What’s Conscious Leadership?

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Differentiating conscious leadership from leadership 

“Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another.”

Bessel van der Kolk – Psychiatrist, Author, Researcher and Educator

The state of consciousness is our awareness and experience of who we are beyond our physical bodies. Conscious leadership is being authentic to that part of ourselves when we lead.

In recent decades, the widely accepted leadership style has been the opposite – one that encouraged the suppression of consciousness, particularly in areas where it matters most – our treatment of life on the planet.

While there has been a movement to steer leadership towards a “whole person” approach focusing on authenticity, the predominant leadership style modeled and rewarded across industries, especially at the top, still largely lacks consciousness.

The conventional model continues to encourage, either explicit or implicit, disconnection from our nature and from nature itself. This perpetuates a cycle of pursuing power and profit at all costs, sacrificing the well-being of our planet, humanity, and ourselves.

This conventional model of leadership strips away the power of our essential selves. Instead, it advises us to look to external role models, such as those already in power or at the top of organizations, to dictate our thoughts, speech, attire, beliefs, and emotions—or, worse, to suppress our true thoughts and feelings altogether. While this approach may have been effective in managing large groups of people for industrial production in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s now outdated.

Today, this leadership model fails to inspire both ourselves and those around us. As a society, we have moved beyond the industrial age and are craving a new way of leading ourselves and others. We seek conscious leadership that doesn’t come from corporate agendas, templates, or talking points, but can only come from a conscious human being.

What’s conscious leadership?

Conscious leadership is being authentic to our essential selves when we lead.

Therefore, conscious leadership is leading from within – a place of awareness and coherence. 

Awareness allows us to be present and intentional rather than distracted or on autopilot. 

When our mind and body are in coherence, meaning there’s agreement and harmony, we experience and embody clarity in our thinking, problem-solving, and actions. This state is where wisdom, creativity, connection, and progress thrive.

Mind-body coherence is rooted in research on the biopsychosocial model, which examines the intersection of biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors and their impact on well-being. 

When our mind and body aren’t in sync, we tend to experience inner conflict, creating chaos or rigidity that keeps us stuck and stressed. 

Conscious leadership is a choice to integrate and prioritize what matters to us – aspects such as our intentions, values, and purpose in our day-to-day planning and actions. It allows us to lead with both our head and heart.

As conscious leaders, we choose to check in with our bodies to maintain mind-body coherence as we move through each moment. When we notice the inconsistency between our mind and body, we pause to create space, examine what’s present, and adjust before moving forward to stay in integrity with ourselves. 

This type of leadership builds self-confidence and inner trust. 

When our mind and body aren’t in sync, we tend to experience inner conflict, creating chaos or rigidity that keeps us stuck and stressed. 

Examples of opportunities to check for mind-body coherence 

Checking for mind-body coherence is one of the greatest wisdom available to all. Whether personally or professionally, we can consult our higher intelligence for decision-making. 

  • Do I pursue this opportunity? 
  • Do I sign this contract? 
  • Do I opt in to this experience? 
  • Do I create this partnership?
  • Do I invest time and energy exploring this? 
  • Do I take this risk?
  • Do I make this a priority or goal? 

How do you experience responses from different parts of your body when you’re confronted with a decision? What does it feel like when your head says yes, but your heart’s saying no? What about the opposite? Where else can you sense a response in your body? Can you sense anything in your face? Throat? Neck? Chest? Shoulders? Arms? Hands? Belly? Legs? Feet? Back? Pelvis?

Notice what a full-body “yes” feels like. Also, notice what a “maybe” and “no” feels like.

Sometimes it’s easy to sense, and other times it doesn’t come easily. There’s no need to force yourself to experience anything if it’s not present. There are other cues (see next section) we can use to clue us into our mind-body coherence.

Signs when our mind-body isn’t in coherence

We each exhibit different signs that signal when our mind and body are out of sync. Some people experience only a few of these signs, while others may experience the full range. Below are examples of some of these indicators:

  • INNER CONFLICT: we feel “torn” by different perspectives within us
  • RATIONALIZING: we convince or talk ourselves in and out of things
  • REGRET/SHAME: we’re not proud of our actions  
  • DISSATISFACTION: our “successes” aren’t satisfying or fulfilling
  • INSINCERITY: we don’t believe in what we’re saying or doing
  • PAIN: we experience emotional or physical pain
  • YEARNING: we wish and long for something else

How to embody conscious leadership?

Below are not meant to be sequential, rigid principles or exhaustive rules but key tenets that conscious leaders use to build their personal definition of authentic leadership. 

1. Authentic communication

Speaking and acting our truth, and eliciting others’ truths. Authentic communication drives clarity, keeps us honest with ourselves and others, and builds self-trust and trust with others. We say and act on what’s true for us.

The opposite is inauthentic communication where we don’t mean what we say or do and don’t say or do what we mean. 

2. Openness to curiosity

Curiosity is the state that primes us to do our best work. It invites creativity, insights, learning, and genuine connection, leading to better decision-making. Conscious leaders broadly apply this principle to cultivate self-awareness, work with others, lead teams, solve problems, and personal and collective growth. 

The opposite is to be closed off, defensive, and committed to being right. 

3. Clarity of Intention

What we do starts with and is guided by our intention. Our intention becomes the driving force setting the tone, energy, and priorities that follow. A clear intention helps us anchor ourselves on what matters most when conflict, confusion, or uncertainty arises. 

The opposite is ambivalence and aimlessness in our thoughts, words, and actions. 

4. Personal agency

Personal agency means that we own ourselves and are in charge of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. This concept also implies respecting others’ autonomy and allowing them to take responsibility for what belongs to them.

Conscious leaders employ “power with,” “power to,” and “power within” approaches to inspire, motivate, and achieve progress. They focus on what’s within their sphere of control, let go of what’s not, and establish clear accountability when collaborating with others.

The opposite is reenacting the disempowering drama triangle—where individuals adopt victim, savior, or villain mindsets—leading to blame, rescue, and “power over” dynamics.

5. Mind-body coherence

I believe this tenant is the essence of conscious leadership. It’s the idea that we lead from a place of alignment and integrity with ourselves. 

The opposite is self-abandonment, where we push ourselves to show up in ways that don’t feel good in our bodies because it violates our intentions, values, and purpose.

When our mind and body are in coherence, meaning there’s consistency and harmony, we experience and embody clarity in our thinking, problem-solving, and actions.

The benefits of practicing conscious leadership

The greatest benefits of embodying conscious leadership are inner trust, self-confidence, and experiencing our authentic selves. Often people also experience additional benefits such as:

Stronger relationships

Being transparent and authentic increases trust with loved ones, clients, colleagues, team members, and other important people in our lives.

Team engagement

Team members feel more inspired, valued, and understood, leading to increased motivation and productivity as a by-product.

Innovative thinking

By being curious and open-minded, conscious leaders foster creativity and innovation in themselves and those who work with them.

Ethical decision-making

Pausing and reflecting allow leaders to consider the broader impact of their decisions on the well-being of people and the planet.

Conflict resolution

Practicing authentic communication and agency enables leaders to handle conflicts constructively and find win-win solutions.

Improved Wellbeing

When we make decisions and act in coherence with our mind and body, we naturally prioritize what matters most to us, experiencing increased energy, a greater sense of impact, and fulfillment in our pursuits.

The cost of conscious leadership

Like most things in life, there’s a cost or tradeoff to gain something.

Possible costs of practicing conscious leadership

  • WE LET GO OF PEOPLE: Embracing our authentic selves inevitably means we won’t resonate with everyone, nor will everyone align with us. By staying true to who we are, rather than trying to please everyone, we quickly discover who our genuine allies are
  • WE EXPERIENCE GROWING PAINS: The practice of conscious leadership is one we work on daily. Just like muscle building, it takes discipline to show up consistently, and at times, growth is uncomfortable
  • WE RUFFLE FEATHERS: When we embrace our authenticity, it can make some people uncomfortable. This discomfort often stems from seeing a mirror of their own untapped potential and self-imposed limitations
  • OUR NEW LIFE WILL COST US OUR OLD ONE: As you embrace authenticity, your perspective on life may shift, and your life as you know it might change. Once you recognize what doesn’t align with your true self, that awareness becomes permanent. Once you experience the harmony of connecting with your essential self, inauthentic experiences might lose their appeal. Once you open the door to other possibilities, you might allow your curiosity to pull you through the door 

Conventional outdated leadership model also comes with possible costs 

  • WE BECOME INDOCTRINATED: If we’re not careful, we can buy into the common narrative and lose who we are
  • WE BECOME UNINSPIRED: We’re uninspired by the prevailing model and by parroting and regurgitating more of the same, we become uninspiring leaders ourselves
  • WE BECOME DISEMPOWERED: We become complicit purveyors of a broken system if we continue the cycle and do nothing
  • WE SELF-ABANDON: The life our heart yearns for can feel increasingly out of reach as we accumulate things that don’t serve our intentions, values, and purpose. The greater the distance we create between our mind and body, or our head and heart, the further we drift from our authentic selves. This disconnection leads us to seek hollow substitutes for inner trust, self-confidence, and fulfillment. The more detached we become from our essential selves, the easier it is to buy into others’ ideas, clouding our vision of our own possibilities.

Neither path is easy and without discomfort. Neither path is free of cost. Questions to ask ourselves are:

  • Which experience do we value more?
  • Which discomfort would we rather endure?
  • Which cost would we rather invest in?
  • Which is more expensive in the long run? 

One small step toward conscious leadership

Those who work with me know that I’m a big fan of one-degree changes and taking the next small step in the aspirational direction. 

Especially with a big topic like conscious leadership – we want to approach it gently and create space for tiny experimentations rather than wholesale changes, especially if it’s new. 

One experiment to play with is noticing in your daily moments when you’re feeling coherent (where your mind and body are in sync) and moments when you’re not (where you sense conflict, constriction, or discomfort). Experiment for a week and notice if patterns emerge. That may give you a puzzle piece to get curious about and maybe a next step will naturally emerge from there.