Conscious Business

Ethical Imperatives: Choosing the Right Path for the Greater Good

As we witness the imposed grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, the recent college admissions scandal in the US, and the seemingly daily reports of the unscrupulous behavior of politicians, we find claims of unethical behavior are rarely out of the news. We can easily pass judgment on these examples of misconduct and wrongdoing based on our ability to clearly define the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, the greater challenges for conscious leaders are the choices between right and right. Choosing between multiple right paths requires organizational leaders to apply the practices of leading consciously to complex decisions. Aspiring conscious leaders are aware of the ethical imperatives of business leadership and choose the right path for the greater good.

Much of my understanding and learning on right-versus-right decision making has been drawn from the teachings of Joseph Badaracco, the John Shad professor of business ethics at Harvard Business School. Badaracco’s Defining Moments is an excellent treatise for understanding the powerful and irrevocable consequences for the lives of leaders who must make seemingly impossible decisions. Through three case examples, Badaracco presents an unorthodox yet pragmatic way to think about and resolve the right-versus-right choices organizational leaders face. I summarized my learnings from Badaracco in The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership and have included an extract from the book here.

The challenge is not in simply summoning the courage to do the right thing but in deciding which right thing to do—not about whether to be ethical but how to be ethical. Badaracco offers examples of challenging dilemmas. Standing in front of a burning building, you realize that you can run to one part of the building and save a single child, or you can run to another part and save three children. In neither case is there any risk to you, but there’s no way to save everyone, and you must choose between saving three children or saving one. Choosing the right path for the greater good suggests saving three children rather than one. But what if the one child was your own son or daughter? The responsibility to protect your child from danger is in conflict with saving the lives of other three children.

Right-versus-right choices often arise as urgent, complicated, and sometimes painful issues of personal integrity and moral identity. Responsibilities to multiple stakeholders as described in a previous post may conflict with a leader’s personal and organizational obligations. Badaracco introduces four important questions to consider when faced with these right-versus-right decisions: How do my feelings and intuitions define, for me, the right-versus-right conflict? Which of the responsibilities and values in conflict have the deepest roots in my life and in communities I care about? Looking to the future, what is my way? And how can expediency and shrewdness, along with imagination and boldness, move me toward the goals I care about most strongly?

The first question goes beyond the conscious leader’s practice of feeling all the feelings, asking more about what your feelings tell you, aligning with the adage “we see the world not as it is but as we are.” The second question about the responsibilities and values in conflict involves learning who you have been on the way to becoming who you are. This is an effort to understand which values and commitments have defined your moral identity. The third question, what is my way, is not simply about the culmination of past experiences but requires looking at critical choices as the first steps in shaping your future self, looking forward down the road, not only through the rearview mirror. The fourth question is about seeing the world as it really is and asking what will work in the world as it is, not as I want it to be.

Right-versus-right choices are defining moments in which leaders with responsibilities to themselves, other people in the organization, and to society at large, reveal, test, and shape—sometimes irrevocably—their values and those of their organizations. In the modern world, lives are hectic with little time or space to contemplate these right-versus-right decisions.

The practices of living mindfully and finding moments of serenity can help in determining ways to keep the immediately important from overwhelming the fundamentally important. Although mission statements and credos are often too vague to provide guidelines for right-versus-right
decision-making, a clearly defined individual or organizational purpose can help guide right-versus-right decisions for the greater good of all stakeholders.

Conscious Business

Beyond Sustainability

Sustainability has become a buzzword with multiple meanings and a lot of lip-service. We need to go further. Beyond sustainability: contributing to the creation of a better world is one of six conscious business principles described in the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership. The terms social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability provide a recognized framework for evaluating how human choices impact social, environmental, and business vitality. These are sometimes abbreviated in the business world as people, planet, and profit, and are known as the triple bottom line.

Social sustainability in the broadest sense refers to the alleviation of hunger and poverty, a worthwhile goal for all of humanity. In the business context, social responsibility includes a people focus relating to fair labor practices and equitable compensation, which, for the lowest paid workers, represents more than the minimum living wage; workplace safety, including health and wellness; and a range of other topics such as product responsibility, diversity, sustainable lifestyles, and the creation of conscious cultures. Beyond the internal business operations, social sustainability may include community engagement, volunteering, and philanthropic contributions.

Environmental sustainability broadly relates to the integrity of our planetary ecosystem, where resources are not harvested faster than they can be regenerated and waste is not released into the atmosphere faster than it can be assimilated. For business, environmental sustainability includes reducing consumption and waste in all aspects of business operations internally and across the extended supply chain; reducing the impact of products and services on local and global environments; and designing a future based on environmentally sustainable principles.

Economic sustainability relates to the long-term financial viability of the entity, be it a country, a company, or an individual, and implies a system of operation that satisfies current consumption without compromising future needs. The increasing levels of debt incurred by national and local governments raises economic sustainability concerns for future generations. In business, it is difficult to consider economic sustainability in isolation from social and environmental sustainability. Financial viability in a conscious business requires sustainable income and profitability while operating within the constraints of social and environmental sustainability.

Chris Laszlo and fellow researchers at Case Western Reserve University’s Wetherhead School of Management suggested that to get to prosperity and flourish, we will need to go beyond our language and thinking with a new spirit “able to provide a critical boost of energy, creativity and staying power aimed at the flourishing of the individual, the organization, and the world.” Flourishing individuals are full of vitality, deeply in touch with their own purpose, and feel connected to others, to community, and to all life on earth. Flourishing organizations generate sustainable value for all stakeholders and, by creating value for society and nature, find ways to create even more value for their customers and investors. A flourishing world represents societies that are economically, socially, culturally, and politically thriving.

Whether your primary purpose relates to social, environmental, or economic sustainability, it is time to go beyond sustainability to thriving and flourishing, increasing your contribution to the creation of a better world. Ask yourself, “What can I do to help the earth?” “What can I do to help create a better world for our children and grandchildren?” Taking care of each other, our organizations, and our planet is at the pinnacle of conscious leadership behavior.

Conscious Business

Stakeholder Integration

 

Hardly a day goes by without news of another activist investor demanding action to maximize profits and increase shareholder returns. This intense focus on maximizing profits for the benefit of shareholders shows little regard for the people in the organization, the quality of the products and services offered, the customers and suppliers within the supply chain, or the environment in which the organization operates. Paying attention to multiple stakeholders is not a priority for the activist investor who is only interested in financial returns.

Yet the shareholder versus stakeholder debate presents a false dichotomy according to Conscious Capitalism cofounder Raj Sisodia and his fellow researchers, who reported on this issue in the book, Firms of Endearment. They believe that the best way to create value for shareholders in the long run is by consciously creating value for all stakeholders. Taking this to the next level, one of the six conscious business principles described in the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership is Stakeholder integration: honoring the interrelationship, interconnectedness, and interdependence of all major stakeholders.

The actions of activist investors hitting the business news pages almost daily is disturbing. Their actions, focused solely on financial performance, dampen my optimism that the growing number of customers, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders striving for a more conscious business philosophy can withhold the onslaught of the activist investor. The need to stand up for the ideals and philosophies of conscious business is greater than ever. Leaders of conscious businesses are typically emotionally and spiritually mature, serving a higher purpose, focusing on multiple stakeholders, mastering ego, treating everyone with respect, and acting ethically for the good of all. We need leaders who aspire to be leading consciously for the benefit of all stakeholders.

 

Conscious Business

Conscious Business Principles

Combining the concepts of conscious business, conscious capitalism, inclusive capitalism, and other related Business-with-a-Conscience initiatives led me to define guiding principles for conscious leaders who aspire to build conscious businesses. As a certified conscious business change agent and signatory of the Conscious Business Declaration, I am committed to supporting the conscious business movement.

The six conscious business principles described in the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership are:

  • Conscious leadership: purposefully applying conscious leadership practices for the benefit of all
  • Stakeholder integration: honoring the interrelationship, interconnectedness, and interdependence of all major stakeholders
  • Conscious cultures: making the world a better place to live and work
  • Ethical imperatives: choosing the right path for the greater good
  • Beyond sustainability: contributing to the creation of a better world
  • Whole-systems thinking: co-creating, uniting, and integrating the separate fragments into the oneness of the whole

Each of these six principles will be explored in more detail in future blog posts. For more information, read The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership.

 

Purposeful Pause

Moment of Mindfulness

Mindfulness teachers often refer to the power of the purposeful pause or a moment of mindfulness. David Steindl-Rast said, “Try pausing right before and right after undertaking a new action, even something simple like putting a key in a lock to open a door. Such pauses take a brief moment, yet they have the effect of decompressing time and centering you.” A purposeful pause creates the space for being in the present moment before taking action or speaking to another person. Continuing the theme of harmonious music described in the previous blog post, Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest piano virtuosi, is reported to have said, “I handle notes no better than many others, but the pauses, ah, that is where the art resides.” The simple pause, an extra breath, a look into the other person’s eyes can all bring us into the present moment and allow us to really notice what is going on. The purposeful pause creates the space for concentration and helps us with setting an intention for how we will show up. We can all benefit from a moment of mindfulness. That moment can be a short as a single breath and can extended if we have more time and greater need. I recently produced a Moment of Mindfulness, a short meditation accessible via an online video and a downloadable audio file. This Moment of Mindfulness is a six-minute guided meditation that I hope will bring a sense of calm into your life and prepare you for whatever is happening next at work, at home, or wherever you find yourself today. I invite you to take a purposeful pause, a moment of mindfulness, and listen to the meditation.  
Work Life Harmony

Work Life Balance

A recent client conversation turned to the desire for better work-life balance. During the conversation about setting intention, this conscious leadership coaching client told me that he was being advised to improve his work-life balance, implying work less, live more. The idea of balancing work and life has always been uncomfortable for me. I recall those scales used during chemistry lessons, the brass apothecary balance scales, where a few grams would take the scales out of balance. Another image is that of the see-saw, or the teeter totter, where again, a small shift in weight or position can dramatically affect the balance. This tension between one state and another creates stress and reduces performance. Balance associated with work and life implies that we must divide our time and energy equally between work life and home life. This isn’t necessarily the case and may even be impossible. How can we shift the weights on opposite sides of the scales so the two can be equal? Can we really achieve work-life balance? The fact is that we can’t, at least not for long. Balance is an unattainable standard that can result in constant feelings of failure. Perhaps balance isn’t the right word. Rather than trying to balance everything all of the time, with the associated tension and frustration, it’s time to think of something that reduces tension. Maybe it is time to shift our intention from work-life balance to work life harmony. This image brings to mind harmonious music, where different notes from different instruments are played together to create a beautiful sound. Becoming more conscious about our relationships at work and at home, and between work life and home life, can help us with setting intentions for how we wish to show up everywhere and to encourage work life harmony. To consider work life harmony, I invite you to consider the following questions: What aspects of my life are having the most positive and most negative influences on my work?  What aspects of my work are having the most positive or negative influences on my life?  What are the stress points? Where is there dissonance? What actions can I take to shift from dissonance to harmony? It is time to seek harmony, to play beautiful harmonious music.

Conscious Leadership: a practice not a destination

We have all heard that the answer to the question, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” is practice, practice, practice; but it’s not that easy. Have you ever tried to learn to play a musical instrument? If so, you’ll know how difficult that can be. So, what do you do? You find a teacher, mentor, or coach who can provide a path to success. Although Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall shown in the picture, or any other notorious music hall may be a destination to which we as musicians may aspire, it is the journey rather than the destination that can be most rewarding.

In our home growing up, we had a pedal organ, sometimes referred to as a pump organ or harmonium, requiring constant pedaling to pump air to generate the sound when the keys were pressed. This was eventually replaced with an electric reed organ, and ultimately with a modern electronic keyboard. While I was stumbling over the notes as I learned to read music, my mother would always say, “Practice makes perfect.” I gave up on perfection long ago but I’m still practicing!

In the same way, leading consciously requires practice. Although we may not become conscious leaders in all aspects of our lives, being attentive to the practices for leading consciously can support our journey towards conscious leadership. Whether it is learning relentlessly, living mindfully, exploring purposefully, speaking candidly, or any of the other practices for leading consciously, practicing the specific behaviors of aspiring conscious leaders, can change negative habits into positive habits. What you practice, you become. With practice we can shift from unconscious incompetence where we are unaware of our bad habits, through conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, and ultimately unconscious competence where our good habits become practices residing in our unconscious mind. Conscious leadership is a practice not a destination. Enjoy the journey!

Setting Intentions for a Conscious New Year

As the sun rises over the early days of the new year, this is a time to pause and reflect on our progress so far and to begin setting intentions for the next steps on our journey. Exploring purposefully, thinking possibility, and committing to action are the three practices for leading consciously within the theme of setting intention in the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious LeadershipMaking the seemingly impossible dreams become reality starts with belief. Will you be like the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast? What is possible for you this year? Knowing our purpose and believing in possibility can lead us to committing to action. Possibility thinking is powerful, it is the force that has transformed the world; it is possibility thinking that has allowed us to go to the moon and to invent the Internet, and it is this possibility thinking that has allowed us to seek new vistas, to find the most amazing love affairs, and to become more than we ever thought possible. Be inspired to be more of a possibility thinker this year and commit to acting responsibly for the good of all. But we know that commitment alone is not enough. The bridge from commitment to responsible action is about our personal responsibility for making a positive difference in the world; converting intention into action. Wherever you are on your inner journey to conscious leadership, if you are looking for an accountability partner, let me know via the contact page. For a limited time, as my gift to you, I am offering support for you as your Conscious Leadership Accountability Partner during the coming year. Best wishes for a Conscious New Year.

Winter Solstice and the Yule Log

 

As we celebrate the winter solstice and prepare to eat Yule Log Cake over the holidays, this is good time to think about leaving some of our recent dark experiences behind and beginning to set positive intentions for a brighter new year. Although my memories of the yule log are dominated by the taste of chocolate cake, a deeper story is worth exploring. Read more

Leading Above the Line

 

Conscious leaders respond mindfully to situations in ways that generate desired outcomes, often leading from above the line rather than below the line. You may already be familiar with the success formula advocated by Jack Canfield, author of the Success Principles: E + O = R or Event plus Response equals Outcome. How do you respond to situations and events Read more