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Leadership Development
Employee wellbeing: The seven characteristics of conscious leadership
Perry Timms
January 22, 2021
5
mins

Today’s business environment requires a different approach to leadership. Discover the seven characteristics of conscious leadership.

During 2020, coaching and organisational wellbeing consultancy Conscious Works undertook some research into the characteristics that are prevalent in exemplary leadership. In a bid to shine a light on ‘conscious’ leaders, who contributed to the wellbeing and professional success of the people they lead, they wanted to understand the behaviour that enabled people to feel good and deliver great results at work.

The world is changing and people are demanding to be led differently.

Looking at over 40 examples of ‘conscious’ leadership, their mission was to unearth shining stars and change makers challenging the perception of what it means to lead well.

The human touch

The research shows that powerful leadership that achieves sustainable results does so because it has personal relationships and individual wellbeing at its heart. Those who lead from a position of trust, honesty and who inspire ‘followship’ are the leaders who are unlocking the best results in the workplace.

Gone are the days of a faceless figure leading employees into the breach. It is no longer acceptable for workplaces to be devoid of human connection, ruled by command-and-control. The world is changing and people are demanding to be led differently. So, what is conscious leadership and how can it be achieved?

Analysing these interviews enabled the research team to identify the seven most common characteristics of conscious leadership:

  1. They see you: leaders see and treat their teams as individual humans with complex needs and they develop personal relationships with each person.
  2. They have your back: leaders operate as a backstop for their teams creating a safe space for people to be bold and ambitious in their work.
  3. They are present: leaders engage fully with their team and actively listen to what they say before responding. They see conscious leadership as part of their job, not an optional extra.
  4. They are not afraid of challenge: leaders embrace positive disruption and own their mistakes, permitting others to do likewise.
  5. They stretch you: leaders believe their teams are capable of more than they realise and push them to achieve it.
  6. They trust you: leaders operate with empathy and integrity, believing in others to do the right thing and make good quality decisions, empowering them as adults.
  7. They set clear direction: leaders deliver a clear vision and specific expectations of their team and then step back to allow individuals to decide how best to deliver.

On average, six out of seven of these characteristics were present in every leader that was spoken about.  

Unlocking energy

The most effective and inspiring leaders unlock and sustain energy in their teams by connecting with them on a human level. The traditional belief that to be ‘professional’ we need to leave our emotions at the threshold to the office didn’t seem to be a problem for these leaders. In fact, 95% of the interviewees reported being seen, pointing to the fact that these leaders were intentional about getting to know people, to understand who they were and what made them tick.  

He remembered what motivated me.

In 92% of interviews, they spoke of leaders who actively listened and were unequivocally present. This created energy in the individuals being led and motivation to deliver beyond what was expected.

I would have walked over hot coals for them.

The impact of being seen enabled people to work whole-heartedly and without fear. They were able to create the energy required to deliver results. Trusting leaders to be consistent and fair created an inclination towards commitment, loyalty and productivity.

Building trust

With dispersed teams and hybrid working, there has never been a more important time for leaders to build trust and to be flexible enough to allow for people to craft work around who they are and what they need. Having established themselves to be trustworthy, conscious leaders demonstrated high levels of trust in the people they lead.

With 78% of conscious leaders creating the conditions for empowerment, those who refrained from micro-management were found to inspire far greater commitment as a result. Conscious leaders equip their teams with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to do the job. Crucially, they also give them the space and autonomy to determine how best to operate and deliver results.

If leaders are able to set the destination and also relinquish the map, there is an opportunity for trust to be built.

Where confidence and trust are freely given, it drives out fear and anxiety and allows people to think more freely, express more openly and collaborate more effectively. By removing a fear of judgment or blame and replacing it with curiosity and openness, it enables teams to identify what works and what doesn’t and make the necessary iterations for improvement.

The impact of trust is extensive; fewer mistakes are made, course-correction is smoother, creativity is boosted, and people are more likely to speak up about the things that will lead to better performance when fixed.

The report highlighted that effective leaders were able to see mistakes as an opportunity for learning and growth and demonstrated advocacy for their teams.

Permitting honesty

This research is timely. It will help employers to develop leadership capability to support the introduction of ISO 45003 in 2021, the amended standard that will require organisations to protect psychological as well as physical health and safety in the workplace. Conscious leaders are leading the charge in this area, recognising that when people can speak out without fear, and when they are heard, it optimises wellbeing and ultimately performance.

He would spot potential in people and cultivate it; he'd coach me into doing something I didn’t think I was capable of.

Once they have taken the time to get to know and hear the individual, it then becomes possible for them to see the full potential of the individual and to support their development; 65% of leaders demonstrated the ability to push people out of their comfort zones to achieve more.

About the author

Perry Timms is the Founder & Chief Energy Officer of PTHR, with 30+ yrs experience in people, learning, technology, organisation change & transformation. His personal mission is to see more people flourish through their work, and help shift organizations as a force for societal good (not just profit machines). PTHR's mission is defined as "Better Business for a Better World". In October 2017, his first book, Transformational HR - was published by Kogan Page and the Energized Workplace published in August 2020. He was an extremely proud new entrant to the list of HR Most Influential Thinkers for 2017 and again in 2018 + 2019 (in the top 10 both years).

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