Is conscious leadership the only solution?

This article and audio was first published on Oxymoron, a newsletter by Tom Greenwood for people exploring the complex and confusing world of “Sustainable Business”. 

“Wake up. Wake up, Martin. You’ve been asleep. You’ve been fast asleep.”

That’s sometimes how I feel about my first 30 years of life, perhaps even my first 40. I was driven, goal-oriented, ambitious, self-focused, achieving lots, running fast.

I was working in a fast-growing US tech company in sales management, paid well, big car, continuous promotions, nice house, nice life – doing what ‘most people’ do, I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a bad person. But now I see that really I was sleep-walking through life.

I was operating from a low-ish level of consciousness, living out my childhood conditioning, caught in society’s programmed way of life, not really stopping to question why.

And the impact of that way of life was manyfold: I wasn’t living with balance; I wasn’t nourished by my work; I was tired; I wasn’t really making a difference to others; and I wasn’t aware of my environmental impact.

Mid-life crises

It’s great that this waking up started happening to me at 27 (I’m now 53!). It felt like it was a mini mid-life crisis.

It helped me see that making a difference to others would be more fulfilling as a career, so I became an Executive Coach. I could see that I needed to move out of the toxic culture that I worked in. I could see the value of being more purpose-led than money-driven. I also realised that living a healthier life was important to me.

A mid-life crisis is synonymous with questioning why. It’s the time when many start to question more deeply, to develop more awareness. We ask ourselves questions about the purpose of our lives, about finding greater fulfilment.

So, my own crisis was the beginning of my journey towards living a more conscious life and it catalysed my exploration into both consciousness and leadership in the world.

So, what is Conscious Leadership?

These two words haven’t historically have been used together. So, let’s first separate them to explore further.


When I’m conscious, I am aware.

I can be aware of many things… such as:

  • Aware of how I’m feeling
  • Aware if I’m gripped by or acting from my ego
  • Aware what my intuition is telling me
  • Aware of how I’m coming across to others
  • Aware of the impact of my actions
  • Aware of how others are feeling

Awareness, in any moment, is so important.

Without being aware, we live on autopilot, we’re habitual, doing what we’ve often always done largely because of the thinking we unconsciously developed in early life.

With being aware, we can begin to make different choices.

And being conscious doesn’t necessarily mean my choices are better or right. They’re just more conscious; that means I have more awareness and hence more consideration, and I often then follow my intuition.

And what I also notice is that the more conscious I become, the more higher-level values start to show up in my behaviour. I act more from calmness, kindness, love, responsibility, and holistic thinking.


Now let’s address the leadership part. Here I am talking about my choices, behaviours, and actions in every aspect of my life and in every moment of my life.

It’s about how I am leading – as a parent, as a partner, as a friend, as a son, as a consumer, as part of my local community, as a work colleague, as a boss, as a citizen.

It’s both about the long-term choices I make such as changing my job or developing a new strategy at work. And equally important, it’s about moment-by-moment choices.

In the moment, I:

  • Find time to call my mother even when I’m busy
  • Chat to my colleague who I could see was unhappy in that last meeting
  • Get curious and deeply listen to my direct report even when they have a very different opinion to me
  • Let go of the unhelpful narrative I’m carrying about my confidence
  • Catch myself & stop being judgmental of my partner.

So just to be clear, I’m not using the term leadership in its traditional sense. I’m suggesting that you and I lead in every aspect of our lives. We lead consciously when we are thinking and thinking for ourselves. We don’t lead consciously when we mindlessly follow someone else or some government policy or the culture.

Why is Conscious Leadership so necessary?

The answer to this question might be obvious to you.

Look at the crises in the world… the conflict, the climate issues, the approach to the pandemic, the state of mental health, the lack of trust in our governments and organisations, the increasing division in society… it’s all caused by leadership that is not conscious.

Conscious leadership would enable a different future.

Conscious leadership makes decisions for the good of all stakeholders. Conscious leadership is kinder, more responsible, more cooperative, more holistic. It is longer-term in its thinking. It balances wellbeing and growth.

Conscious leadership also leads more from the heart, follows intuition, and takes more bold action.

It’s the only solution

I am suggesting that Conscious Leadership is the only fundamental solution that will help our world and save our species.

Our society in its current form with all its current ways of operating, all its laws and rules, its culture, all its good parts and all its problems are simply the manifestation of our collective consciousness.

Solving the world’s problems from the existing level of consciousness doesn’t work. If we’re operating from greed, self-interest, self-protection, then we’re coming from the wrong place. We can see this playing out currently. It doesn’t work. It breeds discontent, division, and distrust.

As Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

Our collective consciousness, our collective way of thinking is the root of everything. If we are going to manifest a different better world, then we need to fundamentally shift collective consciousness.

This may seem like a big challenge, but we can be a little bit encouraged because we can see that collective consciousness does change over time. Notice, for example, the change in our collective thinking over recent decades about health, diet, equality, diversity, and sustainability.

Now we just need to catalyse a faster and larger shift in consciousness.

And the place I’m suggesting we have to start is our own personal level of consciousness. The rest will follow.

And it starts with you and me

“Wake up. Wake up, Martin. You’re still dozing.”

I’m not always aware. And I’m not always leading consciously. So, in some ways, I can see that I’m always prone to ‘dozing’.

That means that waking up is a continuous journey not a destination. Waking up is like peeling back the layers of an onion, an endless onion.

Self-enquiry is the key. It’s about personal and spiritual development. It’s about learning about the mind so that we’re less gripped by the unhelpful stories, the ego, the limiting beliefs, the conditioning from early years, and then more deeply realising the connectedness of everything. In its deepest form, this is enlightenment or awakening.

This journey enables me to experience shifts constantly & fundamentally in how I see the world and my world. It enables me to live with more peace and more clarity, which enables me to make better choices. And if we’re each doing that, we have a chance to make transformational change in this world.

So, let’s stop blaming the government & large organisations. Let’s stop blaming. Blame and othering is part of the problem.

The only thing that we can each do is be on a continual inner journey – striving to operate more from love, kindness, and responsibility every day in all situations everywhere; making choices aligned with our values; being a stand in the world for what we are passionate about.

My own shifting

It might be good at this point to get a little personal and practical sharing my own ‘conscious’ journey of the last two decades. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has led me to make many changes inside and out. Outer manifestations include:

  • Losing weight & changing my diet
  • Discovering & living aligned with my deepest purpose
  • Moving out of my marriage
  • Living more simply, consuming less
  • Spending more time in nature
  • Getting involved in environmental activism

And my ‘conscious’ journey of course continues. The questions that I am currently contemplating are:

Where do I want to live when my son leaves home? For sure, I’m heading somewhere for more connection to nature and community.

What stand do I want to take with the current crises in our country? Do I protest? Do I glue myself to a bridge?

How do I further shift my relationship to money and security?

How do I make a big difference in the world without egoic thinking that I need to or can ‘save’ the world?

How do I be more loving & considerate as a partner, friend, Dad, son, and brother?

What about you?

What does Conscious Leadership really mean for you in your life?

What level of consciousness are you operating from? Remember that’s a question that can be asked in every moment in every situation. Where are you still dozing?

Thank you so much for reading. I hope I’ve inspired you to believe that 

Conscious Leadership is a very important solution, if not the only solution. And that it starts with you and me

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