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Conscious Leadership is Knocking On Doors

 conscious leadership

I have been traveling for the past two weeks – first to Austin, Texas where Generon had a presence at the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit and then to Houston to conduct some Generative Interviews for one of our clients.

Each October, Conscious Capitalism hosts its CEO Summit. Invited participants are revolutionary CEOs committed to conducting their business with a focus on fulfilling the deeper purpose of their organizations; creating value for all stakeholders, including natural ecosystems; and cultivating cultures that support people to learn, grow, develop and flourish. Speakers at last week’s event included John Mackey, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; and Andrea Jung, President and CEO of Grameen America and former Chairman and CEO of Avon Products, Inc., amongst others. These keynotes combined with concurrent sessions delivered by Practicum Leaders offered an opportunity for leaders to share their stories about the importance of congruence in steering organizations towards creating positive value for all stakeholders while delivering extraordinary financial performance.

The theme for this year – the eighth annual Summit — was Congruence: How Aligned Organizations Attract. The Congruence Model was first developed by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University in the early 80’s and is based on the principle that an organization’s performance is derived from four elements: people, work, culture and structure. The higher the congruence — or harmony — amongst these four elements, the greater an organization’s performance; for example, you can have highly knowledgeable people working for you, but if your culture is not a good fit for the way they work, their brilliance will not be noticed and you will not be able to retain your talent. Similarly, you can have the most advanced technology and most effective processes to support innovation, but if your organizational culture is highly rigid, creativity will be stagnate. In summary, if people, work, culture and structure are not interrelating in a harmonious way, the performance of your organization is not optimal.

∞ ∞ ∞

The foundation that underpins the message of Conscious Capitalism is that the old ways of leadership no longer work. The world has changed so much and people have evolved so rapidly that we need to bring higher levels of consciousness to the world of business, re-aligning organizations to the emerging realities of our world along with its evolving value systems. Given this premise, it was synchronistic for Generon to have participated in this year’s Summit just prior to our client engagement in Houston.

In the very first Generative Interview we conducted, I learned a new term: VUCA. Although not a recent term, I had never heard of this; so it was new to me. I asked our interviewee what it meant. He shared that VUCA is a military term from the 1990’s and an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. As he explained its meaning, I felt an immediate resonance. What VUCA represented for me was a straightforward way to describe the world we live in today and a justification for more conscious leadership.

Given my interest and resonance with this term, I did some research to learn the deeper meaning behind VUCA. Wikipedia describes it this way:

The deeper meaning of each element of VUCA serves to enhance the strategic significance of VUCA foresight and insight as well as the behavior of groups and individuals in organizations.”

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.

  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.

  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.

  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

These elements present the context in which organizations view their current and future state. They present boundaries for planning and policy management. They come together in ways that either confound decisions or sharpen the capacity to look ahead, plan ahead and move ahead. VUCA sets the stage for managing and leading.”

VUCA sets the stage for leading and managing, sharpening the capacity to look ahead, plan ahead and move ahead. When I read this, I immediately thought of insight (look ahead), foresight (plan ahead) and action (move ahead) and could not help but consider this in terms of the U-Process:

  • Observe, observe, observe – the left-hand side of the U-Process — where insights are gained through fully understanding current reality

  • Go to that deeper place of knowing – the bottom of the U – where intuition and foresight is tapped

  • Act in an instant – the right-hand side of the U-Process — which is about action and moving forward

For me, the VUCA business environment has become a practical code for the capacities required not only for how organizations do business but for how leaders lead. Our world is changing rapidly – at a speed and intensity like never before. Leaders are not developing fast enough or in the right ways to keep up with what is now the “new normal” for business.

The skills and capacities leaders once needed to help their businesses thrive are no longer adequate. VUCA leaders must have the foresight to envision and create the kind of organization they desire and at the same time remain flexible about how to get there. They must be conscious – “self-aware about their strengths and weaknesses as leaders; adaptable and open to change; and knowledgeable about their organization beyond their function” (Management Education Group Staff 2011).

To meet the VUCA challenge, we need Stage IV Leaders – conscious leaders who embody Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility as a way to offset Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity* — leaders who are committed to fulfill the deeper purpose of their organizations; build coherence; create value for all stakeholders; foster business environments that support people to learn, grow and thrive – all while delivering extraordinary financial performance.

*Adopted from Kirk Lawrence, University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School


  1. David A. McCuistion on October 21, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    This a an absolutely great article. I loved the last paragraph with the two different versions of VUCA. Thank you.

  2. Susan on October 29, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    I greatly appreciate your comment, David. For more information on Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility, you may find this article of interest from the Kenan-Flagler Business School:

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