What Is Stopping the C-Suite From Leading Consciously?

What is stopping the C-suite from championing conscious leadership tenets, like vulnerability…and how do we get them to start?

The title of CEO used to conjure up images of stoic, no-nonsense, confident, decisive leadership. These qualities were, in fact, sought after in C-level leadership. Some may feel that these qualities are still the most desirable. However, as employers adapt to attract younger generations who find much different qualities attractive, the leadership at the very top, where change most effectively starts, are proving to the be the last to evolve.

But why?

The message is being sent loud and clear by the workforce. The fallout of not changing is costing businesses all over the P&L report, in critical performance metrics and KPIs, as well as other areas where it’s not as evident or widely measured.

So why is it that leaders who appear to have the most power and influence are failing to lead more consciously?

Change is hard. It’s confronting. It requires admitting that some of the skill sets executives spent years developing are now becoming obsolete. While it seems obvious from an objective perspective, our natural human inclinations are to survive and preserve our place by portraying confidence.

Confidence has taken on a negative connotation for me. As a coach, I know that most highly successful conscious leaders actually have self-doubts and limiting beliefs that they need help recognizing and overcoming. The key with this, as with so many other things, is balance.

Balance is hard. It takes a fair amount of trial and error and a continual feedback loop. Balance can fluctuate – it’s frequently not sustained by developing a formula. It can’t be automated, although there are habits that leaders can develop to improve their consistency with finding balance, even amidst volatile, chaotic times.

Fear is human, and has been heightened over the past couple years. The number of threats seems to have risen exponentially. Leadership in general has been challenged like few in this era have ever seen. Threats are not only coming from multiple directions, but we know better than ever how they can come from unpredictable places. And yet, there are threats we know we are not fully prepared for that you would think we would be by now, such as nuclear threats and threats to our power grid.

The divisiveness of today’s social and political climate is proving that we, as a society, have become less effective at civil discourse. Not only are there more opportunities for conflict, but the way conflict is handled is increasingly violent. The threat of violence for speaking one’s mind is more than enough to discourage anyone from vocalizing strong support for anything that could rock the boat or go against the grain. Of course, it’s a very small minority of people who would resort to such measures to silence opposition. Certainly, there are more people who would like to see changes that benefit more people, but if they stay silent, this empowers those who stand to benefit from things staying the same to intimidate those willing to speak up. No one wants to be the next one cancelled, labeled, and vilified unjustly, which happens with tremendous speed and volume with social media at our fingertips.

A few other reasons that are preventing more leaders from leading consciously include:

Bias toward authority

Kids who are taught never to challenge authority become adults who don’t even think to question the judgment of leaders above them. Then, when they grow into leaders of greater authority, they resent being challenged.

Lack of faith in the ability of self, others, organizations, and systems to change.

I am always astonished at leaders who claim people don’t change. Coaches know people can and do change! All of the above change. Not everyone or everything will change, but to say that nothing and no one ever changes is to deny reality.

What there is to lose

As many leader evolve in their careers, they often define how they believe they will be at the helm, and underestimate the pressures. You may think along the way, when I’m in charge, it will be different. Then, you get in charge by playing along with the status quo and you realize that you’ve gotten yourself to a point where you now have everything to lose. To stand up to the board or investors for change, especially change that impacts them, means potentially having to make lifestyle sacrifices and losing influence. It can be very easy to justify maintaining your position of authority, where you tell yourself you can still, at least, make a difference. “Better me than someone else.” “Why should my family, generational wealth, or legacy suffer?” Cognitive dissonance leads our minds to manufacture all kinds of justifications to stay silent.

Standing up to people who abuse power is not for the faint of heart. The Dropout, a Hulu original, tells the story of the rise and fall of Theranos and its former CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. Whistleblower, Erika Cheung, took a stand and reported lab testing problems at the company to federal agents. It was a professional risk, maybe even a physical risk, considering the level of harassment, but it was also going to potentially compromise her professional integrity as a chemist if she stayed silent. Cheung would have also faced harsh consequences if the situation was uncovered and she didn’t report it.

In Theranos’ case, what brought them down was a complaint from an individual contributor that triggered an investigation and a lot of red tape.

That’s one way to do it, but one person speaking out to take down a large organization with many resources and a lot of influence puts the burden and the risk on one person’s shoulders. In the case of Theranos, only a few other employees ended up joining Erika to validate her story.

It isn’t fair for the rest of us to sit back and let a few people shoulder the burden of making the world a more conscious place, but I also understand the hesitancy to join what appears to be the fray. However, if those supporting conscious change join forces and voices now, it will be much clearer who the fray really is. The silent majority (everyone thinks they are this) must become the vocal majority, even if the powerful minority tries suppressing them.

The C3 community’s purpose is to gather these voices. It’s to share the burden of creating a better world. It’s to draw courage from one another. It’s to feel like part of a collective of people. It’s to prove that there really are more of us who stand to benefit from conscious change than from the status quo, and we won’t accept it anymore. Power to the people.

If you are someone who is bold enough to not only champion conscious change but co-create a more conscious corporate landscape, the C3 community is where you belong. If you know other conscious leaders (or conscious leaders in the making), download the below QR code to your image library, Dropbox, or Google Drive account so that the next time you have a conversation with someone about how badly change is needed, you can transition right from words into action. Tell them about C3 and our mission. Tell them this is their chance to make a real, much needed difference.

Karen Huller, CEO of Epic Careering, is the co-founder of The Consciousness Conference (ConCon) and the C3: Corporate Consciousness Co-op community on LinkedIn. She 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 conscious career and leadership development firm specializing in executive branding, talent-values alignment, and conscious culture, in 2006. 

While the bulk of Mrs. Huller’s 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. 

Mrs. Huller 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. As an instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, she has helped two of her students win the 2018 National Competition to be named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, to win the 2019 People’s Choice Award, and to land in the top 8 during the (virtual) 2020 National Competition.

She serves on the board for the Upper Merion Community Center, which she helped establish, and is an advisor to Florida International University for their Women in Leadership program. For her service as Vice President of the Gulph Elementary PTC, she received recognition as a Public Education Partner and Promoter from the Upper Merion Area Education Association. Mrs. Huller has also been the lead singer for Harpers Ferry, a rock cover band, for 20 years. She lives in King of Prussia, PA with her husband, two daughters, and many pets, furry, feathered, and scaly.

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