Concious Leadership

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We make choices every moment of our lives. Each day we wake up with a choice about our attitude for the day. Inspired? Resigned? Angry? Energized? Our attitudes and beliefs drive our behavior and performance. Poor attitudes generally create poor performance. Great performance typically begins with a very strong inner mental framework. So, how can you consistently choose the positive beliefs and attitudes and encourage that in others?

It begins with self awareness. There is a very clear connection between awareness and how you behave. The way you are on the inside influences what you say and do. Simply put, your behavior is a combination of your inner hard wiring, your personality, and the choices you make.

The more aware you are of your inner world, the likelier you are to make better choices. Why? Because you are paying attention and that means being "fully present in the moment" and not dwelling on what just happened or what might or might not happen in the future. You will naturally think more clearly and be able to make choices and decisions from a place of inner equilibrium. Instead of reacting to a situation without thinking or with unclear thinking, you react with clear thinking that stems from a strong foundation of inner and outer awareness.

It's very similar to the importance of physical balance for athletes. Balance creates a strong foundation and enables flexibility, focus, and incredible power to be generated. In the same way, developing the skill of paying attention to one's inner and outer worlds actually enables inner balance, focus, and increased self-awareness. In the martial arts, being aware of breathing patterns is fundamental to producing tremendous strength and power. When you are conscious or aware, you can observe your own thoughts as opposed to being consumed by or lost in them. This heightened self-awareness is the foundation of what I call Conscious Leadership.

Conscious Leadership is a process that helps you maximize your ability to accomplish business goals, build strong, trusting relationships, and increase your personal and job fulfillment. It does this through methodology that enables you to examine your own attitudes, values, and beliefs and develops your ability to choose highly effective approaches to communicating with integrity, building accountability, and solving difficult issues with creativity and consensus.

The first step is to understand the concept of mindsets. Mindsets are the lenses through which you see the world. They are created by your beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, family of origin, and life experiences. At your best, you operate from mindsets that are positive and healthy. At your worst, you can find yourself virtually imprisoned by thinking and attitudes that make your life and those around you miserable, unproductive, and unfulfilled.

These limiting mindsets can undermine you, protect a fragile sense of self, help you look good, be right, blame others, and get what you want at the expense of others. When you open the door to these limiting mindsets, you lose perspective and awareness. You are not in touch with your true nature and you lose the ability to be an effective leader.

Here is what I have found to be the real limiting mindsets:

• Arrogance: "I know the right way to do this. Anything different is wrong and I will not listen to what you have to say."
• Blamefulness: "It's all their fault; there is nothing I can do, so I am going to tune you out."
• Selfishness: "I'm going to do this and I don't care what you want or need."
• Deceptiveness: "I'm certainly not going to tell you how I really feel or what I am really doing."

Let's take a closer look at each one of these and the corresponding mindsets that form the foundation of Conscious Leadership.


Arrogance is an attitude that says: "The way that I see the world is the way the world is." The objective of the arrogance mindset is for a person to look good and be right, which blocks open communication, invites conflict, and refuses to acknowledge that someone else's experience and point of view is valid.

The arrogant mindset is unable to distinguish from reality. In that world, the thinking is "My opinions are the only valid point of view; others are wrong, or are irrelevant." The real problem with the arrogant mindset is that it is blind and doesn't even know it. The ability to learn is marginalized, and the ability to see another view point or admit a mistake is negated. Instead of skillful problem resolution or gaining a more comprehensive understanding of a troubling situation, the arrogant mindset is defensive, argues more vehemently, and creates larger barriers to overcome.


On the other hand, humility embraces the attitude "The way that I see the world is simply the way that I see it." It respects that others may see the world very differently. Humility is not synonymous with weakness, but is rooted in intrinsic self-worth and strength. It comes from the Latin word "humilitas" and means low or from the earth. Humility enables a leader to live with a sense of curiosity and openness that fuels a deep commitment to learning and a thirst to be present and aware.

The mindset of humility has opinions and expresses them fully. However, instead of presenting them as facts, or the only way reality can be seen, the humility mindset fully owns its opinions and expresses them. "My perspective on the situation is this...What do you think?" This approach is confident and direct and invites dialogue and learning.


Multiple factors exist in creating any situation. For example, if I'm late for a meeting I can focus on external factors such as: "The resource team always schedules me in back-to-back meetings with not enough time in between" or I can focus on the part I played, "I didn't pay attention to the timing when I accepted all these meetings." One perspective focuses on what someone else did that I cannot directly control. The other focuses on what I did, my lack of attention, over which I do have control.

The mindset of blamefulness only acknowledges the contributing external factors. It leads to disempowerment, resentment, and resignation. "There is nothing I could have done. It's not my fault! It's their problem! They didn't give me the report on time" are all expressions that typify the blamefulness attitude.

Responsible Choice

The mindset of responsible choice is based upon the principle that as human beings you have the ability to choose how you behave in any situation. There is a moment between stimulus and response that enables free choice. When explaining why I was late, I don't deny that the meetings were scheduled back-to-back. I do acknowledge that I wasn't paying attention and I own the fact that I contributed to that situation and that enables me to do something to improve it or change things in the future.

Rather than just blame someone else and do nothing, responsible choice opens up the door to resolving an issue or problem through actually doing something practical. The mindset of responsible choice leads to accountability, empowerment, and action. It invites us into the present moment where you can make choices that increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.


There is nothing wrong with a singular focus on accomplishing a task or goal. However, if goal achievement becomes more important than integrity, then long-term problems develop. The expression "Winning isn't the only thing, it's everything" really typifies the extreme selfish mindset.

All sorts of problems emerge when selfishness rules. Relationships get damaged when you don't care about others' needs as you pursue yours. Our inner guidance system knows something isn't right and guilt creeps in. Productivity goes down because people disengage when they sense a hidden or selfish agenda. There are plenty of examples of corporate selfishness, including Enron, World Com, and Bernie Madoff.


The antidote to selfishness is the full expression of universal values in action, which I call integrity. Integrity is the alignment of one's behavior with principles like honesty, love, respect, and excellence. Nelson Mandela and John Wooden, the renowned UCLA basketball coach, are great examples of people who have really demonstrated integrity throughout their lives.

Being able to say you gave your best and conducted yourself with dignity, in victory or defeat, is the marking of a true champion and great leader. Living in alignment with your values and paying attention to how you achieve your dreams and goals is the way to long-lasting fulfillment. When the pressure is on, short-term sacrifices may need to made and yet, at the end of a long day, long week, or long life, don't you really want to be able to say that you are most proud about how you went about accomplishing your dreams and goals?


As a society, we are often surprised when a celebrity or political figure does something immoral or illegal and suddenly their unblemished image is tarnished overnight. It's like the answer given by a character from the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises. When asked "How did you go bankrupt?" the character answers, "Gradually, then suddenly." Like the other mindsets, deceptiveness begins with a way of thinking and then manifests in behavior.

Deceptiveness can be as simple as holding back important information during a tough conversation or being in denial about something you are doing in your personal life that you really know is not good for you. It can manifest as being unable or unwilling to tell someone how you really feel about how upset you are, how much you really care about them, or how well you feel they are really performing.


On the other hand, authenticity is the ability to be in alignment with what you feel, what you think, and what you believe through the actions you take. In order to behave authentically, you have to first be authentic with yourself. That means having the awareness and courage to be uncompromisingly honest with yourself. I have found that questions like the following are very useful in generating inner honesty: "What do I really care about?" "What really concerns me?" "What is really important to me?" "How am I really spending my time?" "What is it that I really want to have happen?"

Authenticity is being able to express yourself fully and completely, and having the courage and skill to do it with care and respect. It means being able to apologize with sincerity when you are wrong, take a stand when you feel strongly about something, and bring all of yourself to an important conversation-your thoughts, feelings, wishes, and hopes.

Now What?

What you do in life is a result of what you think and believe. Therefore, the more you understand your mindset and develop the ability to live based on the mindsets that bring out your best and the best in those around you, the more effective you can be. It's totally up to you.

You can choose mindsets of arrogance or humility, blamefulness or responsible choice, selfishness or integrity, deceptiveness or authenticity. Your ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose your attitude, mindset, and way you behave. A skillful, conscious individual develops the ability to choose mindsets of humility, responsible choice, integrity, and authenticity and acts with openness, accountability, dignity, and truthfulness.

© Copyright 2010 by Don Johnson

Don Johnson is a corporate coach and leadership consultant and founder of The Integria Group. He has coached executives at Google, Yahoo! Microsoft, Crowe Horwath, PKF North America, and other Fortune 1000 organizations. Earlier in his career, he was the President of Élan Vital, a Raj Yoga Master Instructor, and Vice President of AchieveGlobal and the American Management Association. Contact him at:

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