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Turning left: Success rests in connection, not perfection

Conscious leadership has been a buzzword for a while, but what does it really mean to the hybrid, quiet quitting, great resignation, burned out organisation of today, asks Greg Hatfield, Vice-President: Infrastructure Solutions at Dimension Data.

Johannesburg, 31 Aug 2023
Value is created by inclusion, diversity, sustainability and shared growth.
Value is created by inclusion, diversity, sustainability and shared growth.

There is, says The Economist, a backlash against the tyranny of high expectations within the workplace, a time to not be perfect at work. Why? Because burnout and stress are at record highs. A Future Forum survey reported that burnout was at the highest levels since May 2021, with 42% of respondents suffering from it. Why does this matter? Because burned out people are less satisfied in their roles, more likely to look for new roles and, even more concerning, will feel disconnected from the company, its values and leadership. Which is why, more than ever, conscious leadership needs to go beyond lip service to authenticity and inclusivity.

Today, conscious leadership can’t be wedded to ageing ideas that don’t meet the evolving demands of the modern workforce. It’s less about driving purpose through focused outcomes – the traditional approach – and more about creating a corporate culture that makes people want to be there and feel as if their roles have a purpose. Value within this context is created by inclusion, diversity, sustainability and shared growth – it is not just executive leadership that sees the gains made by the company.

The conscious leader, conscious culture and conscious company – these are old and tired, but with the right methodologies, they can also be fresh and new. These conscious approaches can be the reason why your organisation bypasses the $9 trillion cost to the global economy caused by quiet quitting, or the extensive cost to company that goes hand-in-resignation with the Big Quit. Instead, your organisation can leverage the potential of a self-aware and engaging culture to tap into the changing workforce dynamic now known as the Great Retention.

This also loops back into the concept of perfectionism, a hangover from the archaic models of working where people were put under immense pressure to perform and deliver. Where workplace alliances and career growth paths were determined by how perfectly employees performed. This is not an environment where innovation goes to thrive. Businesses don’t need to disrupt or die, or perform or pass out from stress. This is reflected time and again in research that points to how an environment that allows the space for growth, for teams to innovate and connect, will deliver extraordinary results.

If people are allowed space to be the best version of themselves within the workplace, then they have the space to be curious, and this is where innovation flourishes. The challenge is that leaders need to relinquish control in order to build teams that are independent – they need to trust that their teams can deliver the work without micro-management. There are boundaries, of course, but they are less a rigid road and more an agile framework that allows for people to share ideas and engage with one another.

This is a process of allowing for employees to feel trusted, safe and supported so they are inspired to share ideas and find the magic of free thinking. To achieve this, the true heart of conscious leadership, organisations must be willing to invest into:

1. The currency of curiosity

Curiosity and creativity spur innovation. To build these skills, conscious leaders must value questions over answers and create space for exploration. Curious employees can play inside the space but are encouraged to also look outside the space and begin to experiment, plan, try, fail, learn and try again. Creating an "open-floor plan" for curiosity is the breeding ground for novel ideas.

2. The currency of care

It is crucial to understand that the people in the space are just that – people – and there's a natural ebb and flow. There are days when they might struggle, and there are days when they may excel. Successful conscious leaders understand how to curate a space where employees can decompress and get their heads in the game.

3. The currency of connection

Innovation only happens when people feel connected. Connection must be strong and must be reciprocal. Inside the space, the only thing that matters is the team. Once the team is a connected unit, they can create connections with other teams in adjacent spaces. This is where lightbulb moments happen.

This is the real value of conscious leadership. It is an evolving practice that moves the business by investing into its people and their potential while setting the old ways of working and thinking adrift, consciously.