Thousands of years ago, a man sitting under the Bodhi tree, awakened to truth and brought peace and solace to millions of people with a message so easy to comprehend and so compelling, that it continues to inspire humanity centuries beyond his lifetime.
If a single awakened human being has the potential to not only change the world but also inspire people for years to come, can awakened leadership build, sustain and transform organizations?
I have been interested in finding what happens when a leader who is conscious or awake leads a for-profit organization. Do they impact the organization? Are there awakened leaders and organizations out there? If so, how do they look like? This has been a personal quest for me to read up about organizations and leaders who are aware or conscious and work with a sense of impacting not only the current but future as well. In this series, I wanted to share a few leaders and organizations that I think can be called Awake!
So, let’s get two things out of the way first – definitions of conscious or awake leader and conscious business.
How do we define a conscious leader or an awakened leader? While there are several definitions, the foundation rests on the premise that the individual is highly self aware and uses this self awareness for the larger good of all. While some of the definitions give a laundry list of what conscious leaders behaviour, I believe that having a high degree of self awareness and using it to serve everything around you, is a good enough definition.
And what is a Conscious Business? I lean on Fred Kofman’s definition. He says “A Conscious Business seeks to promote the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders. It produces sustainable, exceptional performance through the solidarity of its community and the dignity of each member. A Conscious Business fosters peace and happiness in individuals, respect and solidarity in the community and mission accomplishment in the organization.”
The first organization that I wanted to write about is Patagonia. I stumbled upon Patagonia in one of the most implausible places – in a spiritual book authored by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh (do spend a minute of your time praying for his recovery) – and that piqued my interest to go and purchase the book – “Let My People Go Surfing” by the CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Choinard.
If you are in business of any kind, this one ought to be on your mandatory reading list. On both counts of conscious business and conscious leadership, Patagonia and Yvon score highly. The book, in a very informal and charming way, traces the journey from the roots beginning with a mail order catalog company selling climbing equipment, birth of Patagonia as an outdoor clothing company and the crux of the book, which talks about philosophy and values to building an organization that deeply cares about quality, product design, human resources and the planet.
I do not want to get into the review of the book, there are several available online, that can whet your appetite.
Of the several take-aways from the book, one thing that resonated with me was the philosophy of “leading an examined life”. Yvon has been a student of Zen and it’s no surprise to me that looking deeply forms one of the cornerstone of his philosophy.
Yvon writes: “Uncurious people do not lead examined lives; they cannot see causes that lie deeper than the surface. They believe in blind faith, and the most frightening thing about blind faith is that it in turn leads to an inability, even an unwillingness to accept facts.
We can look at the results of the organizations, its longevity in business and the impact it has had on the community and the environment to say that this has really been a business built on true north principles and Yvon has shown the way how it can be done.
So far, so good. But then the test of the organization is what happens when the founders retire and a new CEO comes in. Read this interview of Rose Marcario, the current CEO of Patagonia to find out if the organization has stayed true to it’s philosophy or not.
Caveat: I haven’t worked at Patagonia or know anyone remotely associated with the organization. This article is based on the book and the news articles that I have followed on the web. And I don’t own a single piece of Patagonia clothing as well, the last time I was in NewYork and stepped into the store, I left without purchasing anything for they were out of reach for me. I am sure there are positive biases that creep in when people write their biography or when starry eyed journalists cover organizations, despite that, the philosophy of doing good and building businesses by asking the questions keeping the seventh generation in mind, is really about awakening ourselves. Thanks Yvon!
PS: If topics relating to Spirituality, Consciousness, ethics interest you, then come join the conversation at http://www.ccsconference.in/