What Is Conscious Leadership, Anyway?

October 3rd, 2017   •   2 comments   

by Jennifer Sellers

What does it mean to be a conscious leader, to live and lead consciously? I found a simple – but not necessarily easy – practice of conscious leadership in the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp.

I first came across the book when a client, the CEO of an explicitly conscious company, recommended it to me. When I heard the title, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, I thought, “I’m sure there’s something good in it because I trust this client,” but I didn’t expect to discover much that was new. I wasn’t all that inspired. I finally got around to reading it about three months later, and WOW. It’s true, I didn’t find a lot that was new, but I did find so much of what I’ve learned in a lifetime put together in an exceptionally fresh and accessible way.

It’s inspired me so much that I’ve recommended and keep recommending it whenever I can. A foundational idea of the book is a way of looking at conscious leadership – and conscious living – as being open, curious, and committed to learning, as opposed to being closed, defensive, and committed to being right. There it is, simple but not easy, right?


It hit me right between the eyes. “Yes!” I thought, “Who doesn’t love being right!?” And how often does loving being right make a mess of things? If I’m certain I’m right and committed to staying right, I am no longer open and curious; I’m more prone to being closed and defensive.

It takes vulnerability to embrace uncertainty, and feeling vulnerable and uncertain are way less comfortable than feeling right! It’s easier to avoid them both.

Think about a recent conversation in which you held strong views and knew you were right, maybe an exchange with someone on the other end of the political spectrum than you. I don’t know about you, but I find myself scurrying toward being right in a situation like that, even if I’m just arguing in my head with a public figure or social media friend. My interest in being open, curious, and committed to learning pretty much flies out the window.

I’m not saying we can’t be committed to our strongly held truths, values, or ideals. What I’m saying is that if we hold everything provisionally, there is more openness and curiosity, more commitment to learning, and more opportunity to both connect deeply and be surprised by something new.

An important point that the authors of The 15 Commitments make, and that I hold as well, is that noticing and being able to identify which perspective we’re taking is key. Right now, am I open, curious, and committed to learning or closed, defensive, and committed to being right?

What’s great about noticing whether I’m open or closed, committed to learning or committed to being right, is that whichever one I am, now I’m conscious of it. There’s no moving toward learning if I don’t first admit my devotion to being right. So while the more conscious position is the learning-focused one, just noticing the opposite is also a way of practicing conscious leadership. In other words, if I do nothing but notice when I’m conscious and when I’m not, I have grown my consciousness.

Don’t take my word for what you’re reading here. Try it on for yourself. What happens when you drop – probably repeatedly and sometimes with great difficulty – your commitment to being right; and pick up – probably not every time – a posture of being open, curious, and committed to learning? While you’re practicing, remember:  even noticing where you are is a step in the direction of consciousness!

If you are looking for a space to grow your own consciousness and that of your organization, consider joining our Conscious Leadership Circle, which begins in November. There’s magic when a group of leaders comes together in a shared commitment to learning. Join a preview call on October 19 to get a taste of the possibilities. Learn more and register.

2 comments

  1. posted on Oct 06, 2017 at 6:34 AM

    Hahaha! I understand – you are not alone, Sue!

  2. Sue
    posted on Oct 06, 2017 at 3:57 AM

    Really enjoyed this article (from someone who believes she’s been married so long because both she and her husband always end every argument believing that she or he is right – obviously not the other one!)