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The conscious CEO: the new face of not-for-profit leadership

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What makes a CEO stand out as a true leader – one who has charisma, who is decisive yet takes into account all points of view, who is able to ask questions or find solutions that have eluded everyone else, who forges incredibly strong and long lasting strategic visions and systems? The one underlying factor in this type of leader is the choice to be conscious.

Consciousness exists on a continuum, and thus the CEO can choose where on that continuum they want to be: conscious, unconscious, or even anti-conscious.

The Conscious CEO
Conscious CEOs choose awareness, by which they have the ability to perceive all that is happening around them, including thoughts, biases and feelings, without buying into that perception as reality. They live in the question, rather than finding themselves besieged by the problems. They know how to ask questions in a more unlimited way.

The conscious CEO is able to receive all with true gratitude without any sense of obligation, judgement or filtering. They are not attached to convention and are always willing to take risks and destroy old systems, structures and routines for new ones.

Conscious CEOs have a sense of adventure and curiosity and are comfortable with a flowing process rather than a rigid form and structure. They are able to destroy any predetermined point of view about how the organisation should function so that the infinite possibilities of that organisation can be revealed.

The Unconscious CEO
The Unconscious CEO is quite busy being busy, but is unaware of what has influenced those decisions, actions or feelings. They feel that luck, outside events, other people, or fate, are the key factors in their current situation. They will grumble, but do little if anything to change things. They have no awareness that they have the capacity to choose differently. They become affected by life (a victim), rather than being the cause of life.

The more unconscious they are, the more risk averse they become. They are often in charge of organisations that have an insipid culture, are somewhat defensive internally and externally (a sure sign of the unconscious protecting its unconsciousness) and seem to be at the mercy of outside forces.

The Anti-conscious CEO
There are those CEOs who actively work against the awareness of themselves and those around them. They create conflict and discord, upholding their own unrecognised dysfunctional agenda. They deviously manipulate anyone to get what they want. The CEO who is highly anti-conscious can become hungry for both status and power, tends to want to build empires and will actively play office politics.

These CEOs do not allow the free flow of information (performance, financials, strategy), actively cultivate a climate of fear and punishment, and have such fixed points of view that no other possibilities are allowed.

They are focused on systems and processes that create order and are not very open to change. Their concrete mindset can also cause them to identify others as adversaries to justify reprisal against them. They often struggle to alleviate their insecurity through excessive control and territorial behaviour.

The environment within their organisation (and at home) is toxic, and is characterised by polarised views within the organisation about what is right, wrong, good or bad.

How do I choose to be a more Conscious CEO?
Choosing consciousness is about choosing where on the continuum of consciousness you want to be: conscious, unconscious, or anti-conscious. Below we have identified five key operational areas in which the conscious CEO can facilitate increased awareness of themselves and those around them, and generally create a culture of consciousness for their organisation.

Key Area 1: Create a conscious Board/CEO relationship
The Conscious CEO knows that an unconscious or anti-conscious board will have a limiting effect on the staff, constituency and the organisation. The Conscious CEO will work towards raising the awareness of their board.

Some key strategies are:

Assisting the board to understand and implement its key roles.

Reporting to the board against outcomes, not how busy the organisation has been. This means reporting against agreed criteria (most often the success measures directly attributable to the strategic plan) rather than reports from committees or divisions or projects about how busy they have been.

Developing and implementing an induction program for board (and staff) that relates to roles, history, use of vision/mission, strategy, decision making, ethics, compliance and behaviour.

Integrating board professional development that enables board members to gain insight into and skills with relevant aspects of the organisation (e.g. risk, governance, accountability, financial stewardship, strategic thinking).

Managing the agenda so it is focused on strategic issues – not operational reports – and working with the Chair so that board items are focused on strategic issues.

Ensuring information provided to the board is not biased to provide a ‘rosy’ picture, and that the board consciously verifies what it is being told.

Assisting the board to develop succession planning and performance measures for the CEO and the board, and to facilitate both a CEO and board evaluation process.

Utilising the vision of the organisation as a filter for development and evaluation of programs

Key Area 2: Create more conscious CEO/Staff relationships
The linchpin behind a Conscious CEO/staff relationship is the quality of the culture in the organisation. The CEO is the single most important shaper of culture in any organisation, and will shape that culture either consciously, unconsciously or anti-consciously.

If the CEO chooses to be unconscious, then culture will develop around them without them being aware of what they are allowing. That culture is likely to be insipid yet very busy being busy, with many subcultures being created in the absence of conscious leadership.

If the CEO chooses to be anti-conscious, then the culture will reflect the fear, restriction on information and territorial struggles that are so common with anti-conscious behaviour

The CEO can choose the degree to which:

Staff identify with the organisation and its vision, or just identify with their role or profession (e.g. I am just the accountant, I am just the receptionist).

Management focuses on outcomes and accountability, rather than the means or processes.

Work is organised around groups and individuals, or just individuals.

Staff have autonomy for decisions, or regulations and supervision are used to directly or indirectly control employee behaviour.

Rewards are tied to performance, or reflect non-performance factors.

Staff are encouraged to be consciously innovative, or unconsciously risk averse.

Staff are encouraged to openly air conflicts and criticisms as interesting points of view, or complain or undermine the organisation in devious or convoluted ways.

The performance management system focuses on key performance measures that relate to the strategic plan and that shape behaviour congruent with the conscious culture that the CEO is creating, or an off-the-shelf product is used where staff actively dislike the process.

Key Area 3: Facilitate more conscious staff/staff relationships
The Conscious CEO can facilitate more conscious behaviour between staff by developing and implementing:

Formal dispute resolution processes to resolve disputes among staff and between staff and the CEO.

Sharing of key performance indicators amongst the staff so that they can see what the key performance indicators are for their colleagues (including the CEO).

Key Area 4: Facilitate more conscious Staff/Client relationships
The conscious CEO can facilitate staff/client relationships (e.g. service recipients, members, suppliers) that are more conscious by developing and implementing:

Perceptual surveys and focus groups that explore the relationship between staff and the client, seek insight into the perceptions and concerns of each group, and provide indications of unconscious or anti-conscious behaviour that may be identified and modified.

Reports (verbal and written) from recipients that journal their perceptions of the ease and joy with which they receive the service.

Key Area 5: Facilitate more conscious Staff/Board relationships
The relationship between staff and the board is often, at best, tenuous if not actively ignored. In many cases, staff regard the board as some distant, irrelevant, misunderstood entity who meet for secret board business and who are not concerned with what staff do.

The Conscious CEO can facilitate a more conscious staff/board relationship by developing and implementing:

A staff/board communications policy that provides guidelines for when and how board and staff can directly communicate with each other.

A delegations of Authority document that outlines the authority of the board, the CEO and staff.

A board agenda item where individual staff members are selected to provide a verbal report to the board at every second or third board meeting, on the issues that staff member faces in their program or division. This is typically around 20 minutes, and actively focuses on issues, rather than on what the staff member actually does.

Steven Bowman is an international speaker, best-selling author and global leader in providing practical frameworks and comprehensive approaches to assist boards and senior executive teams to reach higher levels of strategic awareness in governance, leadership, strategy and risk.

Further resources:

Free e-zine “The Conscious CEO” for all nonprofit leaders http://www.conscious-governance.com/ezine.html

For more information on nonprofit Boards, CEOs, strategy, governance, risk and leadership, go to http://www.conscious-governance.com

For free short videos on nonprofit strategy, risk and governance, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/consciousgovernance

For more information on consciousness and strategic awareness, go to http://www.the2bowmans.com

Appeared in issue: Third Sector — July 2009

Categories: Governance, Leadership

Article permalink: http://thirdsectormagazine.com.au/news/ the_conscious_ceo_the_new_face_of_not-for-profit_leadership/001147/

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