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Sunday
Aug032014

Conscious Capitalism AND Social Enterprise Is Conscious Business

There are two movements in business today that are highly related yet very disconnected – conscious capitalism and social enterprise. These two movements are actually quite similar when viewed from a whole system perspective – more aware AND responsible business. Taken together, conscious capitalism and social enterprise create conscious businesses with the potential to solve big problems through business while generating a sustainable future.

The conscious capitalism movement appears to be primarily focused on relationships, stakeholders and leadership practices. This is transformative work and deserves all the praise and attention the movement has received. Yet, it is not enough. When an individual embarks on a journey of transformation and develops a higher awareness (consciousness), they almost always begin to see themselves as part of a greater whole and over time start to make decisions about their lifestyle, habits and consumption aligned with more sustainable practices – seeing themselves as part of the whole, they act for the collective good. 

I do not see the same development when I look at the conscious capitalism movement, particularly two companies hailed as the leaders of the movement – Whole Foods and The Container Store. When shopping these stores, neither feels different to me. Back to the example of an individual’s journey of transformation and deeper awareness, it does not appear that the consciousness of these two businesses has yet translated into the same level of whole system thinking. Their conscious awareness has not led to greater responsibility. When it does, I would expect to see sourcing strategies, merchandising decisions, packaging materials, marketing campaigns and other decisions approached from a higher awareness and collective perspective. Walking into these stores you will immediately know that they are not in business as usual – their “inner” growth will be obvious in their outer appearance and actions.

Social enterprises, on the other hand, are using business to make a difference – solving big problems and impacting people’s lives. Yet they tend to do that with traditional business tools, management practices and organizational structures. Operating with greater responsibility, these social enterprises often are not functioning with deeper awareness. Their right and sustainable actions are not supported by conscious business practices.

We need both – more aware AND responsible businesses. Sustainability is not simply a green movement of incremental actions alone; we also need radical new thinking and changes in business that accelerates progress to a sustainable future – what I call blue thinking. These conscious businesses have greater awareness and deploy systems-level, whole-perspective thinking to consider the full impact and all consequences of its actions. They relate more consciously through new organizational structures and manage with deeper awareness through innovative management tools that integrate meaning-making and money-making so that mission is top of mind and integral to the organization’s strategy. This shift to more aware AND responsible conscious businesses would make doing good (impact) as important as doing well (profit), all while solving some of our biggest challenges, creating jobs and enabling a sustainable future.

Wednesday
Jul162014

Leadership Capacity for Holding Space In Practice

I wrote in the last blog about holding space as an essential leadership capacity. Let me now share an example with you. I was recently working with a consulting client to review his business’ financials, recommend areas to focus on improving and discuss strategies for raising capital.

This client is a local business with deep connections to his community and great passion for his business. Unfortunately, he has made some poor choices in taking capital at a very high interest rate. He has good revenue but a cost structure that is still below break-even. The session involved sharing this bad news and exploring what he could do to turn the business around, all in a loving but frank discussion.

I knew the client was apprehensive and nervous about hearing our assessment, so I opened with a brief breathing exercise to ensure we were each fully embodied and present for the discussion. To do this, I asked everyone present to close their eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths. As we breathed, I asked that we allow any thoughts of fear, doubt or judgment and anything else on our minds to drift away as we loosen our attachment to every thought we brought into the room so that we could give more full attention to our session together. Notice, I did not suggest that we forget all those other things on our minds. That would not be realistic. But, it is possible that we allow our attention to move away from those thoughts so that they remain in the background during our meeting. This is suspension.

I then asked the client about his business – why he started the business, what is his vision and what he wants from it. This connected him with his passion for the business and lifted his energy. It also allowed each of us in the meeting to also connect with his passion, as we were able to feel the love for his business, employees and the community. This elevated energy provided the foundation to now engage the more difficult discussion. This is resourcing.

During his response to my resourcing questions, the client had tears in his eyes as the emotion of struggling for over five years to build his business came to the surface. We simply created space to allow for this expression to simply be just as it was.

With these elements in place, we aligned with the intention for the session to look honestly and fully at the financials of the business to better understand what can be done to stabilize and begin to grow the business. After everyone expressed their alignment with this intention, I reviewed the financial analysis and shared our observations along with recommendations of what he could do to improve the business performance.

Once we completed this review, the energy in the room was a bit heavy from the honest and even painful look at the business. As a result, I wanted to bring everyone back to a more grounded, generative space before beginning to discuss the possible strategies he might implement to address our findings. To do this I utilized the Active Pause – a process for taking a mindful pause that makes it easier to integrate the experience we are having. This allowed us all to once again be fully open for a strategic discussion.

During this review, the client shared that he has difficulty trusting people until he has had the time to create the intimacy of a relationship. Yet he had been comfortable with me from that first breathing exercise even though I had not met him prior to this session. I am confident this was in large part due to the space I held for the experience and the conscious steps I took to focalize the Dynamic Link.

Monday
Jul072014

Holding Space as An Essential Leadership Capacity

Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Presencing Institute, has said that “holding space is the single most important leadership capacity going forward. Hearing this, I realized it was in fact the essential leadership trait of the 21st century. Let's explore what it means to hold space and why it is so important for leaders today.

The world is now moving too fast to maintain detailed plans and has gotten far too complex with the consequences of our individual actions too great to continue acting in the isolation of our own organizations. Instead, leaders need the ability to see and act from the whole and the capacity to integrate all that is evolving around them while responding quickly to shift strategy and execution. It is a leadership capacity to sit comfortably in ambiguity and welcome the unknown while grounded in a bigger vision; mindful of how each evolving moment fits into that vision. In this way the leader sets a destination, chooses a route and then course corrects in each moment. Holding space allows leaders to engage the unfolding future to guide the organization rather than impose the past or even a limited vision for the future on the present. This is done in collaboration and without excess planning.

Space in this context is physical, mental, emotional and even energetic. It is expansive; linked to the moment of the experience itself, giving space for a much more interesting creation based on what is happening in the moment. The leader does this by thinking, engaging and acting differently.

  • Thinking holistically while cultivating curiosity 
  • Engaging (rather than resisting) whatever comes up in the moment; relating authentically and consciously 
  • And then acting from this deeper awareness by sensing what is present in each moment and responding from an inner knowing beyond what the data, analysis or plan might otherwise suggest

In this way, the leader creates a container for an intentional experience, aligning an organizational intention and creating conditions for the future to emerge by setting aside specific expectations and curiously observing while listening deeply for what reveals itself. It is a journey from the attempted certainty of predict-and-control into the unknown of sense-and-respond. While this may appear passive to the observer, it is actually a very active and deliberate leadership practice.

John Renesch, in The Great Growing Up, describes it as having “dominion of our reality without trying to dominate it, without clever maneuvering or seduction … elegant mastery without resorting to manipulative control or imposition.”

Focalizing Dynamic Links is one of many methods a leader can utilize to hold space. It is a way of connecting with and relating to people in order to access both inner and outer resources. Two particular elements of Focalizing are especially relevant to holding space – suspension and sensing. Suspension – setting aside the judging, critical voices of doubt, fear and cynicism – opens and allows us to fully sense the wisdom of our inner experience, often through felt sensations in the body and our visual imagination. We do this through a relaxed and meditative state where we are grounded, centered, clear and focused.

Such a meditative state has three characteristics essential to the practice of holding space:

  • Timelessness – fully present in the moment and allowing something greater than ourselves to move through us, creating the future 
  • Formlessness – beyond the confines and constraints of our physical body to experience “ourselves” in everything around us 
  • Non-attachment – completely content in the perfection of the current moment with total acceptance and even appreciation that the next moment may be entirely different and we will be absolutely present in the perfection and completeness of that moment, whatever it may be

Specifically, the leader holding space by focalizing a Dynamic Link demonstrates and utilizes these traits:

  • Allows his or her own self to be open to and participate in the creative energy of the group, creating the context and holding space for the group intentions to emerge 
  • Holds no point of view nor expectation of a specific outcome other than that of the aligned intentions 
  • Connects with the group organically to express the innate intelligence and wisdom of the collective 
  • Helps participants to shift perceptions, offers additional perspectives and opens group to new possibilities 
  • Respectfully engages opposite energies expressed within the group for their resolution and integration and the emergence of a greater idea or vision 
  • Brings resource energy in the form of caring and a real sense of community

This last trait suggests that space is really just love – love for one’s self, the organization, each individual and what the group seeks to create or do. In fact, when one is in the present state necessary to hold space it is impossible to feel any other emotion than love – even though that love may present and express itself in any number of ways.

Holding space as a leadership capacity has several tangible benefits that address the complex and interconnected world in which our organizations now operate:

  • Having resilience and feeling more presence in the moment 
  • Ability to connect dots by removing blind spots and gaining insight to previously unseen possibilities, shifting one’s point of view 
  • Feeling inclusivity, unification and compassion with an ability to view situations from the perspective of the whole

Leaders who choose to engage a practice of holding space step bravely into the world of the unknown where the comforts (and constraints) of current management practice are replaced with a full-bodied experience of leading from their hearts.

Sunday
Mar022014

A New Balance Sheet for Business

It seems to me that the traditional balance sheet is outdated with its singular focus on the financial capital of a business. This one-dimensional view ignores the multiple forms of capital that a business utilizes in its operations every day. In doing so, businesses bring decision-making down to a simple financial evaluation when in fact the considerations are much more complex. This creates a blind spot that often results in less than optimum decisions in the business.

What we need instead is a more holistic consideration of the business – a balance sheet that allocates all resources: financial as well as natural, human, social and built capital. This greater organizational self-awareness allows for a more full and conscious budgeting of all forms of capital with an eye to the liability of blind spots and recognition of all the equity it creates. As such, it provides the true cost of doing business along with an understanding of the organization’s impact on its environment.

What I propose is a balance sheet that contains a view of assets, liabilities and equity beyond the more quantifiable financial ones for a more comprehensive understanding and awareness of the organization as a whole.

  • An expanded view of the organization’s assets would include strengths and opportunities within the business such as skills and knowledge of the human capital, networks and relationships of social capital, the infrastructure of the built capital and the intelligence of entrepreneurial capital with the unique capacity to assemble all these aspects into a formula for success through innovation.
  • Liabilities beyond the financial would include challenges and risks the business faces such as resource gaps in the organization and marketplace dynamics. Additionally, the self-aware organization would seek to gain visibility into the unseen and unknown – blind spots in the organizational shadow.
  • Equity would also have an expanded depth that takes a more holistic view of the value the organization is creating. This would involve even deeper organizational self-awareness with insights into the context within which the organization operates and how that fits into the dynamics of an evolving world. 

Along with this expanded depth that includes the various forms of capital, the new balance sheet would also have a perspective across multiple dimensions.

  • Financial – dollars and cents, the familiar assets, liabilities and equity of the balance sheet. 
  • Non-Financial – includes skills and knowledge, infrastructure as well as the networks and relationships across the organization through its human, intellectual, experiential, built and social capital. 
  • Emotional – the prevailing emotional tone of the organization. This is the culture of the organization, including the known and acknowledged as well as the unconscious and unseen. 
  • Energetic – beyond words and emotions, there is an actual energetic vibration of the organization that when engaged has the capacity to inform and guide the present through an awareness of an emerging future.

The business organization that endeavors to operate with greater self-awareness – with greater depth and across multiple dimensions – will set itself up more prepared to successfully achieve its objectives and realize its mission. This organizational self-awareness enables the business to:

  • Operate more fluidly in the moment, allowing the business to quickly respond to an ever-changing business climate.
  • Deploy the talent of human capital according to individual skills and capabilities rather than be confined by the boundaries of job descriptions.
  • Truly understand the well being of the entire organization, creating a sustainable operation with the capacity to evolve as the environment in which the business operates shifts.

This approach to a more holistic balance sheet would create a more holistic chart of accounts to capture the greater depth and multi-dimensions of the approach and in turn, expand the approach to analysis, business modeling and even budgeting for a more comprehensive decision-making process that holistically considers the entire business and the environment in which it operates.

Saturday
Nov302013

Social Enterprise and The Evolution of Business Consciousness

There are many perspectives on what is a Social Enterprise. At its purest definition, Social Enterprises are those organizations that are impact first with a focus on meaning making that generates a sustaining cash flow. In this way, moneymaking is secondary to the impact of the organization’s mission. The purpose of its moneymaking endeavors is to sustain the organization’s operations and ensure the ongoing delivery of its mission to achieve its desired impact. Yet, Social Enterprises are more complex than this and I would suggest exist along a continuum that mirrors the path of human conscious evolution.

In addition to the definition above, there are two other places of note along the continuum of Social Enterprise. The first is the entry point where a business organization adopts an outward facing mission and institutes core values that are demonstrated in action. The outward facing mission has its focus on the customer experience through delivery of the organization’s product or service rather than on profit goals or growth objectives. Further, it is not enough for these businesses to have a set of core values; those entering the continuum of Social Enterprise have demonstrated them in the actions of their leaders and across the organization.

The second point of note on the continuum is where the business organization gains awareness of the greater eco-system in which it operates. This triple bottom-line perspective considers people and planet as well as profits for a broad consideration of its social, economic and environmental impact. In this way, the business organization is mindful of and demonstrates responsibility to all its stakeholders. From here, the final point on the continuum is the purest definition shared earlier.

Interestingly, this mirrors the path we take as humans toward greater awareness and higher consciousness from connection with our values and a sense of purpose to greater awareness of our environment and those we share this experience with to a sincere desire to be of service, giving back in some way and making a positive impact that leaves this earth and its inhabitants a bit better than we found them.

Just as it is with our individual transformation, taking that first step into alignment with its values and identification with a greater sense of purpose begins a process for the business organization that I believe quite naturally and organically continues to evolve along this continuum of Social Enterprise as a better future is created through business.