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Leadership + Business

Simple Practices to Become a Great Leader

by Teresa Shaffer

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.

Wilma Rudolph

In Teresa Shaffer's blogs Conscious Leadership, Why Do We Need it and Key Characteristics of Conscious Leaders she discussed what conscious leadership is; why we need a new leadership paradigm, and some key characteristics found in this kind of leader. Today, there is an urgent call to lead with a higher purpose, values, transparency and authenticity.

When you think about the idea of Conscious Leadership, you may even agree we need a different leadership paradigm. This is where you must pause, step back and look within. It starts with self awareness and a commitment to lead in a better way. Every intentional step that you take in becoming a more awake leader makes the journey that much more purpose-driven and fulfilling because you will be able to unlock the greatness in yourself and in those whom you serve. We’ll focus on practical ways you can begin developing everyday habits that will help you become a more conscious leader. None of these steps is esoteric or unachievable – there are endless ways for leaders to improve, inspire and engage employees.

The reflection points below take the words out of your mind and into the real world to practice so you can step more fully into your highest potential. I recommend beginning by picking just one area to focus on initially, the area you feel would have the greatest impact for you and your team.

1. Cultivate authenticity. Most of us don’t trust leaders who portray a perfect image. We want leaders to be real. Authenticity is having self-awareness, knowing who you are on the inside – your strengths, weaknesses, values, beliefs, leadership type – and bringing this into your conscious awareness.

It’s honest and brave self-examination, which takes courage but is well-worth the effort. By knowing who you are at your core, you can create an environment where others can trust you, can thrive and can do their best work.

How to cultivate authenticity:

  • Learn to be silent, to go within to recognize your inner wisdom, your purpose in life and then open yourself to its wise counsel.
  • Reflect on your leadership philosophy, values, beliefs, motives and style. What impact do all of these have on you, your team and your organization?
  • Think about what people consistently tell you that you need to work on. What is one new behavior you’re willing to practice to be a authentic leader? What benefits will this new behavior bring to you, your team and organization?


2. Develop conscious awareness. Awareness is fundamental to positive change, yet you must train yourself to be aware of it. When you do this, your mind becomes more focused and in tune with yourself and your environment – conscious awareness is being mindful, aware and present in the moment. It means being fully conscious of what’s going on, both within us and outside us, and how our behaviors affect others.

How to develop conscious awareness:

  • There are different ways to develop conscious awareness and mindfulness, including meditation, yoga and martial arts. All help us respond differently to life.
  • Take time to notice what it feels like to be aware. Stop for a moment to be aware of your awareness and observe. Don’t judge it, simply notice it.
  • Be aware of your current state of mind. Is it impatient? Curious? Creative? Calm? What about your energy levels or feelings? Spend just 10 minutes a day to reflect and journal on your awareness.


3. Grow and foster virtues. Virtues give meaning and purpose to our lives and include such things as service, love, courage, compassion, integrity, humility, generosity, accountability and transparency. Virtues develop our character. This takes time, so develop yourself in stages.

No one is perfect, yet the more we practice applying virtues in different situations, the stronger our character muscle becomes. We mature in our thinking, decisions, emotions and behaviors. Leading with virtues empowers organizations – and society – to operate with higher purpose. It also inspires others to be their best and delivers superior, sustainable results.

Examples of virtues in action:

Practicing Generosity as a leader means you listen with your heart to understand others, show your appreciation for unique talents, celebrate successes and develop others so they can become their best by providing tools, training, resources and coaching.

Practicing Humility as a leader means you give credit for others’ contributions, admit mistakes and change the course of action to make it right, ask for feedback and check in on your ego. It also means that you can speak of your failures and weaknesses to teach others.

Practicing Courage as a leader means you can say, “I don’t know,” ask for help, let go of the need to control situations, risk being vulnerable, have faith in people, provide tough but kind feedback to help another grow, give hope when confronted with great odds, voice unpopular opinions, and make tough decisions.

How to grow and foster virtues:

  • Consider what you can do to encourage the conversations within yourself and with others to strengthen the importance that virtues and character have in leadership.
  • What practices, personal inquiry and reflection can you implement to develop one or two virtues to become a better leader?
  • Think about who can support you in this development.


What would our work life look like if we practiced more generosity, humility, or courage? How would these practices increase employee engagement and commitment?

Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.
~ John Maxwell

Here are a few more approaches to consider.

4. Embrace purpose and vision.  Purpose is why you exist.  Great leaders communicate their why, the greater cause and what they stand for. The why must have a foothold in the hearts of people before you articulate what you want them to do.  Viktor Frankl was a neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Frankl’s theory is that man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in one’s life. Frankl says, “those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.”

Once leaders communicate purpose, vision is future-oriented and describes what the organization will leave the world by living its purpose. Purpose and vision builds trust and inspires employees to see they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. It shows people how they fit into this big picture, the difference this will make in the world, and why they should care. A great example of this comes from perhaps the most moving American speeches of the 20th century, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream.”  King’s speech inspired action in others then and to this day. His example of giving others something specific to strive for — something bigger than themselves — is a heart-felt example for a leader of any group to follow. By bringing purpose and vision to life, employees, customers, and stakeholders will feel empowered, energized, inspired, courageous, and resilient especially when times are tough.  They will step into their highest potential and produce extraordinary results and long term success.

Modern day leaders who are purpose driven are Oprah, CEO of OWN, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks,  Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, and John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market.

How to embrace your individual and organization’s purpose and vision:

  • What impact do you want to make as a leader? Why did you want to be a leader in the first place? What is the difference you are trying to make in the world?  What do you stand for?
  • Think about your organization’s purpose. What is the vision for the future?
  • What is your message to inspire your team to rally behind this purpose and vision?
  • Consider how your employees will act, think and feel when they contribute to this purpose and vision.
  • Reflect and journal a few minutes each day on these questions.


5. Practice Service. Create value for all stakeholders, employees and customers so the whole flourishes. Rise above self-interest and individual perspective and serve with a more global view.  By practicing service, you understand and appreciate each person’s role in perfecting this world and lead others accordingly. You also trust and believe that individuals are critical links in the chain and that their unique skills fulfill a higher purpose.

How to practice service:

  • Explore how you are building a culture of service in a way that contributes to the good of all.
  • What development programs are in the organization that will foster conscious leadership and service for the greater good? How can you engage others in this conversation?
  • What can you do to show employees, stakeholders and customers that you respect, appreciate and care about their goals and needs?


6. Increase Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is based on years of research by scientists. It is about being aware of and managing our emotions and working more effectively with others to improve relationships and performance. People benefit in many ways from having a high level of emotional intelligence.

How to increase your emotional intelligence:

  • Take a baseline EQ assessment. Choose one skill and one strategy, then track and practice them for at least three months.
  • Learn to recognize stress triggers and how to deal with them.
  • Practice open-mindedness and curiosity.
  • Hire a coach to help you to develop and grow your emotional intelligence.


7. Build Support: Take a holistic approach to development. Find peers, coaches and mentors to help you in your ongoing development as a person and a leader. 

How to build support:

  • Read or attend a lecture or get involved in a conscious leadership community or forum.
  • When there are qualities you admire in a leader of strong character and virtue, ask yourself how you can stretch and grow to develop those qualities.
  • Make a commitment and take action to continuously grow and develop as a leader.

As you work through these approaches, remember developing new behaviors and habits is a process that  requires commitment, patience and perseverance. Changes do not happen overnight. Yet as your leadership style gradually shifts towards conscious leadership, you will no doubt find enormous benefits from your efforts. Yesterday’s leadership can no longer support the shifting world dynamics that are taking place today. We need a radically different leadership approach– more leaders who lead from a place of service, values and higher purpose. People are hungry for this kind of leadership. Employees need to know they are valued, appreciated, respected, and make a difference. We can join hands and help each other to lead from a higher place,so individually and collectively, we can flourish and reach our human potential for the greater good of organizations and humanity as a whole.

Note: This post is part of a series exploring the idea of Conscious Leadership and how you can directly apply it to your business and career for meaningful results and purpose driven leadership. Read Conscious Leadership, Why Do We Need it and Key Characteristics of Conscious Leaders.



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