Conscious Leadership – Becoming a Self-Actualized Leader

Anyone who has studied human motivation probably knows about Abraham Maslow and his world famous “Hierarchy of Needs.” His premise – which has been accepted by virtually all professionals in the human resources field – is that humans climb a ladder of needs, reaching for the next highest “rung” as the previous need has been met. He describes these needs in the following sequence: survival, security, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

People who are concerned with their physical survival on a daily basis – wondering whether or not they’re going to die that day, for example – are not particularly motivated to develop better self-esteem. They are too busy watching out for themselves, fearing death or attack every minute. But as people’s basic needs are met and they start taking them for granted, they start aspiring for self-actualization.

This is also called “self-realization” or the realization of the Self by many spiritual traditions. Many of us in the industrialized West have reached this top rung of Maslow’s ladder, having satisfied the underlying needs, which is why there’s been so much interest in the human potential movement of the 1970s and 1980s and why there’s now a new movement to bring greater meaning and purpose into our lives, our relationships, and our work.

Traditional leadership models aren’t very useful anymore. Leading by intimidation, by rank, or even by charisma alone is insufficient because those who are supposed to follow are becoming self-actualized and they won’t accept this outmoded style of leadership any more. The more self-actualized people become, the more we’ll need self-realized leaders who demonstrate mastery at serving some higher purpose and choosing right action. The leaders we need now will attract, not push. They will be powerful versus forceful. They will evoke, not provoke. They will nourish without being threatening. They will mentor and inspire.

What is sorely needed in our institutions today are leaders who are more authentic, conscious, and operate with what some call the “feminine” energies of support, compassion and mentoring. Too many women in positions of leadership have taken on the traditional masculine model to achieve their status. They try to stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts, often coming across as men in women’s bodies. But there is no need for women to compromise their femininity to be truly powerful and inspiring leaders. Self-actualized men and women rely on their deeper knowing of themselves so they have little need to take on any images or pretenses. There is no need for them to be anyone besides themselves. There is no need to resort to manipulation in order to inspire others to great action. These are the “conscious leaders.”

Governments, business corporations, educational institutions and even the church have faced crises in leadership recently, where those in charge confused force with power, intimidation with inspiration and public image with the real person. I call this “bogus leadership.” In brief, the comparisons I make between Bogus Leadership and Conscious Leadership are as follows:

Bogus Leadership

  • Follows a script;
  • Tends to lead forcefully;
  • Dominates people and situations;
  • Manipulates;
  • Protects his/her image;
  • Intimidates;
  • Relies on form, appearances;
  • Outer-directed;
  • Becomes incompetent eventually;
  • More adolescent, immature;
  • Strong persona, public image;
  • Confidence in their roles as actors.

Conscious Leadership

  • Follows one’s intuition;
  • Leads with true power;
  • Has dominion;
  • Serves those who trust in him/her;
  • Inspires;
  • Has mastery;
  • Relies on Self;
  • Inner-directed;
  • Continues to grow and learn;
  • Wise adult, mature;
  • Mostly authentic and genuine;
  • Confidence in themselves.

Maslow says that there are two processes which are essential for self-actualization: self-exploration and action. “The deeper the self exploration, the closer one comes to self-actualization,” he tells us. Pure awareness without action is useless. The Conscious Leader does not sit with his or her head in the clouds, dreaming of utopian schemas and professing New Age idealism. The Conscious Leader walks in the spiritual and physical domains concurrently, remaining simultaneously grounded and comfortable in both. Responsible action based on one’s awareness makes one a Conscious Leader who makes tough decisions and takes courageous action once he or she becomes aware of the situation that needs changing.

Conscious leadership is freely-assumed. It comes from within oneself and requires taking a strong personal stand with unshakable conviction and total commitment. And there’s hope for all those bogus leaders out there. Bogus leaders can become more conscious by dumping their images, tearing up their scripts and getting real with who they really are, who they are becoming, and who they are supposed to be serving.