Entrevista en Maeil Business Newspaper (Number 1# en Corea)

Entrevista en Maeil Business Newspaper (Number 1# en Corea)

Entrevista en Maeil Business Newspaper (Number 1# en Corea)

-The title of your book is ‘A Higher Purpose: 3 Rules of Conscious Leadership.’ How do you define conscious leadership?

The meaning of the word conscious in English is awareness of one's own existence, sensations, thoughts, and surroundings. The truth is that most of the time, managers operate in a contrary state of mind. This is a reductionist mentality that only sees the benefit of shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders. Many managers work with a limited mindset, and they cannot draw more energy and insight from people. On top of that, most of them lack self-awareness.

A conscious leadership approach is a more holistic view of leadership. What do I mean by holistic? I refer to the idea that the whole is more than merely the sum of its parts. Leadership cannot be identified by single attributes nor by simplistic objectives. Nowadays, managers must lead in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments (a.k.a VUCA). This pandemic situation is an excellent example of a VUCA world.

So, how can you lead in such a context? Organizations and teams need conscious managers capable of unleashing people's potential. But also, they need managers qualified in self-leadership. Effective bosses know that leading themselves is a complementary process. You cannot get the best of other people if you cannot objectively assess your own strengths and weaknesses. It sounds logical and easy, but in practice, we are used to fooling ourselves in many ways.

Leadership is also about the communities in which we operate. It is about producing a positive impact on customers, the environment, suppliers, and society.

This world needs conscious leaders at every level, organization, and industry.

Finally, I'd like to remark that a conscious leader is not a perfect leader. We all have shortcomings; the question is, how do you deal with them. A conscious leader is a person with a growing mindset who knows that the path of leadership (like excellence) never finishes, because there is always space for learning and improving. No matter how good you are, you can always grow in your character, knowledge, or technical skills.

-What is the role of conscious leadership in times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 crisis? Also, could you give an example of a leader who has shown conscious leadership in the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is precisely in a crisis of this magnitude that more conscious leadership is needed. Simple recipes don't work, and you need to work on all planes. Although some industries have benefited from this pandemic, other entrepreneurs have done well because they were more flexible and adapted better to the new situation. They saw opportunities where others could not see beyond cost-cutting and massive layoffs. In times of crisis, it is necessary to have higher commitment, creativity, and knowledge from everyone in the organization. But it is also in times of difficulties where we have to get the best of ourselves and help others. All of this sounds like a cliché, but it's real.

Instead of bringing an example of a global leader, I want to highlight the case of a small entrepreneur in Madrid. Jaime Rincón was working as a F&B manager in the hotel sector and decided to become an entrepreneur. He purchased a local restaurant, and right after that, the pandemic hit everyone. He had to deal with the crisis like everyone else since the hospitality sector was especially affected. But Jaime decided to take another path: the path of solidarity. Shocked to see people begging for food at his restaurant, he decided to create a movement and NGO that would distribute food to those most in need. From each menu in the restaurant, a solidarity menu was financed. Since this movement began, Casa Carmela Restaurant has delivered more than 22,700 solidarity menus in one year.

Is Jaime a perfect leader? No, like anyone. But he is a more conscious leader who cares about getting the best out of his employees. He is also running a small company that induces a purpose beyond profit. He wants to help the community where he operates. Casa Carmela delivers excellent value to the customer as well; providing excellent food at a reasonable price and with superb service.

The 3 rules of conscious leadership are the following: enhance the power in others, enhance the power in yourself, enhance the value among all stakeholders. For clarification, what do you mean by ‘power’? Is it taking control to doing one’s job? Or does it mean something else?

The connotation of the power concept in my book is twofold. When I speak of power, I mean the ability to influence others as well as yourself. It is essential to clarify that it is not about influencing others under an authoritarian or paternalistic style of leadership. Those leaders who best influence other people are the ones that are willing to be influenced by others. I think Jeff Bezos explains this part very well when he illustrates Amazon’s Leadership Principle “Leaders are right a lot.” At Amazon, leaders must be very knowledgeable, technically skillful, and intelligent. However, they must change their opinions if data or better reasoning prove their ideas wrong.

There is always a control component in management, but controlling others or controlling the work must be better distributed. Enhancing the power in others means creating a working environment with more accountability, discipline, freedom, psychological safety, creativity, engagement, and outstanding customer service.

But I also mean the term potent. That is the extent to which an individual can bring the best of himself or herself at work. People can grow -not only professionally but also personally- if companies develop appropriate organizational cultures.

The term potent or individual empowerment is also a path of inner introspection. In my book, I talk about meditation and mindfulness as the best path to being a better person and a better leader.

Is there a common work that leaders should do to enhancing the power in others, enhancing the power in oneself, and enhancing the value among all stakeholders?

The three rules of conscious leadership are united under two standard dimensions. Both are equally important and are the pillars that connect everything and everyone.

1) A higher purpose. That is a purpose beyond making money or profits. The profits of a company are essential, but they have to be a by-product of the purpose. The entire organization has to be connected to that purpose. And what is the purpose? In my book, I speak of a triple purpose: I. To enhance the skills, knowledge, engagement and character of employees, teams, and the organization. II. To improve character through self-awareness (leading others is also leading yourself). III. To provide more value to our stakeholders- especially customers, the environment, and the community where we operate.

2) A business culture that shares corporate values. These values dictate behaviors and make the company better.

In times of crisis, are there additional work leaders should do to enhancing the power in others, enhancing the power in oneself, and enhancing the value among all stakeholders?

I don't think there is a better way to lead people and companies than through a more conscious leadership approach -with or without a crisis.

Companies have to be part of the solution in order to address the social and environmental problems that we face. It is a matter of changing the business-as-usual mindset and connecting with all the necessary actors. Entrepreneurs and executives have the responsibility of leading their companies under a new paradigm. This new social business paradigm seeks to provide more value to all the stakeholders, not only shareholders.

-You suggested leaders to define corporate value before hiring people.

A)How exactly does defining corporate value enhance the power in others?

B)Could to tell us the basic steps leaders take to set corporate value? Also, exactly when does defining corporate value begin?

When corporate values are actual because organizations have worked on them, they can bring the best in ourselves. Values ​​define our vision of the world; they are beliefs and guides of behavior. But they are also personal aspirations. For example, I might admit that I am not very humble at a particular moment, but I can improve my humility because I care about this value.

And yet, values ​​also have to be articulated and made into actual behaviors. It is of no use to anyone if my values ​​are limited to superficial generalizations. Companies must think about those values ​​that can best improve their competitiveness and productivity, and they must articulate them into actionable behaviors. Then, they have to dictate rules and policies that will better ensure that those behaviors are carried out. I have spoken of humility before, but I should elaborate. For example, some behaviors associated with humility are: 'being able to listen to others'; 'to change your mind when data or other's people logic is better than yours'; 'to not let your ego dominate you; or 'being capable of showing a more human side in the job'.

Lastly, values can be shared with our customers, the community, or our investors. Nowadays, people demand good quality, service, price, or convenience; but they also require values from companies. Values will serve us as guidelines and unite everyone. Our decisions and actions will take those values into consideration.

The first thing to do is an introspection exercise. Company founders and executives need to reflect on their values first. Are they clear about their values? What behaviors would they want to see at work? What is that they care about? How do they see the world?

Then executives must make those values ​​explicit and turn them into behaviors. Just like I said, those behaviors have to be the same for everyone. And the first ones who should carry them out are the bosses and executives.

This work of setting the values, therefore, begins with the leaders at the top. They are the ones who have to set the tone for the rest of the organization. I always recommend asking yourself four questions when choosing the correct values ​​and behaviors: 1. Will they improve the competitiveness of the company? 2. Will they enhance the productivity of your company and workers? 3. Will they be a source of intrinsic motivation for workers? 4. Can they be shared with customers?

For example, IKEA has a value called 'simplicity'. This value exposes behaviors such as: 'eliminate bureaucracy and symbols of power'; 'go for simple solutions and reduce red tape'; 'bring more equality into the organization to promote productivity and creativity '; 'call everyone by his or her name -even top directors; and 'wear the same uniforms at work.' Furthermore, this value is linked to other company values ​​such as 'low costs,' 'renew and improve,' 'different with a meaning,' or 'lead by example.'

-When hiring people, how can leaders recognize the potential employees’ value? How can leader know that the interviewees value meet the corporate value?

Indeed, the selection process is essential to protect the values ​​of an organization. Companies that want to preserve their culture are aware that the selection process is a critical working area. Selecting the right employees is not just an HR job but a company-wide process. That is why the selection of employees is more rigorous because, they focus not only on the interviewee's experience, knowledge, and skills but also on the candidates' values.

How can we tell if a candidate shares our values when anyone can lie about personality or character? The first thing I have to say is that there is no perfect selection process. We have to do our best. But, even having worked a lot on this part, we can always determine in a subsequent test or evaluation process if the person who appeared in the interview is who he claims to be.

The questions we will ask candidates are situational. "Tell me about a case in which you had to put these behaviors into action and how did you do it...". We can also have the candidate introduce himself and talk about values and why they matter to him. Throughout responses, we must discern whether the candidate is inventing the whole thing or he or she appears to be honest.

-Some leaders change the corporate value over time. Do you think changing corporate value helps leaders grow their conscious leadership? Why do you think leaders reset the corporate value?

Values should not changed as a company strategy would. Values have to endure. However, it is true that in some cases, the values need to be updated. Maybe they need to be refreshed because new generations, changes in society or customers have made them obsolete. For example, fifteen years ago a corporate value related to ‘people and planet’ or ‘sustainability’ wasn’t that important.

I'm thinking of examples like IBM's in 1994. When Louis Gerstner took the helm of this struggling giant, he soon realized that those values that made IBM competitive overtime needed to be updated. This work can and should be done with the support of more people in the company. Effective leaders are capable of changing company's values by bringing more people into the conversation. This process may take longer, but it is also more effective in the implementation stage, because it involves more people in the planning process.

-You pointed out that “in the best teams, the pressure does not come from the bosses but from the teammates.” Could you elaborate on this? Also, how does conscious leadership help bring out positive peer pressure?

The first thing I would like to clarify is that the pressure I am referring must maintain a balance between responsibility and caring. But you need to be careful, because difference between negative and positive pressure is very thin. Peer pressure must be a positive pressure and for this to happen, a conscious leader has to create an environment of psychological safety, where recognizing mistakes, problems, doubts, or exposing different viewpoints is possible.

Peer pressure has to be honest and compassionate, and it must to be always constructive. It is aimed at helping the person who has problems or needs to improve in some area. Only those leaders capable of creating a safe community can create environments of healthy pressure. Peer pressure is also a by-product of a team in higher stages of development. This team shares common goals, values, and norms.

-You recommended organizations to implement 360-degree evaluation among colleagues in order to bring out positive peer pressure. Netflix is one example of a company that has such review system. Could you tell us more on how Netflix has implemented the 360-degree reviews among colleagues? How has it helped the organization to establish a high-performance team?

A 360 evaluation system collects the opinion of subordinates and co-workers, as well as bosses. This system is complementary to others, but I think it is necessary to bring more transparency and honesty in management. The usual thing is that the boss evaluates the employees, but who evaluates the boss? Usually his boss, and yet it is normal for people to behave differently with those higher up in the hierarchy.

The 360 ​​system is not perfect, but it is the best we know of. However, this system has its flaws. For example, in most companies, it is anonymous. The opinions of the employees are protected in case there could be retaliation by the bosses. This anonymous 360 evaluation is like the 1.0 version. Netflix, however, has evolved this system to a new version, 2.0, and made the whole system completely transparent. Colleagues and employees evaluate the boss, but the system is not anonymous. Within a culture of maximum transparency and honesty, and open-mindedness, bosses have to listen openly to what everyone has to say about him or her.

This system may sound like a utopia to many, but the reality is that it works for them. I always recommend managers and employees share their results in front of the group. They must be willing to create a safe space where people feel free and secure to bring honest opinions. For example, "Many of you have evaluated me poorly on my communication skills, and I would like to get deeper into it. Can you tell me why and where I can improve? Can you bring specific examples? I promise that I will be open-minded."

This is one of the best ways to reduce what I call the ‘Self-Awareness Gap’. Managers rating themselves above average when those who report directly to them do not agree with this self-assessment.

-One of the ways leaders enhance the power in themselves is by understanding their own emotions. Why do leaders have a hard time knowing their own emotions? How can they be aware of their own feelings?

Our emotions are fundamental and perfectly human. But at some point the business world saw them as enemies of reason, logic and decision making. And yet, as the Nobel Prize Daniel Kahneman noted, many executives who pride themselves on being rational tend to make intuitive and emotional decisions.

Now, what we have to notice is how our emotions happen, or how we are judging things or making decisions with our emotions.

Most of us are emotionally blind because we are not able to recognize them or name them. Often, our emotional vocabulary is very poor. But we can indeed visualize our emotions and name them. And this can be done in the action - as they are happening- or afterwards. The trick is not to get carried away by emotion, and yet visualize it as a neutral bystander. Mindfulness and Meditation are two fundamental tools to improve in this field.

Try the following exercise: The next time you feel irritated, stressed, or anxious. Try sitting down. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. You can count the breaths. After 3 or 4 minutes, bring the problem to your mind. Recreate the situation. But don't judge. Just observe the problem or scenario as an impartial tennis judge. Visualize what is happening in your body with a curious mind: How’s your breath? Slow or fast? Does your heartbeat go faster? Do you feel hot or warm in your body? Does your stomach contract? Does something itch? Give yourself an opportunity to experience these physiological states without judging them. Remember, the key here is not to judge. I bet you will feel a bit better after that.

-Enhancing the value among all stakeholders is essentially about providing exceptional human service. Among the 4 components of exceptional human service is ‘adequate resources.’ Interestingly, you wrote that “providing adequate resources does not mean that we necessarily have to invest more.” Could you explain on this? How can leaders provide adequate resources without additional investment? Also, could you clarify on the definition of resources in this context?

One of the things that can frustrate employees the most is the lack of resources to do a good job. People, in general, want to do a good job, but many times they are prevented by a lack of resources such as empowerment, information, training, equipment, technology, or personnel. For example, companies can cut expenses by hiring fewer workers in the hospitality sector or hiring less qualified workers - such as interns - by breaking the law and paying fewer wages.

That said, I must also mention that resources aren’t infinite. Companies have to be efficient in managing their costs. The problem is that they often want to make efficiency an end and of itself, rather than a path. Managers require employees to do "less with more." And yet, people, the only thing they can do is "less with less."

How is it possible to do more without investing more? Well, first, we would have to distinguish between efficacy vs. efficiency. Along the way of becoming lean, perhaps we have processes, systems, or services that are obsolete. We may do things efficiently, but we are not effective because we are not doing the right things.

I usually bring up an example in the aviation industry. In my book, I talk about two airlines: Ryanair and Southwest Airlines. They are both efficient. Nevertheless, only Southwest Airlines is effective because besides having low costs, it also provides an exceptional service, and offers more value to its customers. How’s this possible? Because of Southwest’s unique corporate culture and fully engaged employees.

-In the book you wrote, “Resilience is more comfortable to acquire when we pursue a purpose that matters to us.” Could you elaborate on this? Also, if there is a company that acquired resilience more comfortably in times of crisis because it pursued a purpose, please share the story with us.

Let’s define resilience as the ability to return to your baseline after you encountered a setback. Or after something difficult or wrong has happened to you. Most human beings are resilient in one way or another. It is in our genes to survive. However, some people are better than others when it comes to recovering from difficulties.

Companies aren't resilient, but people are. When we face setbacks and fall, it is always easier to stand up and keep working if we see a bright light in the future. A common goal or purpose can help us in this process. We get more energy to face a crisis when we care about something. But, the contrary is also true. Companies might not get extra effort and sacrifices from their employees because they have disengaged and disconnected from company goals a long time ago. They might have perceived that managers were unfair to them and that the company only pursued one purpose above all: making money.

Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb, is an excellent example of a resilient and conscious leader. Brian had to confront the crisis with layoffs. In 2020, Airbnb had to reduce the size of its workforce because tourism stopped dramatically due to Covid. Out of 7,500 Airbnb employees, nearly 1,900 people had to leave. In this process, he was always transparent, generous, and caring. (Here is the open letter he wrote to all employees: https://news.airbnb.com/a-message-from-co-founder-and-ceo-brian-chesky/ )

Airbnb reflected on the company mission, which is centered around belonging. He wrote: "This crisis has sharpened our focus to get back to our roots, back to the basics, back to what is truly special about Airbnb — everyday people who host their homes and offer experiences. (…) As I have learned these past eight weeks, a crisis brings you clarity about what is truly important."

Airbnb is now recovering from this crisis and coming back. They are focusing on its core business -home rentals- but also betting on ancillary offerings centered on ‘Experiences’ .

-What is the opposite of conscious leadership?

The opposite of a conscious leader is a mindless leader. A person entrapped in old categories and paradigms of management, one who works by inertia. A diminisher of other people's energy and talent. A person incapable of generating self-awareness and therefore not willing to improve in his or her inner character. Managers and executives who only care about themselves, instead of their teams or the bigger picture. Entrepreneurs that only seek to maximizing short-term results and making more money at the expense of employees, customers, environment, society and suppliers.

-Throughout your career, how have you built your own conscious leadership? Was there a particular incident that made you develop it?

More than an isolated incident, I would say there were several. However, I think two things have marked and changed my mindset.

An intellectual restlessness and a passion for investigating case studies and theories in different areas of knowledge. And meditation.

There is a quote - I am not sure who said it but it says: "Study to be inspired and to inspire." Personal inspiration is easy to understand, but to me it wasn't clear until I decided to pursue a new career in business school as a professor and as a leadership coach. The purpose of my work is to inspire others. How? Showing to my students, executives, and managers that there is another way of doing things: a conscious approach to leadership that can positively impact people and society.

Also, meditation has been effective. I cannot say that I am a regular meditator. But it has undoubtedly given me an internal perspective. Through meditation, I can feel that I can grow as a person. And I better understand my feelings.

-What is the most important lesson you want leaders to take away from ‘A Higher Purpose: 3 Rules of Conscious Leadership’?

That conscious leadership is available to everyone. And that, no matter what area of the organization you are in, you can always contribute to the purpose of making yourself and others better, but you can also contribute to generating a positive impact on society in general.

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