Guest blogger Mikael Meir, President Mikael Meir Inc., Leadership and Strategy Consultancy. Panelist at the 2012 CBERN Annual Conference.
I had an opportunity to be a panelist at a wonderful leadership and ethics conference in Calgary in early May, organized by the Canadian Business Ethics Research Network. It was an inspiring congregation of differing perspectives with leaders from industry, non-profit, academia and environmental concerns – all sharing their experience, perspective and research.
The conference was a great opportunity for me to just listen from a place of openness and empathy, and share my research and experience on ethical leadership and the obstacles facing the ethical leader in the 21st century.
The question posed to me, and my fellow panelists asked “whether there is a dimension of ethical leadership and its challenges that needs to be identified or emphasized”.
I shared that I believed “greater consciousness” needed to be emphasized in leaders, and I offered three steps, which if cultivated, can offer any leader access to greater power. I share those perspectives in the article below.
Ethics: Accessing Your Unrealized Leadership Potential
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power” ~ Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
As the greatest self realized sages profess, mastering yourself is true power. And as one master’s oneself and moves to higher levels of consciousness (or self actualization), he or she organically becomes the leader those with lesser development want to follow. Thus the need for prevalent fear based leadership tactics – command, control, cleverness, manipulation, hierarchy, and force -disappear.
From my own experiential journey along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, approaching self actualization brings the gifts of acceptance, humility, faith and an uncluttered desire to serve the present moment. From that “leadership orientation” execution becomes clear, powerful, authentic, conscious and ethical. Inspired action arises from clarity.
So how does a leader raise consciousness, and move to higher levels of self actualization? Based on my research and personal experience, the steps can be aggregated into three non-linear practices.
Three practices to raising consciousness
One: Identify Your Ego
As Beatle, George Harrison realized and wrote, “All through the day, I Me Mine, I Me Mine, I Me Mine”. It appears to be an endemic part of the human experience to obsessively identify with the content of the ego – “the story of me”, and compulsively ruminate on how to protect and enhance “the story of me”, – my job, my salary, my accomplishments, my reputation, my house, my bank account – and the list goes on.
Scientists tell us we have 60,000 thoughts per day, and 80% of them are repetitive. I would assert, that 90% of the 80% are fears and desires on how to protect or enhance “the story of me”, often driven by a desire to be “more than” or a fear of being “less than” the other.
Since reality is temporal, and we will always perceive people as “more than” and “less than”, this habitual thinking process is entirely devoid of skill. But more importantly, for business leaders, if we let the ego get into the driver seat, in a self striving pursuit of wealth, power and prestige we can easily get caught up in driving the story of me, and go blind to our higher natures.
In so doing, we fortify our perception of ourselves as separate, experience a primal lack of safety, and slip into the societal based competitive adversarial mind-set – win lose thinking – crush the competition – kill or be killed.
By understanding and acknowledging the nature of ego, we can begin to observe it’s destructive potential, step outside “the story of me” and ‘let go”. We can set aside the self-serving drives of the ego, in favor of acting for the greater whole – our business stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, community environment) and personal relationships (friends, family, community, self, planet). The net result is greater connection, empathy, compassion, trust, communication, effectiveness and efficiency – the DNA of ethical leadership.
Two: Expose Your Leadership Shadow
Leadership is the power to influence others to create positive change. And we’re always influencing those in our businesses – regardless of our title or position, so it’s critical to get intentional about our values, and live our values daily. Understanding beliefs here is key, because beliefs drive values, values drive behavior and behavior extends to the creation of culture.
The issue is many of our beliefs are self-limiting and unconscious, typically falling into three core areas:
- Inadequacy - I’m not (rich, smart, attractive etc.) enough;
- Scarcity - I’m don’t have enough (money, attention, power, love etc.);
- Trust - I don’t trust (you, myself, life, God etc.)
They’re programmed into our minds as children, further conditioned throughout life, and often the source of unconscious fear and shame. We then create masks to hide these unconscious beliefs, which creates inauthentic behavior, sabotages integrity, and drains us of the vital energy to inspire, create and execute. The unconscious expression of these unconscious beliefs creates the leader’s shadow.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. Therefore, to access all of your power as a leader, it is vital to make the unconscious conscious – do the required “in-venture” to discover and bring the shadow into the light of awareness.
When the shadow is known, we can accept all of who we are. We free up energy used in masking parts of ourselves we deem wrong, and access the true power of our authentic selves. As we increase authenticity, we build trust and connection enabling us to better empower our teams to drive positive change. We also then operate with expanded mental-emotional clarity, making more impactful choices and decisions to create greater value.
Three: Develop Your Powers of Observation
Self awareness increases only when we begin to observe our minds – the origin of ego and shadow discussed above, and the generator of all thought, emotion and sensation. When we begin to witness our mental-emotional reaction patterns and the stories we construct we can:
- Access presence - the place where stillness, calm and mental clarity exists;
- Access space - between the story of me (ego identification) and the observer of the story of me (witness) where our power, vitality, effectiveness and integrity live;
- Access freedom -in the ability to make more skillful choices aligned with our highest future possibility;
- Access power - in observing the shadow and knowing it’s origin, we can accept, integrate and enable greater authenticity, integrity and full self expression.
As we practice identifying ego, exposing our shadows, and observing the habits of our minds, we naturally feel a greater sense of connection with all things.
We develop a more profound understanding that as leaders, we’re true partners with society – responsible to the whole stakeholder system – shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, partners, community, planet.
And we can access a reservoir of natural power, based in natural law, that allows us to become a more empowered co-creator of business life, instead of a less empowered reactor to business life.