Leadership with a conscience: are we there yet? With 70 million people disengaged at work, it seems our heart and soul are someplace else. What about our conscience – that inner voice which guides our sense of right and wrong and our behavior?
For too many of us, our conscience has no place at work these days. In fact, one could say that our conscience is a hindrance. Why?
- Because our single-minded focus on short-term, narrow profit motivations does not feed our fundamental human need for meaning. In many cases, we have to shut out the inner voice questioning how we are spending our time or even worrying about the long-term effects of our products for people and the planet (addictions? poisons?).
- Because fierce competition is required for success, i.e., beating the other guy. Despite a lot of talk about collaboration, most evaluations are based less on growth and more on judgment and ranking. There are winners and losers.
- Because we aren’t always thoughtful about how we spend each other’s time. Emails. Meetings. Interruptions. We work long days and weeks and rarely unplug, even though we acknowledge wasting time. The opportunity cost of that time often has a human face.
- Because we believe that technology will save us. We buy our conscience off with that belief, continuing to profit from products and services which harm the planet and/or our health, holding out hope that scientists will give us the right pill or machine to make it all better in the end.
And here is the kicker…..our conscience has no place because we are urged to lean into work and out of caring.
The height of cognitive dissonance – or perhaps the depths – occurs for many people when having children collides with the leadership ladder. At the very point where they have the opportunity to make the shift from self-oriented, growing, learning 20/30 year olds, into people who might inspire others someday, we force one of the most profound and painful denials of our conscience. We tell “leaders” to lean in to the current systems and out of the down and dirty caring children really want from the people who brought them into the world.
To drown out the voice inside that tells us that something doesn’t feel quite right, we tell ourselves more stories. Some of these are scientific studies. “Quantity matters at work, but quality is what really matters at home.” Science is as human as any of our endeavors, subject to biased motivations and imperfect lines of inquiry, data, and logic – that is becoming clear.
Later on we are encouraged to build children’s schedules around ours, even as we lament overscheduling, sending sick kids to school, and resorting to drugs for behavioral issues. It’s not just the kids. Whole industries have grown up around outsourced caring for our parents and our neighbors too. We simply don’t have time to care. Time famine, as it is now called, is especially acute at the highest and lowest ends of the economic spectrum.
This is not just a problem for working parents. It is a systemic issue of “leadership” as we commonly think about it. Pope Francis recently spoke poignantly about his own struggle to retain humility and caring as he rose to head all of the Jesuits in Argentina and Uruguay at age 36. He admits that his leadership style was divisive and autocratic. So, what did he do? He identified his egotistical weaknesses and developed habits to counteract them, e.g., ending encounters by asking others to pray for him, spending much more time with the poor, taking public transportation, and cooking his own meals. In this process of caring, the Pope reconnected with his conscience.
What can the rest of us mortals do to honor ours? Lean into caring however and wherever you can, and help change systems so everyone else can too. Don’t stuff the voice inside. Listen to it. Quiet the world in the ways that work best for you (e.g., yoga, meditation, a walk in the forest, cooking soup) so you can hear it.
And it is very important that you do, because we will not have Conscious Capitalism until we have Leadership with a Conscience.
Thanks to Eva Basilion for her contributions to this post.