The idea that we are in a time of unprecedented change is perhaps overstated – the human condition has always been subject to both evolutionary and violent change. However, the rapid speed of change over the past decades in everything from technology, to geopolitics, to climate, to social mores, has been particularly disruptive. Now with the coming of AI and Industry 4.0 the world seems to be changing faster than our ability to adapt.
Adapting to change is difficult. Too often people either overreact in a state of perpetual panic, or alternatively bury their heads in the sand clinging to the way things were or react on autopilot with fear and mistrust. The better way of course is to be aware, anticipate change, and leverage it to help improve both our personal and our working lives.
For sclerotic organizations the failure to be aware and anticipate change can often be fatal. Leaders are too often slow to react and too many change efforts fail because short-term results undermine long-term success. “The primary culprit for these maladies is our lack of awareness,” says Bob Rosen and Emma-Kate Swan in their new book, ‘Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life’, in which they contend that the genesis of effective change is consciousness and that “Conscious = Awareness in Action.”
Based on the authors’ decades of experience in interviewing and advising CEOs and executives in organizations around the world, as the founder and the vice president of leadership and transformation at Healthy Companies International, the book is not about delving into the sub-conscious, nor about mindfulness, emotional intelligence, or other practices. Rather it considers the broader aspects of personal outlook and capability needed to be truly conscious, in a world where a lack of consciousness can too often cripple individuals, organizations and governments.
The authors quote Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, facing a US Senate enquiry into a massive safety recall in 2014: “The facts are the facts. We will do what is needed to make things right and we will hold ourselves fully accountable.” This goes to the heart of their message and epitomises conscious leadership – being fully aware of the facts, having the capacity to change, and being accountable.
The core of the book looks at what it takes to be conscious and presents a guide in four sections, each based one of the key practices the authors have found successful leaders invariably follow:
Go Deep – Harness the power of introspection to find self-awareness.
Thinking Big – Be curious and adaptive to see a world of possibilities, overcome unconscious biases, be more innovative and realise opportunities.
Get Real – Be honest and intentional about the motivators and barriers to ‘awareness in action’ and avoid being too safe and cautious.
Step Up – Be bold and responsible to achieve your and your team’s potential and higher purpose.
Chapters within each section provide practical advice on how to instil these practices and put them to work. For example, chapters in ‘Get Real’ examine how to embrace and manage the motivators and barriers – which the authors call accelerators and hijackers. Accelerators include: courage; drive; practice; resilience; and vulnerability. Hijackers include: self-criticism; cynicism; being too controlling; aloofness; and hypercompetitiveness.
While practical the book is also profound, offering a fresh and intensely human approach to living and leading in our fast-changing disruptive times. It emphasises how being conscious helps us think deeper, learn faster, collaborate better, and adapt to create sustainable change for ourself and our organizations.
Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life, Bob Rosen and Emma-Kate Swann, published by Wiley, July 2018, ISBN: 978-1-119-50844-1