Conscious leadership. What is it? Why is it different? And why every leader and anyone responsible for leadership development should understand it.
Concious leadership, what is it and what do leaders and anyone in leadership development need to know? In this pod cast oi
Conscious Leadership – Interview with Steve McIntosh
In this podcast David talks with Steve McIntosh, co-author of ‘Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business’ about what conscious leadership is and why it matters, especially in todays world.
Steve McIntosh is the president of The Institute of President of the Institute of Cultural Evolution in Boulder, Colorado and has authored books like:
- The presence of the infinite – The spiritual experience of beauty, truth and goodness
- Integral Consciousness and the future of evolution
- Evolutions Purpose
- Developmental Politics
- And co-author of Conscious leadership: Elevating humanity through business, together with John Mackey and Carter Phipps.
Listen to the interview
Connect with Steve
Conscious Leadership Transcript
It’s an absolute pleasure. I really enjoyed the book by the way. Would you like to just take a minute just to introduce yourself what you do and kind of what led you to this collaboration on conscious leadership?
Cool, interesting, interesting. So like conscious leaderships, what are the newer forms of leadership that’s emerged recently along with things like spiritual leadership and in terms of academic research volumes I kind of look this up and I find it quite interesting. And, you know, if you’re just starting to kind of it’s just starting to get interest there’s roughly about 2,190 research papers probably so far and actually that’s really low, for example spiritual leadership at the moment there’s roughly about 33,600 papers on that, servant leadership we’re talking about 54,500 research papers. And then when we go to things like transformational leadership we’re talking about 254,000 research papers. So for you, what is conscious leadership conscious of what and how is it different from other forms of leadership?
Yeah, that’s really cool. So one of the senses I got from the book is it’s kind of a systems thinking it’s seeing not only the business but the individuals within the business, all of the stakeholders and the wider kind of environment both the commercial environment, the capitalist environment if you like, but also why the global environment as a whole system and seeing it as a system and being a conscious part of that system and being there to do good within that system rather than just take from it, if you see what I mean, and that’s the kind of sense that I got from the book.
Sure, we’re certainly we’re informed by systems thinking we were all impressed with Peter Senge’s book, “The Fifth Discipline” that came out in the mid 90s and systems awareness and whole systems thinking is certainly an element of this larger umbrella the integral philosophy that I mentioned at the beginning but integral philosophy goes beyond what’s understood as systems thinking but certainly this recognition of larger systems and in a sense how the business world can be compared to an ecosystem wherein there’s an interdependence across the levels. That’s certainly informs our thinking at every level.
It’s interesting. So you say integral philosophy goes beyond that. In what way, how do you mean?
Well, it looks at the evolution of consciousness itself. What does that mean for people to evolve their consciousness? Of course, there’s many lines of development or wish your consciousness could evolve, right? You can learn to play the violin and that would evolve your consciousness. But we also recognise that human history is evolving and what’s more evolved doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely better in every way but we can certainly see lines of development by which humanity is advancing by which we can claim that these are unequivocally good. You know, that a society that has slavery and a society that has liberal values that one is better than the other, right? A society where women and men are treated equally and there’s racial equality. That’s a more evolved society than one that’s not. So, we’re willing to say what’s better although not in a linear way, not in an absolutistic way but certainly not in a way that just says relativistic and says, everything is the same. So, we wanna improve our definition of improvement itself, you know and not be Eurocentric and not be overly hierarchical but at the same also recognise that if we wanna make the world a better place we can’t flinch from saying what’s better and you know, what’s less.
That’s interesting because what you’re actually doing there is that you’re situating both business but also the being, being a person within history. So a history of humanity, I suppose, over time and taking a perspective on that, how things have developed, how intellects developed, how, the way that we’re behaving but also how we operate as a system both politically but also in terms of business and personally, and I think that’s quite important. I think quite often, we kind of we’re so caught up in the moment we forget to think about the evolution of our thinking, the evolution of our practise and it can inform so much and help us make better decisions I think in the kind of the long run. One of the things that intrigued me I suppose is how both conscious capitalism, conscious leadership and this idea of the evolution of humanity are connected. So for you, what is the connection between these?
Yeah, that’s interesting. So, actually what you’re saying is we’re kind of stepping back from the polarisation that can occur as people start to look at different systems and they start to especially older systems, what do is they tend to fix on the bad things, the things that they don’t like and then their thinking becomes polarised about that. And so kind of in research terms, one of the things that you seem to be engaging in here is both a level of objectivity of pulling back from where I’m at trying to understand how I’m viewing the world. What my view worldview is trying to re-pull back from there to actually see things in a more objective, more evidence-based way, but also engage in appreciative inquiry. And that all of those things together start to bring up a different type of understanding about where we sit in terms of our evolution and to enable us to kind of guide our way forward rather than just stumbling into it. Is that a fair pricey of–
Which is what a good educational system would do anyway is help you to learn how to see your own values and question your own values and see whether they’re contingent or not. One of the things that I’m finding fascinating about what you’re talking about. So from my background, so I’m a psychologist. My interest is to do with uncertainty and how people and organisations deal with uncertainty. And one of the things that kind of comes out of a lot of that research is about paradoxes and how human beings deal or largely don’t deal with paradoxes, so that we quite often work as human beings we’re not very good at noticing them. We tend to polarise things, and we jumped from one path, one side of the paradox to the other side of the paradox, without even recognising that that’s what we’re doing quite often. And the centrism that you were talking about quite often and this is kind of a personal view can be almost an abrogation. It’s like, I can’t cope with this. So I’m just got to sit in I’m gonna be political and sit in the middle of all of this. And I’m not suggesting that’s what everybody’s trying to do but from an emotional point of view it can actually be a kind of a mechanism for trying to deal with this as opposed to what you seem to be describing of that kind of metacognitive state and we’re talking about levels of obstruction, and being able to, see ourselves in the system, see the system be able to progressive move out but still hold on to everything that’s in there. And one of the things that we certainly a lot of the research that I’ve been involved in around paradoxes is that ability to be able to hold at the same time, both sides of the paradox. Firstly, see it hold both things as saying, both of these can be true, even though they’re paradoxical now then how do we work within that in a way that actually moves us forward without actually flipping from one thing to another which is kind of the thing that you seem to be kind of describing that’s typically going on. And I certainly you see it politically.
Yes, yes. Well, I’m glad you mentioned paradoxes. That’s one of the terms or at least there’s an overlap between that term and one of the toolkits that we use in the book we have these little leadership toolkits at the end of some of the chapters. And one of them is on a management technique that’s popular here in the US called polarity management, right? And so the idea there is sometimes within the academic there’s an academic battle going on right now within the organisational development consulting world of folks wanting to make their academic careers by defining a new academic area in the area of business leadership. And so they’re calling it paradox studies, right? So we just have the Oxford handbook of paradox management or some title like that that just came out
Well, tension actually creates a gradient and it creates energy. It also creates the place where things like innovation, creativity also come from, and it’s critical and quite a lot of organisations try to get rid of tension and trying to create a kind of a place of status quo or a place where everything’s fairly comfortable and things can just happen whereas without recognising the importance of tension, which is–
So just kind of a challenge here about this idea of conscious leadership. Is it not just a kind of a call for people to be more aware, more conscious or is it these conscious leadership really a thing?
Yeah, I think, I’ll just go to the first of those ideals about a higher purpose. So I think quite a lot of people in business, quite a lot of leaders, but employees within organisations feel that their purpose is just to get the next task done and to get home. And, then there comes this question of, right. Okay, so what are we talking about here about a higher purpose and how on earth do we move from this position of my job is just my, my purpose is just to get through the day and to get this thing done and to get home into something that actually starts to move cultures, that starts to move business into a more useful societally and globally useful place. I don’t know what you think.
Including the stakeholders who don’t even know that their stakeholders is going to this.
Yes, yeah. I find the whole thing fascinating actually, of moving from not just the inner game of personal development but actually moving out into cultural awareness but cultural intelligence, as you put it into the connecting these ideals, ideas of having a purpose that goes beyond just transactional, a transactional purpose into doing good in the world.
I mean, in American politics, at least there’s really hardly any common ground left. Like trying to find a common ground is a little bit like approaching it like it’s a bad marriage and we just need to get him into counselling and realise that they’re in this together and they just need to compromise. That sounds good. But from our perspective, from a developmental perspective that’s a wrong strategy rather than seeking common ground. We’re trying to stake out higher ground. And we claim that it’s higher because it’s this overview perspective that can recognise the interdependence that’s impossible to see without this overview. And, so that’s a big part of what we understand to be this practise of conscious leadership.
And it’s a good strategy actually, because as you kind of move up in levels of abstraction it’s quite often easy to start to get to get agreement as we start to move up in levels of abstraction,
There’s a lot of stuff in this because what we’re asking leaders to start to look at is themselves, their impact on other people, the other people, the system that we’re in, the purpose of the organisation that they’re leading and developing, how it sits within society, how it sits within the system of the planet, I suppose. And that’s a lot, it requires quite a wide cognitive bandwidth, I suppose to be able to kind of engage on because it’s not just engaging on one thing it’s moving from inside the individual right out to massive global issues. You know, we’re just in this conversation we’re talking about political systems, for example but there are lots of other systems of food systems of just goes on and on and on. And what I’m interested in is how can you go about convincing leaders who’ve got a day job to actually engage in something that requires a significant, as I say a significant cognitive bandwidth to even start thinking about?
Well, first of all people have to care about their leadership. They have to care about their performance, right? If even just for the immediate stakeholders, right? And that is if you love your customers, you love your investors, you love your employees or at least you care about their welfare. That means that in order to be an effective leader in order to demonstrate that care and to do the good that you can do for those people that of course is tied up with your own self-actualization. But in terms of the overwhelming demands of being a conscious leader, where that’s why we wrote a very popular business book that released you know, accessible, let’s put it that way. A business book that is designed to help people eat the elephant one bite at a time, right? If you’ll pardon the cliche. Right?
What does that mean, right? In other words, okay higher purpose. Let’s think about that. You know, I may have thought, I may have a mission statement but how can we that mission statement alive, right? Lead with love. What does that mean? You know, what are the different elements you know, gratitude and acceptance and without being St. Francis, right? I mean, we’re all humans and being a leader is a tough job especially in a demanding economy and you know in a rough business and people that you may be stakeholders may think that your soft for having a conscious leadership perspective and that that gives them a licence to take advantage of you. Right? So, obviously these things need to be integrated in a way that is aware of these larger forces. That again, works this polarity of real and ideal that I talked about, right? So the “Conscious Leadership” book, it’s very idealistic but we’ve tried to connect it back to the real. We’ve tried to make it operational for the leaders who have their hands full and who don’t have time to go on a 30 day silent retreat to consider their consciousness. Right? But at the very least if you’re leading an organisation the duty, you know just the basics of leadership competence is to be able to stand outside of your day to day, do not be in a reactive mode all the time to think long-term to think strategically, to think about things that you normally are in your awareness and the pressing day-to-day concerns that you have and conscious leadership, as well of the many of the other different forms with different quality I’ll admit. But, there are many different ways that those who are in the field of leadership are trying to describe what a better leader is. And certainly some of these idealistic conceptions enter into what it means to be a better leader even if your main concern is just operational excellence.
Yeah and also the question of what kind of world do I want to be part of? And what sort of world do I want to be helping to promote and create and that I’ve got a sense that I’ve got agency within that process I think is kind of an important perspective in this. And the other thing is, I think for leaders or anybody listening, is that as our awareness expands as we become more conscious, we become more conscious. We have greater latitude to become more aware to become and it’s an increasing process. And I think John talks about an emergent process the conscious leaderships in a moment–
It’s like exercise like the more you exercise on a regular basis, the easier it is. And when you’re first getting started, it’s hard. You have to use a lot of willpower to drag yourself to do it but after a while, you know, there’s a momentum and you just do it as just, you know, in course because it makes you feel good. It’s intrinsically valuable for its own sake but it also makes you a healthier human.
Yes, yeah. And it starts to develop a series of habits that then just kind of get their own energy and start going themselves.
True, true and When we were thinking around titles for conscious leadership one of the titles that we liked the publisher didn’t like it but the title of 12 virtues of a conscious leader, right? And virtues, or this idea of character development one of the ways they’d been characterised is habits of the heart. And so the way of talking about these practises of stakeholder integration and higher purpose these are in a sense habits of the heart that can be practised and inculcated and made part of your psychic muscle memory, if you will. So that when the stress hits the fan and you’re under big stress, these will come naturally. They’ll just be habituated into how you act it’s who who you are, who you expect yourself to be. If you expect yourself to be a conscious leader when you’re tempted by the, you know outrageous fortune, then you’ll be able to perform under pressure in a way that has long lasting integrity which is ultimately has to be the best way to deal with any crisis, regardless of how it may seem in the present.
And there’s certainly a lot of research evidence to back that up that you look at the way that the military the emergency service and things train for disasters, train for crisis situations is it gives you greater latitude and an ability to be able to be adaptable in those situations, if you just suddenly plunked in it and you haven’t built up that muscle as it were. And the way of thinking in the way of being able to work your way be able to see it clearly first and then be able to develop maps through the situation that creates greater levels of adaptability, so–
Yes, definitely. And I could talk about this all day. So I’ve got kind of almost final question here. So the Institute of Cultural Evolution, what is that?
It’s like I mentioned it’s a boutique think tank founded in 2013 the headquarters are here in Boulder, Colorado where I live but the directors and the senior fellows and the people who were involved in the organisation live in various parts of the US. our main focus as a think tank is to help America grow out of its hyperpolarization right? That as we describe in detail on our website, culturalevolution.oregon in our books, that the hyperpolarization that is creating significant dysfunction in American politics society is the result of cultural evolution. It’s, you know that our societies become stretched out through growth and that this points to further growth as the really the only solution to this wicked problem. So we advocate for that I mentioned this idea of post progressive politics, right? Politics that’s not anti progressive but that is able to stand outside the progressive worldview and see it for good and bad and see how it can be harmonised and resolved and made more congenial and in interdependence with the other forms of established culture that it currently rejects and challenges. So this think tank, we do in 2021 we’re launching this post progressive project which will include a media hub. We’ll expand the number of senior fellows. We hope to influence the media. It’s really a politics of culture. Once we can build us a more visible political movement then certainly we hope to have influence on political leaders. But at this point, we’re trying to create a home for the politically homeless those who don’t wanna embrace the right but have a hard time fully identifying with progressivism. We, saw an all or nothing proposition on this post progressive perspective that we advocate includes those who are more oriented toward the right and a more oriented toward the left. So there’s still plurality, but it’s within a context wherein these inevitably recurring sides like I talk about polarities being indestructible while the polarity of people who wanna fix what’s wrong and those who wanna preserve what’s right. That keeps showing up in every human polity. So that’s an indestructible polarity. We can rather than thinking that one side is going to permanently vanquish the other it’s better to work with that polarity and recreate it at this level of higher ground that I described which is what this post progressive project of building a political movement within a new agreement space and a new perspective on culture. That’s what we’re about at the moment.
Fascinating, really fascinating. Brilliant. So last year, two books, well done.
That’s not being fit. So what next for you?
Well, the building of the Institute for Cultural Evolution we just hired a high powered executive director. I remained the president of the organisation but we’re going to, we now have some funding we’re seeking more funding to help build this political movement. And this inclusive perspective we wanna be even more inclusive than progressivism by not just including those who have been marginalised or oppressed, but including the people who think differently from us and integrating the values of traditionalism modernity and progressivism into a larger whole. So building this organisation and helping to create the visible public movement that it stands for is what’s next and I’m pursuing that with as much passion and energy as I can right now.
Yeah, which sounds like a lot conscious politics by the sense of it next book. Brilliant. Thank you so much, Steve. For a while I know it takes a lot of energy, doesn’t it? Yeah, fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed this, Steve thank you so much for your time.
I appreciate it. I look forward to seeing it and thanks again for your interest.
So where can people find you and the Institute if they’re interested?
Brilliant, yes. I think it’s something that’s needed, not just in America but globally looking at some of the things that happen politically. That’s brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, Steve. I’ve really enjoyed that thank you.
Okay great, me too.
Be impressively well informed
Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published
Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...