The seven traits of conscious leaders

The seven traits of conscious leaders
Executive Summary
To hold on to top talent and attract the best people, leaders need to deliberately create and maintain a culture of engagement, empowerment and inclusion. Conscious companies are ushering in a new style of leadership that puts people first – the emphasis is on inspiring employees to do their best work in an environment of optimal engagement. The result? A highly engaged workforce that boosts productivity and bottom-line performance. Read this article for an insight into the traits that define conscious leaders.


As organizations enter a brave new world marked by digital disruption, globalization and the emergence of the millennial workforce, speed and innovation have become critical success factors. Only a highly engaged workforce can respond to disruptive forces with the kind of speed and agility required to maintain competitive advantage. Creating a culture of engagement that cascades through the entire organization is the sole responsibility of executive leadership. And it’s only possible if leaders are willing to re-evaluate and redefine their leadership styles.

In the last few years, there has been a paradigm shift from autocratic, self-serving leadership to what has been termed “conscious leadership”. More than a mere buzzword, conscious leadership has become a key driver of productivity and top-line growth. But what exactly is it? In short, it’s a leadership style that promotes a duality of awareness: 1) awareness of self, and an implicit understanding of one’s motivations and higher purpose, and 2) awareness of the impact one’s thoughts, words and actions have on the outside world.

Self-aware leaders embody the following characteristics:

  • Comfortable with their strengths and not crippled by their weaknesses
  • Able to recognize how feelings can influence actions and therefore performance
  • Transparent and authentic – their actions are aligned with their values
  • Able to separate perceptions, biases and prejudices from the real situation
  • Aware of their emotions and conscious of when emotions cloud their judgement

It is only through a deep awareness of their capabilities, talents and potential shortcomings that leaders can develop a true understanding of how they influence performance, and how their actions impact stakeholders. Conscious leaders take a holistic view of the organization, and recognize that stakeholders are not only their colleagues, but also their suppliers, partners, customers, shareholders, markets, and the environment at large in which the organization operates.

These leaders are able to see the bigger picture and have a deep understanding of the organization’s higher purpose. They want to inspire their colleagues and direct reports to reach their full potential, knowing that people who live their purpose are happier, and find their work more meaningful and rewarding. It is this level of engagement that contributes to the growth and development of the organization.

conscious leadersHow conscious leadership drives engagement
A highly engaged workforce can increase innovation, productivity and bottom-line performance. Companies with a greater number of engaged employees typically have lower operating costs, higher customer satisfaction and higher profits. As a result, employee engagement has become a top business priority for senior executives.

A highly engaged workforce can increase innovation, productivity and bottom-line performance.

But organizations are facing a global engagement crisis: a recent Gallup report states that only 13% of employees worldwide may be fully engaged. Gallup’s research indicates that US companies with the highest proportion of engaged versus actively disengaged employees (averaging a ratio of nine to one) delivered 147% higher on earnings per share (EPS) than their direct competitors. The reverse also holds true: corporations with the poorest ratios (less than three to one) achieved 2% lower on EPS. Actively disengaged employees cost American companies between US$450 billion and US$550 billion in lost productivity per year; in Germany, the estimated range is
€112 billion to €138 billion.

These figures prove beyond any doubt that a committed, participative workforce is a key organizational asset that boosts the bottom line. But it all starts with a focus on people. Conscious leaders understand that people are the driving force behind profit. It’s the conscious leader’s duty to inspire and motivate; to ensure that employees feel valued and empowered to deliver on the organization’s mission.

conscious leadersThis holds especially true for Millennials, who change jobs more frequently than previous generations. They seek employment that offers fulfillment and flexibility – and, in most cases, it is not incentives but engagement that will secure a millennial employee’s loyalty. Millennials want to be acknowledged and appreciated – they thrive in an environment of optimal engagement and have high expectations of their leaders. For these employees, the focus is less on profit and more on purpose.

Conscious leadership not only bolsters engagement levels within the organization, it also creates a culture that attracts top talent. CEOs regularly cite attracting and retaining top talent as their number one challenge, and rightly so: losing key personnel results in a disruption in productivity, and finding suitable replacements is often time-consuming and costly. To hold on to top talent, and attract the best people, leaders need to consciously create and maintain a culture of engagement, empowerment and inclusion – and it all starts at the very top.

The seven traits of conscious leaders
Conscious leaders act with integrity, authenticity, curiosity, openness and a deep sense of responsibility. Here are seven steps you can take to kick-start your journey toward becoming a conscious leader.

1. Act with integrity

Integrity is a vital component of decision-making. Leaders who act with integrity are committed to doing the right thing, under any circumstances. They are honest and ethical, and their dependable leadership helps build trust and credibility within the organization.

Leaders with integrity exhibit the following characteristics:

  • They are honorable and responsible
  • They are in tune with their feelings
  • They speak their truth in a kind and respectful manner
  • They keep their promises and uphold commitments
2. Develop your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a set of abilities that allows people to manage their emotions and behavior and successfully navigate their interactions with others. Research shows that emotionally intelligent organizations have a culture that is characterized by improved morale, employee satisfaction and productivity; return on investment in change efforts; and success in achieving desired performance goals.

Psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman believes that emotional intelligence is made up of two components:

  • Intrapersonal intelligence: People with intrapersonal intelligence are in touch with their thoughts, feelings and motivations, and are also aware of how these can impact those around them.
  • Interpersonal intelligence: People with interpersonal intelligence are sensitive to the moods and feelings of others; they connect with people easily and are empathetic.
3. Be authentic

Conscious leaders are self-actualized individuals who are not afraid to reveal their imperfections, admit their mistakes or ask for forgiveness when required. Whereas some may interpret this behavior as showing weakness, the opposite is true: when leaders show their human side, their employees trust them more. A leader who is willing to be vulnerable and authentic inspires others to be more authentic too, which has a positive effect on engagement.

4. Be courageous

Courage is linked to authenticity – it takes courage to reveal one’s true self without fear of judgement. Courageous leaders uphold their convictions and maintain their integrity, even when it may make them or their decisions unpopular. There will be times when a leader’s integrity is tested, and it is in these times that courage will drive and guide decision-making.

Courageous leaders are always willing to speak their truth and have candid conversations with their employees. They don’t shy away from difficult conversations with their teams, or shrink back from the awkwardness of potentially unpleasant confrontations.

5. Cultivate a state of curiosity

Curiosity inspires conscious leaders to try new things and embrace innovation – these leaders are always looking for a better, more efficient way to do something. They are eager to learn, develop and improve their skills and are open to ideas and opinions that may be contrary to theirs. Curiosity involves breaking down barriers and challenging traditional thinking – the curious leader inspires creativity and experimentation, and entertains new perspectives by asking “Why?” and “What if?”.

6. Develop self-awareness

conscious leadersConscious leaders are in tune with their thoughts, feelings, motivations and fears. They know what they need to be happy, overcome adversity, stay motivated and keep evolving. They know when they are acting from a place of fear or anger, and don’t resist these negative emotions. Instead, they explore these emotions by asking self-reflexive questions such as: “Why am I feeling this way? What has caused it? What can I do about it? Does this impact anybody else? What would be the best way to handle this? What are all the possible outcomes of the various decisions that I could make about this?”.

Self-awareness does not come naturally to everybody – rather, it is a learned behavior. To cultivate self-awareness, it is best to set aside time to develop it. John Mackey, a key proponent of conscious leadership and CEO of Whole Foods Market, recommends various self-awareness exercises such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, prayer, affirmations and t’ai chi.

7. Adopt a deep sense of responsibility

Taking responsibility does not mean always shouldering the blame or even apportioning it to others. Rather, it means helping to take corrective action to address problems or mistakes, ensuring, as far as possible, that all stakeholders benefit from one’s actions and, ultimately, the actions of the organization. Conscious leaders strive to provide the required support and guidance to their people, thereby enhancing personal growth and development. These leaders take responsibility for results not being achieved and attribute successes to the team. They are committed to working in the best interests of the organization.

As the workforce transforms, so too must its leaders. The conscious leadership movement is an opportunity for leaders to evolve beyond an authoritarian, intimidating leadership style and embrace the role of servant and supporter. More than that, conscious leaders have the power to inspire, motivate and bring out the very best in their people. By actively focusing on creating an environment of optimal engagement, conscious leaders can create the foundation for lasting business success.

By actively focusing on creating an environment of optimal engagement, conscious leaders can create the foundation for lasting business success.

This resource has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without obtaining specific professional advice. Competitive Capabilities International (CCi) does not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this resource or for any decision based on it.

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