Two Feet in Front of Your Face: The Headlight Approach to Conscious Leadership
To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.
To change without journeys is to be a chameleon.
To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
“People often ask me, ‘What’s the key to Conscious Capitalism?’” says Timothy Henry. “I always tell them there are three important factors—leadership and leadership and leadership.”
Every year, hundreds of business leaders are inspired by the ideas of Conscious Capitalism but don’t know how to bring it to life in their own organizations. On the journey to doing better business, what moves us from inspiration to a specific aspiration that sticks?
“In my experience, organizations go on journeys,” said Henry, who helps guide aspiring Conscious Capitalists as co-CEO and managing partner of Bridge Partnership. “It’s often like that famous quote about driving at night—you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
In practical terms, leaders have to understand their personal journeys and why it’s important to them to embark on the Conscious Capitalism path. Once they’re clear on those things, they’re ready to move forward.
Henry is also well-known for the 12-step program he leads at CCI conferences, which help leaders plan how to infuse their businesses with consciousness. “When you go on a journey, you need a road map to navigate the territory and know the most important next steps,” he explained. “But most of all you need to understand how to make the whole of the journey greater than the sum of its parts.”
Many business leaders today are sympathetic to the Conscious Capitalist approach, and may even believe they are “doing” parts of Conscious Capitalism here and there. But over two decades of consulting experience have proven to Henry that the light bulb doesn’t have a chance to go off until people see specific examples in their business where doing good leads to a more powerful win-win situation for key stakeholders in their organization.
He cited the example of one company that was able to take a stakeholder orientation model and then connect clients and government agencies in a way that was truly a win-win situation. The company brought together three major customers, representatives from two different international government agencies, and a software vendor. They were able to deal with a significant and costly security issue in a more effective and cost-efficient manner. None of them on their own could have created the solution, but by looking for the win-win opportunity, they co-created significant value and time savings for all the stakeholders. When all the relationships are mapped out, and leaders see how they can implement a series of decisions that will not only create a more positive outcome for everyone they touch but also set off a positive snowball effect on their bottom line, that’s the aha moment.
“It was eye-opening for the executive team,” Henry recalled.
Henry stressed that consciousness is not a panacea. Businesses built on poor models or that have difficulties with execution will not be saved because they ostensibly run on Conscious Capitalism principles.
“Conscious Capitalism helps you move from being a good business to being a great business,” Henry said. “It’s not a substitute for having a good business model.”
Henry, a CCI cofounder and member of the board, also stressed that business leaders shouldn’t expect immediate results when adopting Conscious Capitalism principles into their organizations.
“It doesn’t always pay off in the immediate short term,” he said. But in the intermediate and longer term, businesses with a stakeholder orientation that are focused on their purpose can expect to see greater bottom-line benefits than if they have an exclusive focus on financial returns.
Another key signpost on the Conscious Capitalism journey is purpose, though Henry cautioned that once the purpose has been identified, it must become a way of life within the organization.
“It’s important to have a purpose,” Henry said. “It’s much more important to live your purpose. Sometimes purpose turns into a tagline, a phenomenon of ‘purpose-washing’ in which people believe having a purpose statement makes them conscious.”
It’s also key to firmly establish a culture supporting consciousness. Henry noted that the quip attributed to management guru Peter Drucker and made famous by Ford President Mark Fields—“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”—is true.
“It’s important to be clear about the aspirational culture you’re trying to move toward,” Henry said. “Everyone in the organization has to commit to that journey.”
When Jim Collins wrote the famous business book Good to Great, financial performance was the final arbiter of “greatness.” Conscious Capitalism has a more sophisticated, holistic definition of a “great” company that ties financial performance to how business is being done. In his book Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia points out that conscious companies outperformed the companies profiled in Good to Great by a wide margin.
Henry suggested thinking of Conscious Capitalism as an ocean. Some leaders might want to start swimming. Others will want to start with toe-dipping. Others will want to go snorkeling, and still others will want to become deep-sea divers, fully committed to this new-to-them way of running their businesses.
“If you’re a toe-dipper, then start with thinking about a purpose,” Henry said. “But if you know you want to go deeper, you can.”
But regardless of where leaders might be in terms of adventurousness in their Conscious Capitalism journey, Henry stressed it is a journey that sometimes takes a lot of blind turns. It’s not a linear trip.
“Becoming a Conscious Capitalist company is a journey toward true north,” Henry said. “It’s like setting an intention, and the steps will reveal themselves as you take action in the world. But you’ll probably only see the first two steps.”
A Letter to the CEO:
“You are embarking on perhaps the most important and challenging undertaking of your life as a senior leader: the creation of a conscious enterprise….
There is a hidden causality in the universe. It is like gravity. You cannot see it, but you can observe its effect. When you definitely commit yourself, there exists beyond yourself and your conscious will a powerful force that helps you along the way and nurtures your growth and transformation. Your journey is guided by invisible hands with infinitely greater accuracy than is possible through your unaided conscious will.”
Joseph Jaworski’s letter to a CEO in the Epilogue of the Conscious Capitalism Field Guide
This piece originally appeared in Elevations, The Conscious Capitalism blog.