We recently interviewed Lorna Davis, a fascinating conversation with a high-profile conscious leader who has recently hung up her corporate heels running huge corporations the world over for doing something entirely different – helping and coaching other leaders and conscious businesses to think about their own impact for the greater good, both in their lives and in the world.
Throughout her career, Lorna has lived and led businesses in 7 countries on 5 continents, serving on the Global board of Electrolux, heading up the merged Danone and Kraft business in Shanghai as their CEO, and being CEO and chairwoman of Danone North America. She piloted that $6bn entity into a Public Benefit Corporation that achieved B Corp status, making it the largest B Corp in the world. Currently, in addition to her leadership work, Lorna is a board member of Guyaki, Seventh Generation and Radicle Impact.
We spoke to Lorna about being on an evolutionary journey, what conscious leadership means to her, what it’s like to run a conscious company and the advice she has for conscious leaders.
I first met Lorna in 2016 when I interviewed her for my book at the time, Becoming a Conscious Leader: How to Lead Successfully in a World that’s Waking Up. I asked Lorna how things had changed for her since then.
“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be…”― Joan Didion
“When I look back at 2016, I barely recognise that person – which I think is true of all of us. We sometimes have a kind of a lag in who we think we are and yet we’re constantly changing and evolving. In 2015 and ‘16 and even ‘17, I still thought that muscling it wasn’t a bad strategy. I thought that my own personal determination could get a lot of stuff done. Yes, I was waking up to another way of being, but I thought it was kind of an add on. Now it doesn’t look like that to me at all. It looks like the illusion of progress is there when I’m muscling it, and we all do it at times.”
“But true progress through transformation is only ever in some sort of dance with universal wisdom, some kind of dance with something much bigger than our own personal selves.”
Though previously Lorna wore sharp suits in big roles with hefty titles, she had the realisation that all of that was not who she really is. Yet, even after giving that up, she still plays in the space of influencing as a conscious leader.
“An unintentional benefit of my past is that I get to sit at some tables that I wouldn’t otherwise get to sit at. I have conversations with people who know I understand their lived experience of running companies in a way that perhaps other people might not. These days I’m mostly a one-to-one coach and my craft is evolving as I explore how to help people bridge their worlds. We’re all doing the best we can and the people who are doing really big, complicated jobs in a system that doesn’t serve them, if they’re willing to talk to me, then there’s a lot of potential: the potential to raise their consciousness, and then to raise the consciousness of the organisations they work in. I think that’s really exciting.”
What does conscious leadership mean to you?
“When I think about this, I keep landing on the idea that people have that they’re alone. One of the biggest things I see with my clients is that they feel so alone because they’ve shrunk their sense of themselves to this little individual self. And when we know that we’re at our best when we’re connected to all that is, this notion of connectedness or collaboration, interdependence, call it what you will, is a sign of health in leadership. When I see people knowing that they’re much bigger than their individual selves, I know that they’re at ease and at their best and that great solutions are going to come to them.”
Sustainability is a big buzzword these days. Is it possible to run a conscious business in a money-driven system, particularly a publicly owned company?
“I don’t know. I think the jury is still out because what I’m noticing is really good words until backs are to the wall. In a way, I think it’s the wrong question to ask. What I notice is that when people are on this path, the question isn’t really whether it’s possible or not, the question is, what do I do now? How can I create now? People who are in this space are passionate and determined to find a way to be a conscious business. Once you’re in this game you start getting curious about how best to be who you are and how best to bring your particular talents to the planet.”
Lorna tells the story of Emmanuel Faber, her old boss, formerly the CEO of Danone and the Chairman of the Board of directors. He was subsequently appointed Chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).
“Emmanuel is now chairing the organisation that is bringing environmental measures to the reporting requirements of all big businesses. In his vision, when your kids are our age, you will not only have a global agreement on what profit and revenue and debt is, you will have a global agreement on what carbon and social justice and pollution is, and you will be forced to report on it. And he has taken that on – after doing some really interesting and bruising work at Danone. Now he’s come to the conclusion that he wants to solve the problem at the regulatory level. And that’s what people who are awake do.”
Who are some of the leaders who are conscious but still operating in a system that’s not very supportive, though they’re doing it brilliantly to the point that you’ve been inspired by how they do it?
“Well, of course, I think the old chestnut, which is an old chestnut for a good reason, is Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard has provoked a conversation about what capitalism is and how it can and should, that has been unparalleled. I think what he’s done with his company is a breathtaking breakthrough. Having said that, he’s deliberately kept it out of the mainstream system by keeping it private. That’s where things get a lot trickier.
Seventh Generation, which I’m on the advisory board of, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever and it’s a BCorp, as a minimum, but it’s a detergent company. They are doing a terrific job not only at trying to run a conscious, sustainable, and activist organisation, but they’re also trying to influence the much bigger system in Unilever. The structure of that is interesting because you’ve got the head of a global detergent business who’s on the advisory board as well.”
“This idea of big organisations having small organisations within them that are trying to push boundaries and influence the mothership, is a useful model. There are some really interesting leaders who are not highly visible but are working away inside their organisations trying to use their resources more responsibly. I don’t think we give enough credit to the people fighting inside big organisations for a better way. I’m interested in the ones who are emerging quietly, working away, trying to be their best selves in an organisation that really doesn’t serve them.”
What advice might you have to someone on the journey of conscious leadership?
“I would say welcome, and I would also say you’re already there. The fact that you’ve decided that this is what you want means you’re already there. I love the poet David Whyte. He talks about how our sense of ourselves is always well behind where we actually are. He has a wonderful poem called Just Beyond Yourself, which talks about how:
“The you that you would like to be is calling you, is already here. Your idea of who you are is out of date. So lean into this. Lean into the you that’s actually here, the one that’s as conscious and as awake and as alive as you dream of being.”
And there’s something about really knowing this that I think shifts everything. It’s just more helpful for you to be leading while you’re awake than when you’re asleep. It’s not a complicated thing. It’s actually who you are.
Lorna lives in New York City and the coast of Connecticut. She is passionate about wildlife conservation, particularly the plight of the rhinos, which she adores. You can visit Lorna at www.lornadavis.net