How to challenge inequality by being a conscious leader

Listening to employees with the intent to understand as well as acting on important values is key being an effective manager, says Michelle Moore

Conscious leadership is where an individual is committed to learning, deeply curious about themselves and others, and demonstrates high levels of relational connection to their colleagues or peers. Conscious leaders can access high levels of emotional intelligence and are innovative in their approaches to work, believing that learning and growing are more important than being right. 

If you can put these five key points into action, you’ll be on your way to becoming a conscious leader:

Know your values

Our values describe what is most important to us and what we stand for. Naming them helps to carve out a vision for the conscious leader in all of us. 

When we’re in situations where our values are not upheld either by others or an organisation, our values enable us to use our agency to step into our power to articulate our position. One of the most important aspects about values is to act them out, so if you say you’re committed to equity and social justice, you need to show this through action. 

Practise self-awareness

As the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described in his ‘shadow’ concept of the self, we are each made up of both lightness and darkness. The darkness describes those aspects of the personality that we choose to reject and repress. A conscious leader is prepared to do this self-awareness work, so they show up as authentic, grounded, and well-rounded individuals, accepting all the frailties of their own identity. 

Be accountable 

The leaders who are prepared to be part of meaningful action in tackling inequalities accept any part they play as an individual and/or part of an organisation in upholding and benefiting from the system of oppression. This enables them to develop their resilience to any associated shame so they can then consciously do something about it. 

Being this kind of conscious leader means that they are aware and personally responsible for the impact they and their teams have on the world. Whether that’s calling out homophobia and racial injustice or supporting a disability rights advocacy organisation, their stance on stamping out inequalities is plain to see from the way they confront and challenge the big and small incivilities of oppression. 

Conscious leaders must learn to understand their privilege, to leverage it and share it with those who have less. And importantly, they must hold themselves accountable first and foremost, before they do others. 

Have empathy 

Conscious leaders instil a sense of unity among any team they are a part of; where people feel as if they belong to something bigger than themselves, all signed up to the same vision. An important part of being a reflective leader is letting go of having to know it all and have all the answers, and instead, learning to trust in the team. 

A simple way to do this would be to spend a day shadowing a team member, or even undertaking some of their tasks, to fully understand what’s involved. This will create greater levels of relational connection and demonstrates that the leader is prepared to lead from outside their comfort zone, while giving up some of their perceived power. They are standing in someone else’s shoes, acknowledging, and able to empathise with, their truths. 

Be leader-ful

US acclaimed academic and activist Angela Davis argues that, when done right, leadership is a collective experience. Organisations should have multiple leaders, who become ‘leader-ful’ as opposed to leaderless. 

Nurturing and developing the talent of team members in small and big ways to become leader-ful is one of the bedrocks of seeing people in the fullness of their identities. Enabling team members to become leader-ful and filled up with new knowledge, skills and understanding creates valuable moments, experiences and opportunities for professional and personal growth. 

Fundamentally conscious leaders listen with the intent to understand and not just to respond, and they do it by being in tune with themselves and the world around them. The world needs more conscious leaders who are living out their bravest and most courageous lives vulnerably, and powerfully showing up for themselves and their communities. 

Michelle Moore is a leadership coach and speaker, and author of Real Wins