Learning from Wells Fargo - Leading with Integrity through Sensory Intelligence


The CEO of Wells Fargo, before the US Senate Banking Committee on September 20th, 2016, was repeatedly requested by Senator Elizabeth Warren to accept some degree of accountability for the opening of unauthorized accounts to meet sales targets. Under scrutiny was his responsibility for making decisions leading to consumer harm and personal gain of an alleged $200 million via boosting share price. With consistent capacity to rationalize a compromising reality, CEO John Stumpf handed off responsibility to the Board and due process. He left the impression that he was not knowledgeable of the impact of incentives when called forward to explain what went wrong. Words, action and consequence collided to reveal a lower level of leadership consciousness and unwillingness to see or accept responsibility for actions. In short, he seemed completely disconnected from the consequences and unable to detect the inter-relationships of decision to action or result at even a causal level much less a systems level where a wider view resides.

The case effectively demonstrates where traditional tolerance for saying one thing and doing another, where establishing metrics that produce unethical behavior benefiting the few, hits the proverbial wall. In a climate of ambiguity and complexity, Wells Fargo, in its current state of consciousness is heading for extinction. For company executives who stick to the idea that accountability and leadership are words in the annual report, it beckons advancement of leadership integrity and trust in order to attain even the lower level goal of brand reputation. Advancing reputation starts with restoring capacity to sense the workplace and systemic effects. Hewlett Packard co-founder, Dave Packard, was once asked how he knew when the HP Way principles were working to create workplace well-being and performance. He responded: 'I don't know, but I can sense when it isn't.'

In the rush to maximize shareholder value and the executive compensation often tied to increasing share price, company executives are complacently rolling around in a lower level of self-serving decision-making leaving their company exposed and vulnerable to external conditions. To bring decision making to the level where the company can benefit society demands courage and leadership in action.

Bringing the Body's Technology On-Line

There are three areas where your body awareness and technology gives you a serious leadership edge particularly in uncertain, ambiguous moments.

  1. Sensing as a way of seeing the effects of systemic incentives, for instance, on driving behavior. Detects the unseen intangible operating system that drives performance and decision-making. Provides the data for insights, sense making and decision-making all of which combine to support innovation.
  2. Using your intuition over your mental faculties to detect the social and emotional well-being in the workplace. This directly informs the timing of decisions and how change is implemented; when to persist and when to let go.
  3. Data processing for high-speed decision-making happens in less time than it takes to blink. Knowing how to access it allows you to better navigate the moment, pivot or reflect. Decision Making for Dummies, Chapter 4, talks about the speed your body processes data. While your conscious mind (the one you pay attention to) is operating at 100-150 mph your subconscious is taking in environmental and emotional/social data at a speed of 100,000 mph. All the information absorbed is used by your intuition but not necessarily available to your conscious awareness unless you learn how to listen to more than what you are thinking.

Becoming more attuned to how your body is interacting with your environment gives you much greater clarity to:

  • Increase conscious perception, which gives you ability to make more accurate sense of your environment both on the surface and what is operating underneath.
  • Perceive reality using an adjustable lens so that a narrow view doesn't trap you. That way you won't miss the risk cruising in your blind spot just like your car's side-mirror.
  • Capacity to detect the well-being of employees, trust in the workplace and the relationships with customers that, for most large bureaucracies, are well out of range.
  • Awareness of when fear or complacency is driving your decisions instead of foresight, vision or higher purpose.
  • Ability to function in complexity with greater clarity by knowing what to pay attention to out of an overwhelming amount of data.
  • Access to your intrinsic sense of power rather than being torqued and manipulated by pressures in your environment that bring out either the worst or the best in you.

The case of Wells Fargo is typical of large companies stuck in past patterns. Years ago, when I attended a networking function in Los Angeles a young new hire for Wells Fargo told me, after three months, she'd attained top sales position in her region and she was looking for another job. Why? Because it was clear that Wells Fargo fired anyone who had a bad month. She was looking for a company that cared enough to stand by her when it was her turn to have a bad month. While Wells Fargo isn't changing its mindset, values of employees are. Millennials are astute enough to see what executives cannot. The systemic effect of rewards, the culture, and its impact on employee behavior and customer benefit has a direct impact on employee and customer retention and loyalty.

Companies that care, have access to their intuitive sensibilities, also have a competitive advantage. What sets them apart from traditional companies will be their capacity to use more of the resident technology in each leader and decision-maker at every level to work with what is emerging. Change agility naturally results.

Dawna Jones is a speaker, author and consciousness coach for decision makers and global thinkers-local leaders. She'll be presenting and doing a workshop at Agile People Sweden on Stockholm October 25, 26, 2016. Follow her on Twitter at @EPDawna.