I will initiate our conversation with one of my favorite topics, Inspired Leadership. As I see it, throughout history, every time humanity changed for the better, it was catalyzed by some form of Inspired Leadership. And now as I look out over our global horizon, I see no challenge that cannot be met by the power of Inspired Leadership.
The world has changed. We appear to stand at a critical tipping point. Not long ago, developed and developing countries decided to move toward a single global economy, a natural extension of capitalism. This decision brought opportunities for many, but it also created the most significant challenges in human history. We now face seemingly intractable issues such as non-transparent political and corporate governance, energy-climate insecurity, the precariousness of nuclear armaments, cyber terrorism, global pollution, and overpopulation. All six issues either directly or indirectly promote poverty, civil unrest, and environmental unsustainability. Beyond the efforts of an increasing number of positive interest groups, I see only one force that can make a meaningful difference—Business.
Business Is the Force
Over the last 100 years, business has become the dominant global power. In most countries, corporations heavily influence and often control government actions and decisions. It was precisely this power, moving in the wrong direction and complemented by cooperative government support that was responsible for our current global financial crisis.
If business does not lead the way to addressing our global challenges, it is unlikely that anyone will, or could do so, effectively. Although far from a universally accepted conclusion, this responsibility of business for “the whole” is not incompatible with a fair return to all stakeholders—people, planet and profit—the so-called “Triple Bottom Line.” And in fact, if not addressed by business, these challenges will lead to civil unrest, and even under the best of circumstances, to significantly diminished business productivity.[i] Proof that corporations can move us in the right direction is demonstrated by the success of companies such as Patagonia, Whole Foods, UPS, Starbucks, Genentech, The Body Shop, Medtronics, Google, Herman Miller, Vestas, and others. But as we progress into the 21st century, much, much more will be required.
For the human race to pursue a path of productive evolution of body and consciousness, and continue developing a vibrant social structure that supports this evolution, the world must transition to what has been called Conscious Capitalism.[ii] Conscious Capitalism refers to the concept that profit and prosperity can and must embrace social justice and respect for our environment.[iii] To the surprise of many, Conscious Capitalism almost always leads to a more successful enterprise regardless of the evaluation metric.
Transition to Conscious Capitalism
Conscious businesses are built on three core principles.[iv] First, a conscious business always seeks a higher purpose, which need not be incompatible with profit, and more often than not, leads to profit maximization. It doesn’t matter whether it is a beer company or a biotech firm, conscious commerce is a practical and realistic goal. Second, Conscious Businesses deliver value to ALL stakeholders by aligning their interests; this encompasses customers, employees, partners, investors, suppliers, community and the planet. And third, and most importantly, Conscious Businesses are led by Conscious Leaders who focus on the company’s deeper purpose and on delivering value to all stakeholders by finding creative profitable means to harmonize and mesh their interests. We often refer to them as Inspired Leaders because they embrace these three principles, are passionate with a sense of purpose, are inspired toward a worthy goal that will make the world a better place, and inspire those around them toward the same goal.
Inspired Leadership Is The Way
In classical Ego-based Leadership, the leader does something to others. For example, he or she seeks to influence others to achieve an objective because it will bring value to the leader. This leadership style served companies and governments reasonably well for more than 200 years, but it will not succeed in addressing our current state of global affairs. Why? Worldwide environmental consciousness is rapidly growing; public distrust of corporations with its current base of leadership is at an all-time high; many employees and customers are disengaged from the companies they work for or buy from, respectively; suppliers feel alienated and squeezed on price; and often, communities organize to keep businesses out. A report by world-renowned strategist, Gary Hamel concerning a study of more than 90,000 employees in nearly 50 countries concludes that 80 percent of employees are disengaged and unsatisfied with their job.[v] We desperately need a new kind of leadership, one that speaks to all of the stakeholders and is focused on the Triple Bottom Line.
Inspired Leadership is a serving relationship with others that inspires them to grow and reach their innate human potential and in doing so they not only exhibit outstanding performance and thereby contribute much more to their company, but they also make the world a better place. Inspired Leadership is not a model, or a formula, or a system, or a process. Instead of doing something to someone, Inspired Leadership is a way of being and it comes from within. You choose to be this way, you don’t have to be appointed or anointed. Its two central hallmarks are awareness of your true self within and the world around you, and responsibility for “the whole.” Inspired Leadership is very powerful and it inspires greatness from one person to others. It can change the world. As Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras discovered more than 2,000 years ago:
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new great wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
Not The Economy, Stupid—It’s Inspiration
Inspired Leaders take full responsibility for all relationships, from employees, family and friends to the well-being of the planet and our species. Being conscious means being fully aware, totally engaged, and personally responsible for the impact you have on the world, as well as the impact the world has on you. So the very first thing an Inspired Leader does is to gain deep insight into his or her life and the inspiring role that he or she can play in both their personal and professional lives.
Nearly anyone can be an Inspired Leader; you don’t have to be the boss; and you don’t have to be charismatic. First you must understand your true purpose in life. If you don’t know what it is, I can guarantee that you had a sense of it when you were a child. I can also guarantee that you can find it again and it is never too late to pursue it.
What sets you apart from others around you that would allow you to contribute to the greater good? Your knowledge of purpose always leads to a deep passion for action, which ignites inspiration that generates creativity, which in turn can result in innovation. A passion-oriented person generates inspiration in everyone around them. This is what makes good companies “great” and the world a better place. To be sure, Inspired Leadership is not a charitable undertaking. Pursued and practiced with integrity, it can result in substantial returns to all stakeholders and the leader.
By a commitment to this process of introspection and change, it is possible to understand the role that you can play in transforming the organization your lead (entrepreneur)—or work within (Intrapreneur)—into one that truly inspires you and those around you. The force behind this transformation process is inspiration. History teaches us that it is inspiration that gets things done, creates ideas, grows people—it can change the world.
Once you understand your personal sense of purpose in the business world, and your passion is ignited, it is a natural next step to create “One Dream,” the vision and mission that underpin your organization. It is this “One Dream” that attracts and motivates others to your path, and you will get things done through others and at the same time this will help them to grow well beyond their expectations. The power of “One Dream” can be seen in the example of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s commitment for the U.S. to go to the moon. His dream was created on October 4, 1957, when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the first earth-orbiting artificial satellite. Feuding Republicans and Democrats alike stood behind Kennedy. Dreams are like that—they transcend differences and disagreements—they join people at a higher level of consciousness, engage them in a higher purpose—as ONE![vi]
It’s All About Trust
Inspired Leaders are intimately aware of the single most reliable predictor of employee productivity and satisfaction—TRUST! And they understand the five ways to cultivate trust in their organization..
- Excite all stakeholders with “One Dream.
- Employees must understand the company’s strategy.
- Employees must know how their role can contribute to achieving the company’s goals.
- Share with employees, the company’s progress and how their team is doing relative to corporate goals.
- Reward individuals and teams fairly for success.
Examples of recent Inspired Leaders include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ray Anderson (founder of Interface, Inc.—sales of $1 billion/year), Robert Swanson (founder of Genentech—$10 billion/year), George Rathmann (founder of Amgen—$4 billion/year). Take the example of Ray Anderson, founder and recently retired CEO of the world’s largest manufacturer of modular carpets. Carpet manufacturing is notorious for pollution. Since 1995, under Anderson’s leadership and supported by employees as part of their “One Dream,” Interface has reduced its waste by one third and is on target to reach its goal of making the company environmentally sustainable by 2020. Anderson’s company is consistently the most profitable carpet company in the developed world, proof that the Triple Bottom Line—People, Planet, Profit—works!
Can We Do It?
The big question is, “At a time which is arguably the most critical tipping point in the history of mankind, will we slip into economic and social chaos, or can we make the transition to a higher state of consciousness in the way we do business?” I think we can, perhaps not without a few false starts and minor “catastrophes,” but global human spirit will eventually triumph. History has often gifted us with the right leaders at the right time to catalyze a necessary quantum change in human consciousness—Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few.
But I think this time things are different. If we are to create a sustainable future for us, for our children, and for all our descendants thereafter, it will require more than a “chosen few” to make the transition. It will require broad participation in Inspired Leadership in much of what we do—an immediate commitment by you, by me, and many more like us to support, lead or follow companies, governments and agendas that support Conscious Capitalism. For as once said so poignantly, “If not you, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?”
[i] The World Business Academy, established in 1986 is a great resource for the role of business in addressing the global whole.
[iii] Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe, and Jagdish N. Sheth, “Firms of Endearment,” Wharton School Publishing, Philadelphia, 2007.
[iv] Op. cit., reference 2.
[v] Gary Hamel, European Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2009.
[vi] Lance Secretan, “The Spark, The Flame and The Torch,” The Secretan Center Inc., 2010.