Early in my career, I saw an unsettling pattern among the CEOs I worked for: regardless of how successful their company was or how wealthy they’d become, they weren’t truly happy.
The things I thought were supposed to bring joy — getting a good job, being promoted, and making money — didn’t guarantee happiness. That’s when I understood that the key to happiness and true success involved a different mindset, and I began a search for what that might be.
In my search, I was ultimately introduced to conscious leadership. That became a lightbulb moment — one that would profoundly impact my personal life, family life, and especially my future companies.
What is conscious leadership?
Conscious leadership is about guiding people and teams with awareness, presence, and authenticity. It’s about coming from a place of curiosity and ease. And it’s about asking, listening, and being thoughtful in your interactions.
Unconscious leaders on the other hand are often reactive, unaware, and not thoughtful. They create drama and undercut trust. By making a shift to being more conscious, leaders can have a profound impact on their people, culture, and organization. Conscious leadership helps build a culture of thoughtfulness and focuses on eliminating drama and gossip. It emphasizes authenticity, inclusion, and trust. It becomes infectious and helps build a happy work culture.
Decades of research show that happier employees are more productive. In fact, happier and more engaged workers can lead to 23% higher profits, according to Gallup.
I saw it in my own team, too. When we practiced conscious leadership at Glint, an employee engagement platform, we earned a 100% approval rating on Glassdoor — and ranked in the top ten of its best places to work. Today, as the CEO of Wisq, I continue practicing conscious leadership, and I’ve never felt more connected to my team, mission, and customers.
If you’re new to conscious leadership, consider these five steps to start your own practice:
1. Begin at home.
One of the best ways to become a great leader is to work on yourself. Listen to your internal barometer. For me, that starts with daily meditation. For 32 years, most of my mornings have started the same way: with an hour of meditation. Dedicating that time to presence and awareness sets up my whole day. It brings clarity to what I need to get done and how to do it. Anyone seeking to be a conscious leader should strongly consider adopting a self-development path, a commitment to mindfulness, and working with a coach to guide your progress.
2. Default to being open.
In Silicon Valley, there’s a term that Google made popular: default to open. What it means for conscious leaders is both to be authentic and to share information instead of hoarding it. Empower your people, give them autonomy, and invite new, innovative ideas and solutions. Be welcoming and inclusive. Create a safe environment for people to share and be themselves. And be open to the possibility of not knowing everything.
3. Lead with your “why.”
When you’re clear about your purpose and mission, you help employees recognize the higher vision of the business. In that way, you’re attracting purpose-driven employees. And you’re helping them love, not leave, their jobs.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding and communicating your “why.” Pandemic-era surveys show employees increasingly seek purpose in their work. According to McKinsey, nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees agree that the pandemic caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. And next to half said they were reconsidering the kind of work they do. Millennials were three times more likely to say they were reevaluating work.
4. Practice the “Whole Body Yes.”
When I mentor rising leaders, one of the most common struggles they share is their difficulty with decision-making and their tendency for second-guessing. They’re afraid to trust themselves and instead focus on what other people think they should do or what just their brain is telling them to do. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Diana Chapman, one of the founders of Conscious Leadership Group, is the “whole body yes” test. When facing a decision, close your eyes and “live” with one of the choices. How do you feel bodily — head, heart, and gut? Does a sense of well-being fill you? That’s what it feels like when your whole body is aligned and signaling “yes!”
5. Live and lead in appreciation.
Gratitude practices are one of the simplest yet most powerful techniques for shifting your mood and motivating others. For yourself, try this: at bedtime, each night, write one thing you are grateful for at that moment. For your team, thank people even for the small things with specificity and detail. Cultivate a culture of gratitude, encouraging shout-outs among peers. A little goes a long way: One study by the American Psychological Association found 93% of employees who reported feeling valued said they were motivated to do their best at work.
When I first explored these tactics, my goal was to become a happier individual. But now I see how conscious leadership can create a happier and more successful team and have a profound impact on your organization and results.
Get more insights from Wisq CEO Jim Barnett on the "Happy Here" podcast—listen to the stories of HR leaders building cultures around employee happiness and engagement, available wherever you get your podcasts. Apple Podcasts | Spotify