Understanding Conscious Leadership & Personal Leadership
How to be conscious leaders and personal leaders—ready to engage with, own, and transform the challenges we face in our organization and world
The starting point for all transformational leadership—for resolving all and any challenge we encounter in the world— is to check in with ourselves consciously and use self-mastery to ensure we are showing up free of old thinking and habits; and on fire to deal with the issues we face.
This is conscious leadership and personal leadership, which make up the first spiral of the 6 Spirals Of Transformational Leadership:
In the moment, we want to understand whether we are “in pattern,” rigid and reactive (even if polite about it); or relaxed, available to new insights, and bubbling up with possible ideas. The key to conscious leadership and personal leadership is to spot protective patterns that show up repeatedly in different situations, own them fully, and transform them through empowerment and awareness.
We become vigilant for clues in our emotional landscape, felt sense, self-talk, and stories that alert us to the fact that we’re stuck in a pattern.
The first step when encountering any Transformational Challenge is not to react with tried-and-tested solutions and best-practice thinking, but to stop; connect inside to reflect, allowing intense emotions and any shock to be processed; and engage with the incoming data and insights completely to find potential creativity within the chaos, and possibility within the problem. This is impossible when we are emotionally attached to old ways of doing and thinking. Like execs at Kodak and Nokia, we cannot see the world afresh with new thoughts unless we feel differently inside.
A crisis, a turning point presented in an intense way, reveals who we (and our business) really are. It will often clarify and amplify our ‘personality’: our protective patterns and defensive habits. Yet it can also reveal our deeper character, our strengths within vulnerability, if we metabolize the crisis fully. When Transformational Challenges hit, we can find ourselves in C&P Mode, reacting and resisting; or C&C Mode, adapting and transforming.
- Are you reacting to this challenge with outdated protective patterns; or are you feeling free, fluid, and flexible?
- Are you suffering from interoceptive exhaustion, overwhelm, or stress that is locking you into reactive habits; or are you able to show up fully and on fire, working with what is happening to co-create what could be?
- Are you able to own this problem and take it within your bodymind to metabolize it into value; or do you blame others for it, and complain about what a burden or worry it is?
- Are you gripping onto business model assumptions that are outdated; or are you able to relinquish attachment to old thinking and disrupt your business model purposefully before competitors or world events do?
- Are you triggered, defensive, and disconnected, locked in C&P Mode; or are you open and available, grieving and weaving in C&C Mode?
Transcendentally, conscious and personal leadership is about mastering how to lead ourselves through our own transformations so we can then lead others, and our organizations and systems, to land their own transformations. The focus is always about increasing our palette of potential and fitting responses to difficult challenges so we don’t rely on one or two familiar strengths, within our comfort zone or box, to deal with anything. This is a lifelong process and it is never ‘done.’ The point is not to reach some mythical perfect state of leadership; but proactively to stretch ourselves to explore new colors, tones, and patterns through every leadership situation we encounter. We explore new leadership archetypes, and experiment with more fitting patterns. This is a conscious choice.
It always begins by inhabiting an “ownership mindset” that takes responsibility for the problems we face, and how we react to them; and avoids resisting “learning moments” through blaming, shaming, and complaining. We cannot transform what we do not own. And what we don’t own, owns us. When we take any problem within us, by owning it, we are not taking the blame for it. We just recognize that the more creative and adaptive way of resolving it is to metabolize it within us, and this only happens when we are ready to try a different response than the one we would usually
At the core of conscious and personal leadership is mastery of transformation practices—they are called practices as we must practice them regularly so they are of use when we need them—that allow us to become more aware of, and then change, our state of mind and body in each moment. We must become world-class experts at discerning, decoding, and then shifting our own unique bodymind reactions with all their history, baggage, shadow, and potential.
Initially, we start by developing full bodymind awareness around when we are feeling an emotional “charge” that reveals that we are triggered by a perceived threat and so “in pattern.” We become increasingly sensitive to the tell-tale signs and signals within our bodymind that show when we are reacting to life (i.e. switched off); and when we are co-creatively responding to it with fitting ideas and actions (i.e. switched on).
As we become more aware of what is happening within, we can then practice how to consciously dissolve even the most persistent and pernicious patterns (that rarely help and empower us); and build new neural pathways that enact new patterns that fit who we are becoming. The archetypal move of conscious leadership is to break through old patterns (habits of sensation, mood, belief, and behavior) and to replace them with new patterns, or “repatterns,” that allow us to adapt to the changing world better.
Our minds become clearer, more possibility-focused, and more optimistic (optimism has been proven to have major benefits to our material health, again showing that psychology and physiology are one32). We lose our emotional attachments to legacy business model assumptions and old leadership model beliefs, no matter how comfortable and successful they have been in the past. We are free to engage our ‘meta-cognition’ fully in triple-loop learning to suck the transformational potential from every problem. As we engage in this process, we discover that many ideas turn out to be mistaken and that our knowledge of the world is inadequate. Rather than resist or repress this, we welcome such insights to upgrade our consciousness and adapt our Business models.
We become ninjas, or perhaps break-dancers is a better metaphor, at breaking through protective patterns that once served us but now hijack our best intentions, diminish ourselves and others, and block the changes needed to stay relevant in a fast-changing world. We are able to rapidly spot familiar patterns when we lock into them, and know how to release them in real time to embrace more creative, appropriate responses. We become masters at breaking old, redundant leadership habits and at making new habits that support our ambitions for our enterprise and system.
Each repattern involves us shifting habitual interoceptive and emotional states before editing the assumptions, stories, and self-talk that block creativity in the head; and skillful action in the hands. This is the inner work of ‘healing’: a concept that is rarely mentioned in organizations; or in the field of leadership development. As we heal our hara and heart, we can be more responsive and receptive as opposed to reactive and resistant. Our nervous system becomes more integrated and better regulated; and our bodymind as a whole becomes more harmonious.
A conscious transformational leader knows that her/his hara and heart has many wounds within from their formative years. We seek to rapidly heal our interoceptive-affective bodymind by constantly processing difficult emotions, releasing old pain memories and feelings of inadequacy, and even transforming wounds of abuse or neglect. We do such concerted inner work precisely because it is the only way to show up in the world with a whole bodymind that feels full; and fully on fire. As transformational leaders, we must be constantly moving ourselves from a hurt heart to a whole heart. This self-transformation also means clearing up any ‘messes’ we have made when we were in
I suggest that rather than trying to change everything about yourself that is not serving you, all at once, just focus on one thing—which becomes your Leadership Edge—at a time. You don’t need to force it. If you engage with life with an open heart and mind—awake to the possibility of identifying your Leadership Edge—you will likely see that, in every period of time, a theme will emerge for conscious self-transformation. Essentially, a particular protective pattern that is no longer serving you will come to the fore in various areas of your life and work. This is then your invitation to transform it into a repattern; and then “integrate” each repattern into your life by embedding new habits in the days, weeks, and months after the excitement of a breakthrough has passed.
In order to learn as fast as we can with each “upgrade opportunity”—the reframe we use for the fails that occur when we use a pernicious protective pattern that is a mismatch for the moment—it is vital that we give ourselves time each week, and ideally each day, to “process” our reactions and to extract the breakthrough potential of each. We need space and time to spot a trigger, decode what was happening in the moment, identify the pattern we were using to protect and control, and release it to embrace a new way of being. This has the added benefit of ensuring that we avoid the potential of the fast-moving world becoming traumatic.
The process of self-transformation speeds up the more we practice it (but only if we always make time, and create space, to reflect and
(re)connect with ourselves). Interoceptively, this means coming back into full presence within our bodymind daily. By returning to the sense of stillness that arises when we feel into the very center of our being, we press the reset button on stress and anxiety. Practice coming back into the ‘midline’ of your bodymind across all 3 dimensions of height, width, and depth—something we call “3D midline mastery.” Emotionally, it means processing the frustrations and fears that naturally arise with the ever more intense leadership (and love/life) challenges that occur when we take on more senior roles; and evolve into more mature stages of human
If we stop doing transformational inner work, we will likely find ourselves in a crisis before long. Life, love, and leadership crises are inevitable if we stick with outdated patterns to attempt to deal with fresh and emergent Transformational Challenges. If we do not consciously close the gaps between who we are, and who we need to become, to thrive in our emergent life, love, and leadership realities, we will enter breakdown (burnout being a dramatic signal of breakdown). If we are not finding our way back to peace and freedom within—each and every day—because we are failing to seize upgrade opportunities… stress (AKA fear) builds up in our bodymind and we will resort to pernicious and persistent protective patterns to cope. These diminish ourselves and others.
We cannot be conscious, flexible, fluid, and free transformational leaders without taking full ownership of our interoceptive felt-senses and our affective emotional states. It is the primary goal of conscious leadership and self-mastery to maintain a pellucid consciousness within ourselves that allows possibility spaces and creative thoughts to arise even in times of great stress. We actively cultivate our consciousness to be sufficiently clear and calm that the 4 guidances within—instinct, intuition, intelligence, and insight—can be parsed without blockage or obfuscation. Only then will we make both wise and smart decisions in the quotidian moments of choice where our legacy as leaders is laid down.
The transformational leader sees ‘self-care’ as an essential part of leading and landing future-forward transformation. This is not about narcissistic bliss, middle-class indulgences, or hedonistic escapism. It is about doing what we need to do for ourselves so we can be at our Leadership Edge for others. I invite you to take seriously the development of a self-care strategy that preempts stress and overwhelm; and an embodied wisdom approach that inoculates you against the life, love, and leadership crises that inevitably arise when we fail to metabolize mismatches in the moment.