May 24, 2019
Another Way to Lead: Conscious Leadership
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When I worked in corporate, I was part of a very big machine, a large company in Silicon Valley that was winning and wanted to continue to win by being #1 and crushing the competition. It was a daily race to success with hours of filling out endless templates and strategies. And we did win. As the chief strategy and innovation officer, our team brought Canada to the #1 global position and we won against the other big countries like the UK, Japan, China and Germany. But what did we actually win? Why were we competing internally, as well as in the marketplace? As I went on medical leave after a plane crash, which I also won, these were questions I started to ask.
The first memory of my life is one of war. I experienced people coming together around shared purpose in the most caring and loving ways despite the deep threat and uncertainty that we faced. My short life could have come to a complete stop had my side lost the war. What I witnessed, at that time, was a profound connection between people when their survival was at risk and they had a common reason to work together. But I also experienced firsthand that people usually die in a battle zone, on both sides.
There is always a cost to winning. For someone to win, someone must lose.
My dream for the world is that we wake up to this reality. I now shy away from people whose goal is to be #1 or to be the best. What useful purpose is it to let people know that you have done something that no one else has done? How does that help anyone? And yet, go to your feeds and become aware of the posts you “like” or “heart.” Who do you believe is truly amazing? What beliefs or people do you give your power away to by supporting their need to win (even the ones claiming to be saving the world)?
I am choosing my words more carefully and it is a daily practice to become aware of when I use the word better, for example. I want to create healthier systems that lift each other up instead of better systems. I look at a person and ask myself is this person healthy or toxic for me, and I spend time understanding why and what it says about me. It is a journey of awareness; not judgement or blame. I can more easily walk away than stay caught up in someone else’s drama with victims and villains.
At the end of the day, life is all about stories. Stories you tell yourself, and stories that you tell other people. Imagine what could happen when we stop warring and fighting within ourselves; trying to feed the emptiness of being the best and winning at all costs to attain the myth of success.
Can you catch yourself when you use divisive words or when you believe one toxic system or person can replace another? Isn’t it time to put down the sword and stop fighting? What are we fighting for? And, more importantly, is it the way you want to spend this beautiful time on earth, called life?
At the age of three, my sister and I helped our mom put dark blankets on all the windows of our apartment and were on constant alert to be ready to go to the bomb shelter where we were supposed to be safe. Sirens and radio reports from the outside world governed our lives. I remember one of our neighbors being told that her son had been killed. I can still recall the pain and the deep loss that day. That suffering and loss stuck with me; it made me the rebel I became in the world. And more importantly, it showed me how people come together during times of crisis with clear purpose and intent. I had experienced a sense of community, long before the internet or social media.
I always wondered why it took an act of violence to bring people together in this way. If you’ve ever experienced it, you will know that feeling of community, compassion, and caring that prevails in the aftermath of such events. At that moment, there is a deep feeling of togetherness. There is clarity of purpose. The potent emotion that you feel when you experience terror and trauma galvanizes people. Conscious leaders understand how emotion and heartfelt connection to an opportunity that inspires action.
What I learned from my childhood is that when people face overwhelming odds, they can come together around a shared purpose with trust and conviction. What I also learned as I grew older is that history repeats itself in the name of purpose, with every side fighting for their cause and survival.
Had the other side won the war when I was three years old, I would not be here on this path with you. They would have achieved their goal of avenging their martyred brethren. Too often, our enemies have a shared purpose that can ignite our own. This is insanity on a whole different level based on deep-rooted mutual hatred and fundamentalist dogma.
You can compare your immune system to a Department of Defense. When waging a war, the Defense Department relies on its Air Force, Navy, and Army, as well as specialized intelligence units, antiterrorist teams, and other forces, to work together in a coordinated fashion to defeat the enemy.
The human immune system operates like a highly efficient killing machine to fend off germs. It employs a variety of strategies and weapons based on the specific threat it faces, and uses a complex defensive process to protect us. Your body works hard to repel invading viruses and illnesses, and there is a legitimate need for protection.
No one can question how ingrained war is in our world and history. When you choose to turn on the news, images flood into your field of vision of a battle somewhere on the globe. You may feel outrage as you witness these insane reports of the loss of life somewhere close or far, but the cycle continues. We may say “Never again,” and yet the news keeps bringing us reports of wars from all edges of the world. And with the Internet, these stories are flooding in faster and faster every day.
For some reason, we have brought the war analogy into the fabric of business. The competition is seen as the enemy and the purpose is to win the highest market share or top spot. It is easy to get people to rally the troops and aspire to get the #1 market share spot. The deeper question is this: is it necessary to have a shared purpose of bringing down the competition, when in the 21st century the opportunity is to get people to focus on a shared higher purpose and find ways to collaborate and co-create with sometimes unlikely partners?
It is an opportunity to rally people around what your business is doing in the world and why it makes our planet better through our work.
In too many organizations, there is increasing competition inside of the organization, where people and departments are battling each other for resources and ownership. So much time and energy is spent on internal competition, when the opportunity is to find ways to come together around a shared purpose of creating an incredible offering in the marketplace that will delight and serve people, like a new co-living space or virtual reality experience.
There is no reason to crush anyone when you remember why you are in business, or even in a non-profit. Imagine what could happen if we brought the art of co-creation and cooperation into the fabric of how business operates. What if instead of having “war rooms” in organizations, we had co-creation spaces where we brought our internal departments together for a higher purpose that helped our organizations thrive? What if our purpose was to thrive in our higher purpose instead of winning a game that destroys our own and the planet’s wellbeing?
We would no longer need to crush the competition at all costs. We need to have more faith in our ability to build and co-create, as we have witnessed what happens when the drive for survival transforms into blind destruction and hatred. There is another way for us as business people to change the mindset of leadership, to co-create a new path to brings back the simplicity and beauty of business.
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