What experience has inspired you the most in your journey of becoming a conscious business leader?

I’ve never been able to have a “normal” job. I think the reason for this is that I was very fortunate that one of my earliest jobs was a youth mentor at the Mosaic Project, where young children learned about how to make peace out of conflict. I was still a teenager, and yet mentoring these 10 and 11 year olds, while having adult mentors guiding me, being a part of this work that brought people together and made a difference in these children’s lives, it was an experience that deeply transformed me. My job offered me a sense of meaning in my life, and a community to be a part of… And so I was spoiled from very early on. Just clocking in and zoning out and making enough money to live for the evenings and weekend never felt like an option after that.

As an entrepreneur, I often look to my own experience to observe what truly creates value in people’s lives. I will forever be loyal to this organization, and sing their praises and remember how they shaped me. They were just about as imperfect as most non-profits but when something offers you a sense of home, a sense of meaning, your mind naturally tends to find ways you can support their success rather than critique their faults. This and many other experiences as a member of a team or a customer/ client of a business, left me asking: how do some brands do that? How do they leave this impression on you, like you can’t imagine where your life would be without it?

This experience provides me with what I consider to be the two most essential things needed in any community, team or organization: purpose and belonging. Today, providing those two things to every team I engage with is my mission.

What 3 tips would you give any leader for making a meaningful difference in the lives of their direct reports?

1.         Acknowledge them often. Even if they have failed at something, acknowledge their efforts, acknowledge their importance to the organization, acknowledge whatever you see to be true about them, because it is in the presence of a leader that sees the best in you, that your best comes through. Avoid “wrongmaking” like the plague.

2.         Create extremely clear expectations of what success looks like, and ask them what they expect from you as far as support. One of my mentors would always say that “as a leader, you’re either doing what needs to be done, or your supporting others to do what needs to be done.” and this showed me that lying back and complaining about why others are incompetent is a waste of everyone’s time.

3.         Create simple traditions that make your team unique. Whether they are questions you use to open or close meetings, or monthly awards or recognitions, traditions are the most effective way to have your direct reports feel like they are part of something. It gives them something to look forward to, and moments where they can pause and appreciate themselves, each other, and the opportunity to work with you.

What are 1 to 3 mindset changes business leaders need to make in order to truly create a working environment that fosters inspiration, connectedness, and transformational personal growth?

1.         Ask not “What do I need to say” and rather “What do they need to hear?” This is timeless wisdom from my mentor, Maria Nemeth. She taught me how so much of our strife comes from be so self-centered. When we focus on ourselves and what we need to say, the doubts, worries, insecurities, perfectionism and self-admonishing mind-chatter await right at the gates. Or worse-still, when we feel insecure, we try to save-face by doubling down on certainty when we’re really distracted by these worries.

When you take your attention off yourself, you can step into servant leadership, which I assure all of you, is far, far easier. As leaders, we love to contribute, we love to make a difference in people’s lives and putting your attention on others allows those creative inclinations to come forth.

2.         Treat each of your company’s values and principles as a sacred promise. On every team I work with, I ask them, “I’ve reviewed your company values. Who here is ready to be evaluated by their teammates and customers on how well they are demonstrating and embodying each of these values and principles on a scale of one to 10?”

Transformational personal growth happens best in a container, and having shared values is already proven to be an extremely inspiring and life-giving addition to a business’s identity, if everyone feels connected to it. Using your values as metrics for your organization’s integrity puts you all on a path of growth and deep inquiry, and gets people asking the right questions: how can I grow in my embodiment of these values?

How do you see the connection between business success and personal transformation for today’s leaders?

Coming back to my mentor Maria’s wisdom: you cannot guide others further along the path than you have been willing to go yourself. Stepping into the full expression of the greatest contribution you have to make as a leader can be very intimidating. But in the presence of a leader who is courageously, vulnerably and devotedly on their own path of mastery, others are inspired to step-up as well.

And personal transformation does away with the facade of perfection that so many leaders waste precious calories trying to uphold. True transformation is an ever-humbling, ever-refining journey towards mastery. Leaders who are interested in their own growth are less inclined to admonish and tear-down their teams, because when something goes wrong, their mind goes to “how could I have better set them up for success?” rather than building up their laundry list of what’s wrong with someone.

This laundry list follows you around, and every time you interact with this person, you dump this laundry list of criticisms over their head and it disempowers them. Leaders who are devoted to personal transformation are able to see the potential in others, because they are constantly seeing their own progress unfold. They don’t view people as static, because they themselves are moving. Thus, in their presence, others are able to blossom into their own greatness, and collectively succeed.

Given your commitment as a conscious business leader, what’s your approach to developing leaders to encourage greater consciousness?

Three things come to mind here. One of them, is having a clear sense of “why” towards which profit is the means, not the ends. Second, is taking care of the asset of their own body, heart and mind, and lastly, having a deep and humble devotion to walking on the path of their own integrity: cleaning up their messes and learning their lessons while they are still small (because they tend to keep coming back, bigger and bigger until we get the message!

When it comes to a why, it’s what gives a sense of meaning and purpose in your organization, for you and everyone you work with. We become less conscious when we fall into a monotonous and meaningless grind to meet whatever quota will suffice for our paycheck. I do believe that to be a truly effective leader in today’s world, having a healthy capacity to work with the energy of money is essential. But the paper chase is the quickest way to fall into a habit of doing things without a clear and meaningful why. My mentor Maria defines success as “doing what you said you would do, consistently, with clarity, focus, ease and grace” and this is the heart of the coaching model she trains us in as leaders. Doing what you said you would do refers to honoring your word and promises, as I mention below. Consistency calls us to remain healthy and well, which I’ll say more of as well. Clarity is about knowing what’s most important and being able to prioritize. This allows you to focus your energy on what’s most important rather than be distracted. Focused energy, and taking small, incremental steps towards what’s most important can create ease, even when working hard. And things done with ease leave room for gratitude, which is the gateway to grace. I help leaders rewire their brain to automatically be clarifying and prioritizing what is most important in any given moment, so that their energy does not go wasted.

Something else I talk about a lot to the leaders I coach and mentor is the importance of clarifying their own standards of integrity, and proactively seeking out feedback and external reflection on how effectively they are demonstrating these standards at work. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen great companies, communities and organizations fall apart because the leader was not able to be accountable to their promises and clean up the messes they were a part of making. This allows a leader to develop a unique style and take actions that are authentic. 10 leaders can do the exact same thing, and for totally different reasons. 5 of those 10 could be doing it for completely authentic reasons, and thus produce better results, even though they were grounding their action in a different value or principle. The most important part is that it came from who they really were, not a prescription from a book or YouTube video, and was thus authentic.

Finally, I’ve noticed among the hundreds of leaders I’ve worked with, is that they feel a call to live for something that is greater than themselves. The extent to which we can answer this call is the extent to which we can cultivate ourselves as a conscious conduit of energy. My own experiences of burnout, and seeing it around me has shown me how essential it is for leaders to always continue self-cultivation and taking care of their body, heart and mind as this essential asset for the work they do.

What do you see as the key qualities of a conscious business leader?

Compassion: recognizing that people perform better when you create a space where they can relax and know that they are seen and supported.

Courage: this does not mean bravado, but rather means being willing to go on even when we are afraid and uncomfortable. Willing to travel into the unknown and lean into the stretch zone. A conscious business leader must pair compassion with courage, and be able to have uncomfortable and truthful conversations about what isn’t working. Then they don’t waste people’s time.

Integrity: Every time we take an action that is not in keeping with our standards of integrity, it decreases our power and capacity to lead others authentically. The more aligned our actions to who we truly are, the more sustainable trust we can create, and the more harmony and satisfaction we experience, and can project around us.

Growth-mindset: innovation is happening exponentially, and we must be adaptable to thrive in this modern market. And, we must be willing to challenge our old ways of thinking, and take challenges as opportunities to grow.

Allyship: It has become ever more clear that a conscious leader cannot ignore the realities of injustice and inequity in our society and within their companies. A culture of inclusivity and an environment where all people can thrive is based on the very same principles of many modern social justice movements. You cannot be conscious in one place, and turn a blind eye when your investment portfolio or hiring strategies do not reflect the values on your website or the mission you promote. Furthermore, leaders need to be able to recognize how race, gender, class, ability, age and other factors affect the members of their team and color their interactions due to implicit bias and institutional and historical inequity that we have all inherited. Without making it about yourself, or playing the “blame and fault” game which only leads to defensiveness, guilt or shame, we must be able to use our platform for good to truly be conscious.

What do you think the biggest changes we will see in the workplace twenty years from now due to conscious business leadership’s growth?

The national uprisings in recognition of the issues of police brutality have made an irreversible shift in business consciousness. As a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, and a coach for leaders who succeed with integrity, I have never seen more leaders and teams waking up to the importance of these conversations in America. Even my clients in various corners of the world are enlivened and awakened by this. This is because people are recognizing that this is not a political issue, it’s an ethical issue. Companies have long spoken as if they were not political, but it is now too evident that where you invest, hire, dump waste, sell and buy are all impacting society around you. It either reflects your integrity, or it doesn’t. It either adds to progress, or not. Each element of your business is an ethical choice, and we are waking up to this.

This will create a future where business leaders aren’t just leading in the buying and selling of stuff, but are in a collective project of creating value, of solving problems, and using the market as a conduit for more beauty, prosperity, justice and joy for all.

What is the link between being a conscious business and supporting Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter, and the dismantling of White Supremacy?

As I mentioned above, these topics can no longer be deflected into the category of “too political to talk about at work.” There’s no unseeing what America has been seeing. Of course, thanks to the “echochambers” of social media algorithms, most of us are only seeing media that reinforced our pre-existing beliefs, but even then, I am seeing changes that are unprecedented in peoples awareness in this arena.

Conscious business’ contributions internally should be in investing the courage, resources and time needed to undergo cultural transformation that makes diverse hiring and retention possible, because the reality is that our companies are more segregated now than they have been in the last 20 years. And this is even while a 9-billion dollar a year industry for Diversity and Inclusion has been at work. And this is because of the lack of authentic action, vs performative action that businesses take to appease.

The role of conscious business, is to take authentic action, rather than hire a publicity agent to have them send out a well written newsletter or a banner on their website. Authentic action is something that makes the highest possible contribution based on

1. Your nature, the values, principles and purpose of the organization

2. Your gifts, assets, skills, resources and platform of influence

3. Your vision, the impact you want to make in the world.

Conscious businesses contributions to the movement externally should be uniquely reflective of the organization itself. Perhaps an ice-cream company, publishing house and tech-firm will all have the exact same authentic action to contribute, but it’s much more likely that an inquiry into what their greatest contribution to make was reflective of the three points above.

Conscious business leaders have to now recognize that we all inherited this segregated and racially unjust world, and so addressing this is not a choice we opt into or out of, it’s a part of our purpose and calling as people born in this country at this time. Sure, you can ignore an aspect of your purpose in life… but we all know how that goes…

How can conscious business leaders better support people of color to create fair opportunities for people who have historically been underrepresented, underprivileged, and unfairly discriminated against in the workplace?

Below are some examples, however I’ll reiterate the importance of not doing things prescriptively, but rather authentically. If you read this list, and none of them inspire you, then your place to start is working on implicit bias, or otherwise expanding your consciousness of the importance, and the opportunities of this topic. See which of these call you. See which of them make you uncomfortable. Explore the ones that make you uncomfortable first.

1.         As a leader, work with a coach, consultant or mentor to identify your own implicit biases and areas of skill development necessary to become an inclusive leader. Join with other leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities you see in this arena

2.         Talk to the people of color in your company, and if there have been ones who left or where terminated, reach out to them and ask for their feedback. If they are your employees, allow them to provide this feedback on the clock, honoring their work that is increasing the quality of your workplace culture.

3.         Engage in growth work that is uncomfortable. If it is comfortable, it’s not transformational. It’s too satisfying to write a big check to a DEI consultant that tells you a bunch of facts but does not guide your company to make systemic, cultural and structural changes. Trust that the changes you are making will only create a space where all members of your team feel more space to express who they really are, and make their fullest contribution to your company,

4.         Review your company’s investment portfolio. Who do you bank with? Divest from organizations, insurance companies and others who are participants in the prison industrial complex.

5.         Donate to local black-led organizations, and find ones where you can volunteer

6.         Speak openly and directly about this topic, including your own questions, with your company. Let it be known through your actions that this conversation is here, its welcome, it’s happening.

7.         Review your statistics for hiring and promotion based upon race. When you find the results, share them with the consultant you work with to improve these numbers.

8.         In moments like the times we are in now, encourage your employees to offer extra support to groups who might be having a particularly challenging time on a mental health level. You never know what your teammates are going through and what this moment can mean for them.

What role do conscious businesses and conscious business leaders have in the dismantling of white supremacy and racist structures in America outside of the workplace?

More than ever, our society is looking to business to set the tone for ethics and engagement from institutions on these topics. Our public institutions are often dysfunctional and stagnant, and have participated in so many surface-level makeovers that they maintain the facade of being neutral. This is an immense challenge because while the systemic inequity continues under the surface, making lasting change in federal and state institutions can be very difficult.

As a leader of a 100 or 1000 person company, you are like the chief of a small village or the mayor of a tiny town. You make choices that shape the lives of your people, and they didn’t elect you, but you are still are responsible to them.

As businesses, we have more freedom than public institutions to create microcosms of innovation. You can experiment and create spaces that change the way business is done, and address white supremacy and racism head on. You can create microcosms of a culture of belonging and mutual support and empowerment. You can create spaces where people can heal, grow and learn, and if you have that great power, then you have that great responsibility. The responsibility to imagine what could be possible, and to make high-quality mistakes that are coming from an authentic place.

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  • Mark Samuel is a transformative leader with over 30 years of experience in the business world. He has helped hundreds of companies overcome stagnation, transform their businesses, and eliminate toxic work cultures to increase profits, morale, and customer experience. Mark trains leaders on how to implement sustainable changes within just one or two months--a revolutionary approach that he's pioneered with his team at IMPAQ. Mark writes frequently for Forbes and Thrive Global, and hosts the Conscious Leadership with Mark Samuel podcast. He is the author of 7 books, including his newest book, the USA TODAY / Wall Street Journal Bestseller "Reimagine Teams".