Leaders who have an effect for good or ill hold three common attributes: vision, discipline, and passion. The differentiation is conscience. When conscience governs, leadership endures and changes the world for good. Moral authority prepares formal authority work. When conscience does not oversee, leadership does not prevail, nor do the institutions created by that leadership. Formal authority without moral authority collapses.
Leadership for good lifts and lasts. Mahatma Gandhi’s vision, discipline, and passion were driven by conscience, and he became a servant to the cause and the people. He had only moral authority, no formal authority, and yet he was the father of the second largest country in the world. When vision, discipline and passion are governed by formal authority void of conscience, it changes things for the worse. Rather than elevating, it rescinds; rather than last, it fails.
Key Traits of Conscious Leaders #1: Vision
Seeing a potential state with the mind’s eye is vision. It’s applied imagination. All things are created twice: first, a mental creation; second, a physical creation. Vision starts the process of reinvention. It signifies desire, dreams, hopes, goals, and plans. These dreams are not just whims—they are reality without physicality, like a building blueprint.
Most of us don’t envision or appreciate our potential, even though we all have the power, energy, and capacity to reinvent our lives. Memory is past. It is finite. Vision is future. It is infinite.
The most important vision is having a sense of self, a sense of your own destiny, mission, role, purpose and meaning. When testing your own personal vision, first ask: Does the vision tap into my voice, energy, and talent? Does it give me a sense of “calling,” a cause worthy of my obligation? Acquiring such meaning requires overwhelming personal reflection to rise above our autobiography, rise above our memory, and create a high-mindedness of spirit toward others.
We need to consider not only the vision of what’s possible “out there” but also the vision of what we see in other people, their unseen potential. Vision is about more than just getting things done; it is about unearthing and enlarging our view of others, affirming them, believing in them, and helping them discover their voice and realize their potential.
Seeing people through the lens of their potential and their best actions, rather than through the lens of their current behavior or weaknesses, produces positive energy. This affirming action is also a key to rebuilding broken relationships. There is great power in viewing people apart from their behavior and upholding their inherent worth. When we acknowledge the potential of others, we hold up a mirror to them, reflecting the best within them. This affirming vision unshackles them to become their best and frees us from reacting to bad behavior.
Key Traits of Conscious Leaders #2: Discipline
Discipline represents the second creation. It’s executing, making it happen, doing whatever it takes to realize that vision. Discipline is willpower personified. Peter Drucker noted that the first duty of a manager is to define realism. Discipline defines reality, acknowledges things as they are, and gets totally immersed in solutions. Without vision and hope, accepting reality may be discouraging. Happiness results from subordinating or foregoing immediate pleasure for a greater good.
Most people associate discipline with an absence of freedom, with coercion or duty. In fact, only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions. What about the freedom to forgive, to ask forgiveness, to love unreservedly, to be a light, not a judge—a model, not a critic? Discipline comes from being “discipled” to a person or a cause, often subduing an impulse in obedience to a principle or sacrificing present for future good. Successful people may not like doing things that failures don’t like to do, but their hate is subordinated by the strength of their purpose.
Key Traits of Conscious Leaders #3: Passion
Passion comes from the heart and is discernible as optimism, excitement, emotional connection, and determination. It fires remorseless drive. Enthusiasm is deeply rooted in the power of choice rather than circumstance. Enthusiasts believe that the best way to foresee the future is to create it. In fact, enthusiasm becomes a moral imperative, making the person part of the solution rather than part of the problem of feeling hopeless and helpless.
Aristotle said, “Where talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.” I say, “Therein lies your passion, your voice, your energy, your drive. It keeps you at it when everything else may say “quit.” When life, work, play, and love all revolve around the same thing, you’ve got passion! The secret to creating passion is finding your unique talents and your special role and purpose.
Courage is the crux of passion, and is, as Harold B. Lee once said, “the quality of every virtue and acting at its highest testing point.”
Skills are not talents. Talents, however, require skills. People can have skills and knowledge in areas where their talents do not lie. If they have a job that requires their skills but not their talents, they’ll never tap into their passion. They’ll go through the motions, but need external supervision and motivation.
If you can hire people whose passion intersects with the job, they will manage themselves better than anyone could ever manage them. Their fire comes from within. Their motivation is internal.
When you can give yourself to work that brings together a need, your talent, passion, and power will be unlocked.
Key Traits of Conscious Leaders #4: Conscience
Conscience, this moral sense, this inner light, is universal and independent of religion, culture, geography, nationality, or race. All major traditions are unified when it comes to basic underlying principles or values.
The thesis developed by authors Eric Klein and John Izzo in Awakening Corporate Soul begins to explain how leadership and working with conscience, compassion, and commitment are relevant to individuals. They write,
There is, at this time, both a crisis and a longing that permeates organizations across North America. We call one the commitment crisis, the struggle of organizations and their leaders to discover ways to ignite commitment and performance in a rapidly changing insecure climate. The other is an awakening that is slowly occurring within traditional businesses—the awakening of the Corporate Soul. It is a nascent movement that seeks to reclaim the spiritual impulse that is at the heart of work. It is about people wanting work to have meaning and even more, to engage more of them at the deepest levels of their capacity and desire.
- Conscience is the moral law within—the voice of God to his children. Hence, there is an innate sense of fairness and justice, of right and wrong, of what contributes and what detracts, of what beautifies and what destroys, of what is true and what is false. Culture translates this basic moral sense into different practices and words, but this translation does not negate the underlying sense of right and wrong. There is a set of values, a sense of fairness, honesty, respect and contribution that transcends culture—something that is timeless, which transcends the ages and is also self-evident. Conscience is the still, small voice within. It is quiet and peaceful.
- Conscience is sacrifice—the subordinating of one’s self or ego to a higher purpose, cause or principle. Sacrifice means giving up something good for something better. Sacrifice can take many forms: making physical and economic sacrifices (the body); cultivating an open, inquisitive mind and purging oneself of prejudices (the mind); showing deep respect and love to others (the heart); and subordinating one’s own will to a higher will for the greater good (the spirit). In business, you know those who are honest with you and who keep their promises and commitments. You also know those who are duplicitous, deceitful, and dishonest. Even when you reach a legal agreement with those who are dishonest, do you trust they’ll come through and keep their word?
- Conscience tells us the value of both ends and means. Ego tells us that the end justifies the means, unaware that a worthy end can never be achieved with unworthy means. It may appear that it can be, but unintended consequences that are not seen or evident at first will eventually destroy the end.
- Conscience transforms passion into compassion. It engenders sincere caring—a combination of sympathy and empathy where one’s pain is snared and received.
People who do not live by their conscience will not experience this internal integrity and peace of mind. Their ego will try to control relationships. Even though they might pretend or feign kindness and empathy, they will use subtle forms of manipulation.
The private victory of integrity is the foundation for the public victories of establishing a common vision, discipline and passion. Leadership becomes an interdependent work rather than an immature interplay between strong, independent, ego-driven rulers and compliant, dependent followers.