Most business books are full of advice on the steps leaders should take to make their teams more effective. These books discuss such topics as how to structure meetings, improve performance, and get more out of their employees. That is, the premise of most of those books is that it is all about the employees. It is the employees who need to be better in order for the business to thrive. Fred Kofman, a recipient of the MIT Teacher of the Year Award, takes a different approach in his book Conscious Business: How To Build Value Through Value.
We often assume that if we can find a better way to explain an idea, if we can appeal to the listener's reason, the person will accept our rational point of view. Most of the time that does not happen. The more we explain, the more we get frustrated by the other person's lack of acceptance. How is it possible when our explanations are so rational? Simple. "Human beings are not just rational beings that calculate; we are emotional-spiritual beings that seek meaning," says Kofman.
Like many other professionals, Kofman had set out to climb the proverbial ladder. In his case, it was an academic ladder rather than a corporate one. As Kofman reached the peak of his academic career, he realized that he had placed the ladder against a wrong "wall." This kind of realization happens all too often, resulting in tremendous despair for many people. As Shawn Achor mentioned in his famous TED Talk, success does not cause happiness. Happiness causes success. Kofman contends that pursuing meaning and a noble purpose leads to happiness and fulfillment. Relying on achievement to give one a sense of self-worth can be especially harmful when integrity, freedom, and responsibility are the keys to success.
After his academic career, Kofman spent years on the road to self-discovery and, in the process, uncovered what it means to grow a conscious business and be a conscious leader. Consciousness is the state of being awake and mindful. It is the ability to be aware of the world within and around us, to experience reality, to understand our circumstances, and to adapt to these circumstances in alignment with our values. "Business is an essential part of our lives, so doing business consciously is an essential aspect of living consciously," proclaims Kofman.
In a conscious business, employees are viewed as human beings rather than as human resources. While most companies seek out employees with a high level of technical knowledge, Kofman also encourages organizations to look for people with a high level of consciousness. "Conscious employees are an organization's most important asset; unconscious employees are its most dangerous liability." However, that is not enough. Conscious employees need conscious managers. Conscious managers acknowledge, support, and challenge their employees by creating an environment where employees can grow and contribute their best.
With over 80% of employees disengaged at work, conscious managers can help to improve employee engagement. As the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said:
"...if management views workers not as valuable, unique individuals but as tools to be discarded when no longer needed, then employees will also regard the firm as nothing more than a machine for issuing paychecks, with no other value or meaning. Under such conditions it is difficult to do a good job, let alone to enjoy one's work."
Employees' experience at work is related directly to the relationship with their immediate supervisor. Researchers have found that the employees' answers to the following questions can guide organizations in determining if they have exceptional managers.
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- Do I have opportunities at work to learn and grow?
Conscious leaders set a purpose for people on their team and motivate them to pursue it with full commitment. Conscious leaders transform individual potential into a high-performing team. Conscious leaders earn the trust and respect of their team members. As Kofman discusses organizations' highest leverage, he concludes: "The strongest determinant of an effective, healthy culture is conscious leadership. Developing consciousness in its top managers is the most efficient way for an organization to improve." It turns out that team effectiveness may be at least as much about the leaders as it is about the employees.