Dear Elected Leader,
First, thank you. Perhaps I, as part of “we the people,” don’t say that enough. I know you have a tough job. But I’m writing today to urge you to do something that may sound a bit unusual. I ask you to consider whether the decisions you are making every day, from the words you say to the deeds you do, are conscious or unconscious.
Of course, most of us would say we are conscious every moment we’re physically awake. But we are not. Conscious people are deeply connected to what teacher and author Eckhart Tolle calls “the Now.” They are awake to the confusion caused by busy minds and the dangerous hooks of ego and fear. They are also connected to others with a deep sense of empathy and an openness of heart, free of the need to acquire power over others. They have power, but it is what Adam Kahane, author of Power and Love, calls “a power to.” Whereas power over others disables a followers’ choices, “power to” enables and supports their contributions. Conscious leaders build power and influence to serve others and the broader community, not to serve themselves.
When problems erupt, a conscious leader feels called to action, led by a will to do what is right. They seek to serve the dignity of other humans, and act with honor, moral character, and compassion, no matter the cost to their egos. The outcomes are not always perfect. The costs are sometimes high. But a conscious leader strives to feed the best part of humanity; our finest instincts and our truest, most enlightened selves. A conscious leader nourishes the beautiful humanity in herself or himself and in the people she or he leads, simply by refusing to succumb to fear.
In contrast, unconscious people have no choice but to burrow deeper into fear. Tolle says in The Power of Now, “You can use a challenge to awaken you, or you can allow it to pull you into even deeper sleep (p. 82).” He notes when we are unconscious and faced with difficult people or situations where power, position, or prestige are threatened, we react from fear. Fear, though a useful tool, is a poor guiding principle for decision-making in most situations. Fear results in unconscious leaders choosing self-preservation over service to others.
Unfortunately, these leaders have convinced themselves that serving their own interests by staying in power does serve the people. Their calculations on whether to compromise their integrity might include thoughts like, “My hands are tied. Anyone in my position would do the same. I have to stay in office so I can fight another day. I am doing the best I can.”
Though understandable, these calculations are a betrayal. When we betray ourselves, we go “in the box,” according to The Arbinger Institute’s book, Leadership and Self-Deception. This box is an echo chamber of fear. It becomes normal, almost comforting. In that box we feed our fear and stoke the fear of others because, in our betrayal, we are ashamed. We failed to stay conscious, we compromised our character. These are painful realizations. But there is hope.
Obviously, driving further down the wrong road does not bring us closer to our destination. Painful as it may be, the only answer is to turn around. Conscious leaders are not smarter than the rest of us. They make mistakes and are afraid sometimes too. The difference is they interrogate their own fear, understand it, and move beyond it. So, I ask you to consider: Are you a conscious or an unconscious leader? We are counting on you to be the former. Whenever you find that you are not, I invite you to allow yourself to turn around.
Originally published at https://goodmenproject.com on December 6, 2020.