Seizing the Executive Imperative To Expand Consciousness


Are company decision makers setting executives up to fail?
Or is something else going on?

Fifty to seventy-five percent of newly hired executives fail in the first eighteen months. Apart from predicable reasons such as inadequate formal development, absence of coaching during the adjustment combined with insufficient understanding of the role, executives, experienced or not, are no longer standing on anything resembling familiar territory. The entire context is changing fast. So fast that you cannot assume anything from the past, apart from your ingenuity, applies. Increasing complexity makes mockery of past practices or best practices particularly when dealing with surprises such as tech innovations obliterating business models over night. It's the fork in the road separating old paradigm leadership consciousness with the choice to dive deeper into expanding consciousness and leadership built for complexity.

An Overview of the Consciousness Levels - Leadership Mindset

Richard Barrett defines consciousness as 'awareness with a purpose'. From my personal experience awareness is the driver of decisions and all actions, whether you are aware of it or not. When you are not aware, it is hard to achieve personal and professional fulfillment. Instead, you wind up doing the same things over and over again until a new and scary experience interrupts all assumptions about how the world works. Marital meltdowns or loss of financial security are two of the many ways offering an chance to rethink and refresh perception of your world.

Bill Torbert's model, ably described by MetaIntegral Associates, complements earlier work done by Richard Barrett mapping consciousness developmentally (and fairly predictable organizationally). Vlatka Hlupic's recent research on leaders mindset builds on a similar foundation, not surprisingly since being human is the common thread. The conclusions in Torbert's work point to U.S. adults and refer to what people actually to when confronted with issues of power and timing, which are equally relevant in personal and professional working relationships.

Roughly speaking the levels break down into what decisions are focused on. (See HBR for the full article or MetaIntegral.)

  • Levels 1-3: Focuses on meeting immediate needs, protection, conflict, anxiety, not coachable. Seeking socially accepted approval, black and white (we-they) thinking, status conscious, feedback is perceived viewed as lack of approval. Focused on procedure and efficiency. Relies on rules, reason and logic preferring a technical expert view for feedback. Wants to choose the 'right' approach. 55% of U.S. adults fall into Levels 1-3.

  • Level 4: Focuses on successful delivery of expectations within the context of the existing system. Causal thinker, looking for relationships. Willingness to learn. 30% of U.S. adults fit Level 4.
  • Level 5-7: Focuses on contextual connections, seeing more deeply into the inter-relationships and personal role. Naturally collaborative, comfortable with diversity and open to learning. Generating organizational and personal transformation. Works with conflict as a constructive force. Growth oriented. Focuses on the interaction of awareness, thought, impacts, attuned to meaning, understands the interaction between the formal and informal system. 15% of U.S. adults fit into Levels 5-7.
  • Level 8: Focuses on vision, going with the flow of experience, unifying perspective, can shift and hold multiple perspectives fluently. Respects each person's unique essence. .05% of U.S. adults fit into Level 8
  • [Summarized from The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism by Barrett C. Brown]

    The dissonance is clear.

    Increasing complexity, innovation and exponential growth demands Levels 5-8 leadership consciousness, which, in turn, powers decision-making, creativity and innovation. Leadership consciousness hasn't yet made the leap. Workplaces still reflect traditional levels of leadership consciousness resting in levels 1-4. Stress and failure is a logical consequence.

    Moving Up Levels

    Moving from one level to the next is neither logical nor sequential and a much longer process than can be practically addressed here but the catalyst is the same. Start with a yearning for growth, personal fulfillment, guided by a massive purpose that benefits the world, serves, and makes a difference will ultimately lead you to contributing to peaceful coexistence with the living world and humanity as a whole. It is a personal and a collective collaboration that permeates workplaces, working relationships and seeps into personal relationships bringing a person into a state of unified 'wholeness' at peak moments. You feel invincible and intrinsically powerful no matter what you face.

    The journey, based on my experience, incorporates somatic awareness, emotional self-regulation, clarity of focus and a passion for learning using the worst situations to become a better human. Confronting your own illusions is as critical a part of the process as trusting in compassion for your self and others. More than a two-three day workshop, expanding consciousness uses unfamiliar situations, such as being propelled into an executive position drenched with uncertainty to leverage learning and expansion to reawaken deeper wisdom and innate intelligence described in books but found in you.

    Tips for Using Unfamiliar Territory for Expansion and Growth

    Bring Your Ingenuity-Let Go of Habits:
    Executives, or anyone else for that matter, entering new territory are easily tempted to reach into their trusted toolbox and use what worked before. For instance, when moving from operational to executive positions, the context for decisions changes radically from fairly predictable to completely volatile. The move demands awareness that your context has changed and so must you. From relying on the concrete to accessing your intuitive intelligence allows for working more effectively with data and the unknown.
    • Develop contextual awareness to adapt your decision making to the context.
    Become Aware of Focus-Use Vulnerability:
    Selectively focused on keeping the company afloat exposes a blind side to quietly simmering, or rapid-fire disruption, leaving the company and executives vulnerable to epic failure. Oddly it is vulnerability that serves as the greatest ally. In the state of vulnerability you are receptive to creative ideas, different approaches that beg standing back, and reexamining the situation before taking action. However, under the ninety-day pressure to produce results, most are too absorbed in keeping the company above water to notice. The pressure alone, and failure to recognize it and address it directly, further increases risk of failure.
    • Decisions and attention follow focus. Observe moment-to-moment what pressures push you to respond, then reclaim control over what is steering your attention. Step back, take a walk until you can see more clearly what is going on.

    Learn how to pattern-spot - Watch for abnormalities: Conventional expectations, tangled up with entrenched systemic habits, trigger default responses. Reacting usurps collective intelligence, which is far more accurate. Without engaging all in the company in creative solutions, you create disengagement and lose or repress talent.

    The patterns you witness are systemic holding patterns that will sabotage your efforts to do things differently. Spotting patterns and recognizing them as a reflection of the deeply held belief system, puts control back in your hands for making the cultural systemic adjustments needed to ensure your company has a hope of becoming agile enough to meet today's challenges.

    With fluency in pattern spotting, the abnormalities are in plain view. Those abnormalities are the window for innovation, for releasing stuck patterns in thinking or decision making, for mitigating or (better still) using risk to your advantage.

    Trust in Yourself

    Your mission of leadership consciousness expansion, should you choose to accept it, will take you into all domains of your humanity. Trust that when you are faced with a mountain bigger than you've ever climbed before some part of you will step forward to guide or give you strength.
    You'll encounter and dismantle your identity so that humility can replace the ego's role in protecting your personality. And you'll release suppressed parts of yourself that are begging to see the light of day and to be released into the world that needs all of you to show up, be present and speak your truth without blame or judgment. As you can tell, I speak from experience.

    Will you join me on the path to expanded consciousness where struggle gives way to co-creating tomorrow at a scale humanity has not yet achieved?

    Dawna Jones collaborates with decision makers and leaders at all levels to advance self and contextual awareness needed in rapid and radical change. Contact her through or LinkedIn.