How to thrive being a conscious leader
In 2006, I was a senior executive with two children under five years old and traveling like a mad woman. I loved this high-demand life, but it took a toll. When I woke up one day, unable to get out of bed, I ignored the message. When it happened again a month later, I brushed it under the rug. And later, when I was walking through a mall with one of my US regional managers, bent over unable to fully stand up, I insisted I was fine.
This continued until I crashed completely and needed to take time off to regain my health. During my recovery, I learned a lot about myself and started practicing, how to be a more conscious leader. Though I had tried it all—stress management, acupuncture, yoga, and more—I didn’t experience a real shift, mentally and physically, until I started practicing conscious leadership.
That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing this practice with my clients, especially those working in high-stress, demanding roles. Knowing you have a choice is a total life changer!
What is Conscious Leadership?
Conscious leadership is about learning to be responsive versus reactive. As leaders of our lives, we often let circumstances, situations, and people control us, which tends to be stressful. When we become highly conscious as leaders, we take full responsibility for how we choose to respond to situations. The process starts with awareness of how we’re reacting to any given situation and what energy is being utilized. Once we’re aware of our reactivity, we can pause and ask, “How am I showing up right now and how do I want to show up right now?” This is all about energy.
How catabolic and anabolic energy affects Conscious Leadership
There are two types of energy. Catabolic energy drains us and being in this state over the long run takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll. It can show up as apathy, powerlessness, or anger. Anabolic energy is fueling, healing, and growth-oriented and helps us thrive. It looks like passion, joy, the ability to see opportunities, and compassion. Research shows that leaders who tend to have higher levels of anabolic energy have more satisfaction in their overall life.
By choosing how we show up in the world, we can shift our energy from a catabolic to an anabolic state reducing stress, enhancing decision-making, our leadership, etc. We can also shift out of a cortisol-inducing fight-or-flight response. The more time we spend on anabolic energy, the more responsive we are to practicing being a conscious leader. And the more we practice, the more conscious leadership becomes our default response to challenging situations.
The benefits of conscious leadership at work and in life
Choosing to be a more conscious leader reduces our stress levels, increases our confidence, and allows us to experience more control in our everyday life situations. It allows us to face challenging situations—like in the examples below—and choose how to respond to achieve the best approach for you based on that situation. It’s a path to emotional stability and fulfillment.
As a leader, it’s important to be highly conscious because this approach helps you discern what’s happening with your colleagues and team. This puts you in a more expansive state so you can uncover real issues and solutions.
In my coaching practice, I’ve helped many women pursue success in executive leadership roles, and tapping into their own conscious leadership skills is a big part of our work together. But what does conscious leadership look like in practice? Let’s explore that question with some real-life situations I’ve helped clients through.
Examples of Conscious Leadership Transformations
Example 1: Your co-worker takes credit for your work
You’re in a water cooler conversation and you overhear your colleague, Andrea, taking credit for your work. Catabolic energy takes over and you might get angry, often so angry that you don’t say anything because it would not be appropriate for the workplace. Or you might feel like a victim, “Why does Andrea always take credit for my work, it’s not fair”.
Andrea’s also taken credit for your work in front of your boss, multiple times, but you haven’t addressed it. You start to doubt yourself, you wonder if your boss thinks you’re not pulling your weight, and your inner critic—who I call the gremlin—keeps the idea of “I’m not enough” on repeat in your head.
By shifting into a more conscious state, you can take a more curious approach and examine all of your choices. First, you might ask yourself if Andrea really is taking credit for your work. If so, you can open up a conversation directly with her by saying, “Andrea, I’m really curious about why you took credit for that work/project, etc. It was a team effort.” Or when it happens in front of your boss and/or team, a conscious leadership approach means saying, “Andrea, thanks so much for speaking up on behalf of the group. I know we all worked hard on that project and are proud of our results.”
Example 2: You ask your boss for a promotion, instead of waiting to be noticed
You’re ready for a promotion but you’re stuck in the unhelpful thought loop of, “Well, if they think I’m worthy, they will ask me about a new role.” Wrong approach!
Instead, tap into your conscious leadership by acknowledging your value, setting the right tone for a conversation, and asking for what you want.
You could say, “I know we’re making changes in the organization, and I’d like to put myself forward for that role.” But does it set the right tone energetically?
I’d recommend taking a bolder approach such as, “I’m super excited about the changes that are happening within the organization. I know that no final decisions have been made yet, but I’m looking at my strengths and how I’ve grown over the last five years, and I would like to be considered for this role. And here’s why…” (Another way to further the conversation is, “Here are the areas where I’ve excelled…and here’s what I’ve heard from you…”)
In this scenario, you’re conscious about how and what you’re communicating by sharing information about why you’d be great in the role and making your case firmly. You are using a bold voice and showing your boss how important this is to you.
Example 3: You need a reference letter from the new manager who laid you off
Your company brings in a new person to lead your team and shortly after, he lays you off as part of a company-wide reorganization. When you start looking for a new role, you realize that you need to ask the person who fired you for a letter of reference. And you’re so angry. (If you’re familiar with the Energy Leadership Index assessment, you’ll know that anger is level 2 catabolic energy—good to get you moving, but a harmful place to stay in for any length of time.)
You imagine how difficult the conversation will be—your old boss is nice enough, but he talks non-stop—and it just fuels your anger. Especially since he kept calling you for advice after you were let go.
To shift into a more conscious state, ask yourself, “How was the situation for him?” Try to see it from his point of view—he was brought into the company to support a reorganization and laying you off wasn’t personal. By asking him for a reference, he has the opportunity to help you as you’ve helped him. It’s a win-win. (In this real-life situation, my client prepared for the meeting. When the conversation strayed from the reference letter, she said, “Let’s get this reference letter wrapped up and then we can talk about whatever questions you have.” By harnessing her conscious leadership and being in an anabolic state of energy, she built her confidence by taking charge of the conversation, and she was thrilled with the results, an overall win-win.)
What’s your “Why?” for becoming a conscious leader?
Would you like to have more clarity around your decisions with less stress? Be a better communicator and leader at work, at home, and in your community. Enhance your leadership skills. That’s all possible when you choose to build your conscious leadership muscles.
But it’s essential to ask yourself why you want to practice conscious leadership. The answer is personal and different for each of us. After I got sick, I knew I had to make major life changes, or I would lose the ability to do what I loved regardless of whether at work or at home. Having choices in how we show up, and building conscious leadership muscles consistently is an amazing path and has provided me personally with a better life where I am able to actualize continuous growth opportunities.
I encourage you to think about your why – and how you are showing up in the world versus how you would like to show up. Would you like to live life with less stress, and more choice, and make better decisions as the leader of your life? If you’re not sure where to start, connect with me; I can help you harness the power of conscious leadership while being authentically you.
Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.
I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.
WIL Empowered is a group coaching program where we focus on all four aspects of leadership development through coaching, networking, peer-to-peer mentoring, and developing power skills. Our mission is to help women develop the power skills, motivation, and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.
Take our five-minute leadership quiz to discover where your leadership skills are now and where you’d like them to be this time next year.