Conscious Leadership Isn’t Perfect Leadership

Conscious Leadership isn’t perfect leadership. With all the backlash surrounding cancel culture, how to hold leaders accountable is becoming more confusing. Can we hold leaders accountable without “canceling them?”

A deeper look into this is coming; I have been pitching an article to major publications on this very topic. In the meantime, let’s ask a different question:

What if leaders held themselves accountable?

We can’t expect leaders, who are still human, will lead without fault, without mistake, and without unintentional harm, no matter how conscious they are. Consider consciousness in this context to mean self-aware and intentional about acting and deciding in the best interests of people and the planet.

So, when they make a mistake, what would it look like if they held themselves accountable?

I’d like to present Exhibit A.

Joel Fishbein, recently-resigned School Board President of Cheltenham School District.

This mistake: minimizing Frederick Douglass’s slavery and slavery in general in a graduation speech intended to inspire students to take risks and create change.

What he did: Listened and acted with compassion…the next day.

Over half of the district’s student population are Black, and feedback from this community, as well as community organizations, was immediate.

Here’s what he didn’t do: Excuse or defend his error.

Our brain does this thing where it tries to protect our ego. It’s pretty instantaneous and automatic, and we may outwardly react in this mindset – unless, we are self-aware enough to recognize this reflex and conscious enough to stifle it.  Mr. Fishbein’s brain likely did the same thing, and I’m uncertain how he initially reacted to this feedback. However, he clearly didn’t react outwardly in this mindset. Fairly quickly, based on his next-day press response, he put his ego aside and went into his higher-self mind. He made a decision to do what was in the best interest of the community he served.

Here is what else he did:
  • Owned his mistakes and the harm they inflicted. You can tell that he really put himself in their shoes, recognizing that this was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their life – a celebration of all they accomplished. All that was overshadowed by cultural insensitivity, and he validated the voices of those he represents and acknowledging his understanding gap.
  • He voluntarily relinquishing his leadership position as board President to the Vice President (in the interim) while keeping his commitment to the school district, recognizing that in this crucial time in our country and our community’s history, minority populations absolutely need culturally competent leadership.
  • As a school board candidate in my neighborhood, Tiffany Cherry, pointed out, he also “immediately instituted a policy to mitigate the chance of something similar reoccurring (addressing what is now foreseeable).”  The speech was not read by anyone prior to him reading it at the graduation ceremony. From now on, the school board will read and approve public addresses from members of the board.

Of course, there were those who assumed that Mr. Fishbein was coerced into resignation, and decried him a victim of cancel culture. His wife joined his efforts in making sure the public, particularly those commenting on social media, was clear – this was a decision he made independent of any public pressure, because it was the right thing to do.

While I agree that this mistake does indicate that he is not the culturally competent leader that the people, particularly African Americans, in his community need at this pivotal time, he demonstrated that he is capable of growing and learning into a better, more conscious leader, and we absolutely need more leaders to demonstrate this potential, even if they are not quite at the point of cultural competence.

Conscious leaders may still make mistakes, but we can all make efforts right now to identify and fill our understanding gaps, which starts by admitting we have them. C3 is a community where you can safely admit your understanding gaps, and receive help filling them. Everyone in this group is committed to co-creating a more conscious corporate landscape.

As I said last week, when we know better, we do better, which is a modified quote from Maya Angelou. If you’re looking for a place you can seek to know better, join C3 now, just in time for our monthly event on July 1st, which is actually a year in review. Reflect with some of our past panelists on the most amazing, crazy, chaotic, volatile, and treacherous, but also catalyzing year I have ever experienced in my lifetime.


Karen Huller is the creator of the Corporate Consciousness Ripple Blueprint and author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days. She founded Epic Careering, a leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, in 2006. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. Her solutions incorporate breakthroughs in neuroscience, human performance optimization, bioenergetics, and psychology to help leaders accelerate rapport, expand influence, and elevate engagement and productivity while also looking out for the sustainability of the business and the planet.

Mrs. Huller was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She was an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. She is an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) where some of her students won the 2018 national YEA competition, were named Ernst & Young’s America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

She is board secretary for the Upper Merion Community Center and just finished serving as Vice President of the Gulph Elementary PTC, for which she received recognition as a Public Education Partner and Promoter from the Upper Merion Area Education Association. She lives in King of Prussia with her husband, two daughters, and many pets, furry, feathered, and scaly.

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