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6 Practices Conscious Leaders Use to Bring Out the Best in Everyone

Practices that they don't teach at business school.


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Gizem Cetgin

3 years ago | 7 min read

Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash
Photo by Mathias Jensen on Unsplash

Imagine you have an employee named Jane. She has never been a star performer; in fact, she has started to stall further. As her manager, you know some details about Jane, such as she is a single mom with 3 kids and her mother has Alzheimer’s.

But, you probably don’t know that Jane needs strong connections with people around her to feel supported so that she can feel safe to take risks and be creative. She keeps struggling with isolated and individual goals. Failing to understand why she can’t excel in these goals further exacerbates her struggle. With the stress of work and family, she resorts to drinking. You know, not too much, but every day. She wakes up tired in her body, numb in her mind. “Today, I will push harder,” she says, but she doesn’t believe it.

You don’t believe it. You don’t think Jane is doing her best.

If you only work with Jane on her goals and performance, chances are that you won’t progress much, feeling frustrated yourself. You won’t understand (let alone ask) what Jane needs to be her best in her life, not only in her career.

You won’t even think about what it means to be your own best so that you can be a good leader for her.

Worse, you may even try to find band-aid solutions such as assigning her to a different project. Your conversations will be stuck with formal performance lingo, maybe sprinkled with warm attempts: “How is your mom doing?”

Perhaps you’ve had a Jane, or you’ve been Jane.

I heard this story from one of the 25 leaders I interviewed when I was researching the next level of human experience at work. Sadly, there were other stories similar to this one. Stories of the managers who miss that we are whole and complex beings, of those who don’t know how to have heart to heart conversations, and of those who only focused on their own agenda.

My interviewees found a way to work through these obstacles, but they wished it was easier. They lamented that the common approach to performance and innovation is still primarily about goals and deliverables. Although these approaches work for some, they aren’t sufficient to unleash everyone’s true potential or get them out of the vicious cycle of underperforming and getting demoralizing feedback.

So, I asked the leaders what type of behaviors and principles we need to be our best at work; performing the best while feeling our best. It all boiled down to what I called conscious leadership acts.

Here are the six ways conscious leaders act:


1. Embracing authenticity and being human

The combined description for authenticity I heard from the leaders in a nutshell:

“Authenticity is being accepted and celebrated for who I am.” and “It is feeling safe to express and use my unique talents without having to shut down parts of my personality/humanness for the sake of professionalism.”

Conscious leaders honor authenticity. Not only do they welcome the colors of personalities, heritages, and unique talents, but also the honesty of being a human. This means; they understand if people go through hard times, fall short, or need support.

They don’t expect you to put on a mask when you come into work. Instead, they help you take off your masks so that you can show who you are without fear and do your work uninhibited.

They also seek their own authenticity. They are not afraid of showing who they are as a whole person, instead of just their titles or roles. They take a stand for their values. They admit their mistakes or shortcomings. They know the power of meaningful vulnerability in making genuine connections.

If Jane had a conscious leader, her leader (let’s call her Sarah) would invite her to open up about what’s really going on. Sarah would make it safe to talk about her need for connection as well as offer resources instead of focusing on Jane’s immediate performance metrics.


2. Seeing people with a beginner’s mind

Usually, we are so quick to label a person the moment we meet based on our past perceptions and judgments. The human mind is conditioned to immediately identify and categorize things around so that we can orient and navigate amid information flux.

However, this seemingly efficient ability becomes a hindrance to novelty, creativity, and new connections; we think if we already know everything around us and there is no need for exploration or contemplation.

This also applies to people around us. Once we make our minds about a person, we keep seeing them through the lenses of a static judgment. Even if they change or present other parts of themselves, that input doesn’t go through our judgment filter: we fail to see them as they are at this moment.

Conscious leaders are mindful of their judgment filters and they use them wisely. They seek to have a beginner’s mind so that they can receive the complexity and dynamism of the world around them.

They always ask “what if?’ They assume that they can’t ever fully know about a situation or person, but they expect to constantly learn.

If Sarah was Jane’s leader, she wouldn’t treat Jane as though the current situation reflects who she is entirely. She would give her time and space to figure things out instead of labeling Jane as a low performer.

She would ask Jane: “who do you want to be?“


3. Coaching to and being with the “whole person”

We have created work environments where we spend more than the ⅓ of our lives, acting and being treated like ⅓ of a person — an employee with titles. We discuss ⅓ of who we are; like our career aspirations and performance metrics (if we are lucky, we hang out with our colleagues to share excerpts of our social selves).

But in reality, we are unable to shut down the rest of who we’re. We carry our emotions, insecurities, and worries wherever we go. Our performance at work is a byproduct of our psyche and character which are in constant interaction with life.

So, when we are talking about low performance, inability to adapt, or fit into a team, we need to consider an individual’s life as a whole to help surface the root cause.

Conscious leaders know how to see the whole person. They bring a full presence to listen, making the other person feel heard.

They ask questions like:

  • “What would your life be like if you get this promotion?”
  • “What or who would you like to make this change for?”
  • “What helps you make the change you want?”

Then, they listen to hear people’s values and the things they truly care about. Once they help their employees understand the root cause and connect with their “why”, they partner with them to make the desired changes.

Take Jane: she needs emotional and social support to feel balanced enough to give her 100% to work. When she comes to work, if she is tired and has a negative inner talk, she will avoid, make mistakes, etc.

If Sarah was Jane’s leader, she would help her connect with her why (in her case, being a role model for her kids) instead of diving into action planning to improve her performance. Sarah would explore how Jane can be supported emotionally through company resources and the team environment.


4. Using love as a motivator instead of fear

Conscious leaders lead by love — a form of compassion and a powerful emotion to instigate passion, harmony, or growth.

They know that fear is a short term and cheap solution that ultimately creates a toxic environment for everybody. They constantly monitor whether they get sucked into fear — manifesting as control, manipulation, avoidance, projection, or suppression.

They know that they can’t engage people’s hearts, their hard work and passion, by using fear.

Instead, they offer love to motivate or solve issues. They tap into compassion for themselves and others while going through tough times. They trust people’s ability to do their jobs well. As a result, they create a culture of harmony and resilience.

Sarah, being a conscious leader for Jane, would make Jane feel loved by offering empathy. She would help Jane find out what makes her tick. Sarah would then invest in Jane’s growth whether it immediately benefits herself or not.


5. Practicing self-awareness and compassion

Self-awareness and compassion are the reservoir for consciousness.

By examining the motivations behind their behaviors and tuning into their emotional/physical state, conscious leaders gain clarity on the right actions. They are aware of unhealthy and limiting patterns, and they actively work on transforming them.

They also know that they are human therefore forever on a journey to grow. So, they live by compassion. They practice letting go of the self-judgment each time they become aware of a personal pitfall.

Conscious leaders know their ability to give and support others is limited to how full their own cup is. They prioritize self-care so that they can be most useful to others. They have practices/rituals to nourish their body, mind, and soul.

Going back to Sarah, she would be compassionate towards herself if she found herself unable to help Jane or had judgmental thoughts. She would make time to clear her emotions and thoughts so that she could show up helpful for Jane.


6. Claiming and encouraging ownership

This is the most powerful asset to a conscious leader.

Ownership is the mindset of choosing our response to whatever is happening.

It is the most crucial ingredient in anything successful; we need to own our experience to be able to command it.

Conscious leaders take responsibility for their actions and interpretations. They act from choice rather than victimhood. In any given situation, they zero in on the most helpful action instead of avoiding, transferring responsibility, casting blame, or being run by volatile emotions.

They focus on mastering their minds for they know that’s the only thing they can control.

In like manner, they encourage people to own their experience — success or failure. They invite their employees to reframe the events in a way that empowers them. They partner with them to figure out what’s helpful.

Conscious leader Sarah would help Jane figure out where she can claim responsibility and use it to grow. Instead of seeing an employee with a performance problem, she would see it as an opportunity to grow as a leader while helping someone transform their lives.


So, be like Sarah. You and the people you lead will be forever changed; collectively, we will experience a much more fulfilling workplace.


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Gizem Cetgin

Conscious leadership coach traveling around the world. I write about self awareness, relationships, and leadership. Co-writer at LookingInsideOut.com


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