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What’s the Dalai Lama got to teach us about business

Earlier this year his Holiness shared his thoughts on leadership in the Harvard Business Review. It’s a short article, but the call to action is huge: “Leaders, whatever field they work in, have a strong impact on people’s lives and on how the world develops. We should remember that we are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the most. During this time, we should work to leave the world a better place.”

How many leaders ask themselves: what am I doing to leave the world a better place?

For several decades now, we’ve been working to the principle that good leaders are about driving quick growth and success. Winners taking it all (thank you ABBA).

If you’re a leader, you’ve learnt to show strength and determination, to use your drive to get things done, even if it means being autocratic at times.

What companies are looking for

But a combination of influences – economic and environmental uncertainty, the exponential growth of new technology, a diverse, multi-generational workforce that is more defined by different beliefs that traditional norms – is giving rise to the suspicion that this traditional mindset may no longer be fit for purpose.

In Deloitte’s 2019 Human Capital Global Trends survey, 80 per cent of respondents think leadership is a high priority for their organisations, but only 41 per cent said their workplaces are ready or very ready to meet their leadership requirements. They ranked the ability to lead through more complexity and ambiguity as the highest requirement of a 21st century leader.  The problems that leaders face today in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) cannot always be solved with the knowledge they already have.

Solving these problems (known as adaptive challenges) require leaders to make a shift in their mindset, behaviour and beliefs, becoming more conscious and self-aware.

The call for conscious leaders

If we go back to his article for a minute, the Dalai Lama suggests the current problem lies in a lack of awareness about the interdependence of leaders and workers.

Conscious leaders develop their awareness, and self-awareness as much as their technical competences. Leadership is no longer about telling people what to do but asking others to help solve problems in a collaborative way.

I’ve been coaching leaders to be more conscious now for nearly 10 years and the results can be dramatic.

How Steve became a conscious leader

At this stage, you may be thinking it’s all a bit touchy-feely – pulling away from the bottom line. But let me tell you about Steve.

Steve is the founder and MD of a manufacturing business. His chairman contacted me because, although the company was performing adequately, staff churn was high – and Steve’s autocratic style was becoming a problem.  The chairman felt that if Steve was going to realise his ambitions and grow further, he needed to change his style.

We worked through a series of exercises (no chanting or mantras by the way!) to slowly reveal what might lie behind some of his behaviour.  The triggers driving our behaviour can often be traced back to the first time we experienced those catalysts in childhood. At times of pressure, the workplace can give rise to exaggerated behaviours which is why you are likely to see them surface there.

Steve had been brought up to believe that winning at all costs was what really mattered. He traced it back to the day his school team lost a football match and his coach told him that coming second was just not good enough. Without realising it, Steve was showing this set of values to his staff. Consciously he thought of them as valuable and essential to success but his actions revealed the reverse. By holding a mirror up to his behaviour, Steve came to realise how this was detrimental to both his team and business.

Now the staff at Steve’s business are able to thrive, so they stay. He has made his business a better place, with the growth he wanted secured. It’s enabled him to step back and start up a new venture.

Conscious leaders change more than their careers

One of the most rewarding elements of this programme is the effect it has on all aspects of life. By being able to think differently (based on new mental models) participants are energised, wiser and more creative, they enjoy better relationships and a stronger connection to their purpose.

If you would like to know more about how we can design and deliver a Conscious leadership programme for you, please contact BiteSize Learning at [email protected].

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