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The need for conscious leadership

Posted on Friday, September 23, 2016 in Leadership, Purpose, THREADconsulting | 0 comments
Written by Klas Westman

I´ve always claimed that the aim of every leader should be to make him/herself superfluous. At the risk of sounding contradictory I also argue that leadership has never been more important than today. It seems to me that it´s hard to pinpoint a single problem anywhere that is not a result of poor leadership or the lack of leadership. It doesn´t matter if it is in politics, schools or the corporate world. The problem is that leadership of today originates from a different age. It was created for the interest of the industrial world and is an image of it. I use Aragorn (from Lord of the Ring) as an example of the longed for leader mainly because Aragorn was ready to sacrifice himself for his people on the grounds of his core believes while big companies today gives bonuses to leaders that are ready to sacrifice their people for something no one believes. I apologize for not finding a more gender-neutral example especially since I strongly believe that developing leadership for the future will demand adding more female attributes.


There are two systems running our companies today, the structural one and the cultural one. The machine and the living organism. The first is a complicated system that dictates where to ”fill up oil, water and petrol”. It´s a highly controlled system and should be just that. You don´t want any unpredictable change, you want it to be stable. The second one is a complex system that is alive and constantly changing. It cannot and should not be controlled – it needs to stay flexible or else it will die. At the dawn of the industrial revolution there was just one system – the structural one. If you could manufacture a product that people would buy for the money you asked for it – you were a success. The workforce you needed was equivalent to the fuel to run the factory – you just filled up with more as it burnt out. As the desideratum for labour outgrew the asset, companies had to start taking care of their employees – and out of that, company culture was born. Today it is the most influential system. Hence the saying,


According to many studies the expectation on a manager is rapidly changing and ability to create a strong culture, operating environment insight and self-awareness” is rising to the most valued requirements. Below I will use simplified descriptions to give my personal view on leadership. In seminars/articles to come this autumn, I will dive deeper into most of them.

Ancient leadership was based on the leader being the strongest, having the best skills or just being the smartest in the team. Henry Ford was unchallenged in his knowledge about cars long after leaving his assembly lines. He remained an unquestioned expert and based his leadership on that. Most companies today are built on numerous complex skills that each take years to learn and are together impossible for a single person to master. A leader today can´t expect to be the best at anything.

Most of the time we (in Scandinavia) are privileged to be living on the top of Maslow´s pyramid and the young generations (Y & Z) know of no other alternative. They have needs that are focused on self-actualization and expect their employer to offer them compensation and benefits based on that. They demand a relating leadership and will never respect or follow a controlling boss.

Today every corporate goal must be regarded as a moving target. We cannot presume that we have any idea what tomorrow will look like. On the contrary, the scenarios we think are least likely to occur in the future are precisely those we will find. Many large companies, like Nokia and Kodak, who failed to acknowledge this and stuck to their old plan – had to pay the consequences. Talents of tomorrow are going to be curious not experienced, innovative not determined, flexible not stubborn. This means that the modern leader doesn´t even have the advantage of holding the map, knowing where we are going – but needs to look for another way to lead.

Not long ago, employees didn´t have any expectations on their boss except telling them what to do. But the expectations “from below” has gone from 0 – 100 in a just a few decades. Overseeing wrongdoings has gone the opposite way in the same time and the days when the boss could ignore the non-smoking-sign or pat the girls on their butt are long gone. These days all leaders must expect to be evaluated for every move they make and their status to fluctuate. Managers can no longer ignore these voices and still hope to reach the KPI´s stipulated “from above”.

Just to be clear, I do not preach permissiveness! In seminaries I often show a slide saying – Don´t make people feel good. Make them be good! I enforce that since the competition is harder than ever so do the expectations need to be. But the safest way to be competitive is through releasing the maximum potential of the employees’ by providing them conditions and helping them be good. And if we are successful in that, 95% of them will feel good as a result. The pressure on managers is not going to be harder, just different. Very different.

So what is the difference with conscious leadership and how will that be more successful? The difference is spelled trust. Trust in mankind, trust in our core purpose and trust in ourselves.

In 1960 Douglas Mc Gregor wrote “The Human Side of Enterprise” and suggested that the leadership was wrongly built on an assumption that people were naturally lazy, indifferent to responsibility and negative to change. He called it “Theory X”. As an alternative he presented Theory Y which proposed that all humans are self-motivated and will reach for their full potential if provided the conditions to do so. He emphasised that both theories were correct but that Y was the natural one and X appeared as a result of controlling leadership. He predicted that successful companies in the future would base their leadership on Theory Y. Yet, most companies I see are limiting their potential by unconsciously acting from Theory X. Douglas was a pioneer in conscious leadership pointing at the importance of trust in mankind.

In a famous TED-talk, Simon Sinek talks about “starting from Why”. A company´s Why is its core purpose and Simon emphasizes the advantages for any company that can align all activities and communication from their Why. “People won´t follow you for what you do, they will follow you for why you do it”, Simon says. In any communication the communicator faces the same judgement – to be believed or not to be believed. The difference lies in how trustworthy we are. If we´re trying to manipulate or if we are speaking from our Why. To gain followers and achieve loyalty a leader today has to believe in something and express her/his true core purpose in an authentic and trustworthy way.



Our ability to value and trust our self is often recognized as our self-esteem. There are however different views on what self-esteem is and how to define it. I’d like to mention two that I´ve come across. The first one defines a person who trust him/herself to manage a certain task, as having high self-esteem. The second one separates self-esteem from self-confidence. Self-confidence is here bound to achievement. High means feeling superior to others and low means feeling inferior. Self-esteem however means the ability to value oneself without reference to achievement, to have a deep sensation of being ok as you are. This definition also suggests that we are all born with high self-esteem. Depending on our upbringing and how we received appreciation and love, our self-esteem remains unbroken or is diminished. If it drops, our self-esteem is replaced by self-confidence – our personal value changes according to what we accomplish. It is natural to assume that many top leaders of today have high self-confidence and therefore are focused on controlling achievement. What the world needs today is leaders with unbroken self-esteem.


I have often speculated in what the world would look like if we had more enlightened leaders like the masters I´ve met on my own spiritual journey. Then I realise that the very thought seems naive – for two reasons. None of these masters would ever be interested in these kinds of assignments and the boards appointing these positions would never hire any of them. The opposition between the two views seems worlds apart. On one hand we have the people who are convinced that sustainable change can only come from within the individual – the inner circle. On the other hand, we have the people who are advocating that real change is always built from the outside, like political ideas, reforms and policies – the outer circle. Both circles detest the other. The inner circle claiming that the outer is superficial, materialistic, short term etc. The outer calling the inner unrealistic, confused, unaccountable etc. In my view there is no divergence. We are all members of both camps, we are all a part of both standpoints. Both circles are needed. The important thing is that we don´t get stuck in any of the circles, that we keep traveling between them. We need to make sure that we don´t identify ourselves with what we do in the outer circle but instead return back to our inner circle to ground ourselves. And to be of value to the world, we must dare to bring our personal insights to the outer circle and let it paint the walls of our daily life. Every time we make the journey it becomes easier, faster. It is because the circles get closer and closer to each other. And as the gap narrows, we become more and more authentic, trustworthy and conscious. Like Aragorn.

Klas Westman


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