below. First of all, what I’m trying to describe is a little nuanced (but infinitely practical) so if it doesn’t make sense, then feel free to blame the messenger. Second, it’s equally likely that you’ll get it and won’t agree with it. That’s fine too. Please let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below. I’d like my ideas to most fully represent the truth and we all have important pieces of it.


The BOLD house vibrated with energy, but underneath that energy was a community of radical acceptance and support.

I’m ambitious. And if you’re like me then you know that setting and achieving goals is one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world. I love the challenge of pushing myself beyond my limits, failing, and getting up again. And again. And again. This type of grit got me through my tough times and I certainly wouldn’t have succeeded if I didn’t have a compelling purpose pulling me forward. But recently I’ve realized the limitations of this way of thinking. I’ve spent so much time being pulled forward by purpose and trying to overcome obstacles that I’ve failed to notice something else. The world was no longer the same. Change happens so radically today that my dream job may be obsolete by the time I even start a two-year plan to get it. Careers, businesses, and even entire markets are created and destroyed from month to month. So, I began to realize that I needed a new way of doing things. I think the problem is simply that my ego-driven mindset restricts me from making necessary adjustments to an ever-changing reality. I simply don’t know when a danger sign is just self-doubt (and I should push through it) or when it signals that I need to make an actual change in our approach. So, how do you know the difference?

Well, I have a guess. I think the method for knowing the difference is intuitive rather than intellectual. It is something I’m calling radical acceptance and the idea is pretty simple. If you are resisting your own thoughts or feelings then you are not acknowledging reality and the only way to stop compulsive resistance is start accepting – everything. The reason it’s called “radical” acceptance is because it accepts everything…including resistance itself. Confused? I was too. Here is an story of how this shows up.

A friend and I had just finished a yoga class together and a few minutes later I found her crying. She said that during the mindfulness practice, she finally became aware of all of the negative self talk in her head. The voices that told her she wasn’t good enough. The voices that said she needed to try harder. Her practice had opened up new insight, but as she told me this amazing revelation she became increasingly upset. “I just can’t believe how much of my time I’ve wasted,” she said. “These negative voices in my head have been holding me back this whole time. They tell me that I’m not good enough and I can’t believe that I listened to them.” As she embellished how her negative self talk had been such an awful thing and how she needed to get rid of it. I said, “that’s an amazing insight, but be careful that you don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up.” She paused and smiled.

My point was that your ego will adapt to whatever thing you fear. If you fear being poor then it will make you feel bad for not making enough money. If you fear being selfish then it will make you feel bad for buying designer shoes. If you fear being superficial then it will make you feel bad for skipping yoga class. Resistance will always tell you that you are not centered enough or not being generous enough or not being spiritual enough. Know that it is all just your ego using resistance against you. And just like you cannot fight darkness with darkness, you cannot fight resistance with resistance. And underneath all of the surface level problems you are facing, the real problem is resistance itself.

dark-room-light-through-window-hunched-man1 PAINT(1)

You cannot fight darkness with darkness.

So, radical acceptance is deeper than just awareness. My yoga friend was aware of the negative self talk, but she had not yet accepted it. She was using negative self talk to keep herself from using negative self talk. It is silly, but also tragic. We instinctively move towards happy feelings and move away from negative feelings. We rarely stop and accept them as they are. Radical acceptance is such an effective approach because it isn’t about moving towards or away. It isn’t about compulsive action at all. When you accept everything as it is without an agenda then your actions will be aligned. When your actions are aligned things will change organically. It’s a complete paradigm shift.

Unconditional acceptance as a means for change is a radical notion, but one that ultimately frees us to walk confidently through the fog of attachments. It’s a little nuanced, but I think that’s the point. Our ego is fueled by resistance largely because, according to neurologists, the brain’s primary function is to curate reality. It’s primary function is to delete information from your awareness. So, if you practice a form of radical acceptance training (meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc.) then you can offset your inborn brain/ego/curator/resistance machine that blinds you to what’s really happening. If you don’t, then you’ll be living in black and white (which, since we are radically accepting, isn’t a bad thing…it’s just a thing).

So, be careful with the goal-setting workshops and all of the stories about what you are supposed to want. Start by becoming aware of your thoughts and feeling and start by accepting them. If you don’t want to accept them, then accept that feeling. If that thought makes you feel angry. Accept that feeling. If it makes you feel bored, then accept that feeling. If it makes you hungry, then go make a sandwich. Remember that love must be unconditional or it isn’t love. so if you’re going to really love yourself then you need to accept everything about yourself, every moment. The key point is that even when you don’t want to accept something, you can still accept the feeling of non-acceptance.

2012.07.09 acceptance

Love is unconditional or it isn’t love.

Again, the ego is fueled by resistance and it will trick you into thinking that you need to DO something to feel love or find peace. Radical acceptance neutralizes this with grace and elegance. You don’t need to do anything to radical accept. It starts the moment you’re ready for it to start and paradoxically, when that happens you’ll find love and peace (and money and whatever else you really needed). The therapist Carl Rogers said it this way, “It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.” (The Carl Rogers Reader, pg. 19)

Radical acceptance as a means for change is about being centered not being pushed or pulled. And we all learned in high school physics that when weight is centered it reduces the object’s moment of inertia making it easier and faster to change direction. If you want to survive the pace of radical change, then you need to center yourself and accept the most current reality. Both in your environment and inside yourself. With complete acceptance of reality you will be free of compulsion. You will be free to act when you need to act. You will be free to rest when you need to rest. Paradoxically, it is only when you radically accept things as they are that you or your organization can respond appropriately to the ever-changing demands of modern life.

In 1906, the South African newspaper Indian Opinion held a competition to define the growing resistance against British rule. Gandhi famously adapted one of the entries – “satyagraha” – to define his vision of social change. We often think about acceptance as a passive act and RADICAL acceptance even more so. But Gandhi never liked the terms “passive resistance” or even “non-violent resistance.” In fact, satyagraha means “insistence on truth.” So, radical acceptance isn’t about change. It is foremost about truth. And yet, magically, it is through accepting truth that we change.