The Secret to Successful Leadership? Focusing on Others.
Successful leadership should be defined by how much the leader focuses on others, also known as conscious leadership. These leaders honor their conviction and mission yet never lose focus of the elements in life that matter.
What makes a leader? In theory, they're all around us, from school and work to government and activism, with the standard definition being "a person or thing that leads." But some leaders are more motivated by dollar signs than the beating hearts in front of them. While that can lead to a robust bottom line, it can also create a high turnover rate and perpetuate a culture of burnout. Instead, successful leadership should be defined by how much the leader focuses on others, also known as conscious leadership. (Bonus: this tends to lead to financial success too).
In the 16-plus years that I have been working in the venture capital and asset management industries, I have come to learn that the people who inspire the best work in others are those who lead consciously. They're the individuals who honor their conviction and mission yet never lose focus of the elements in life that matter, many of which are intangible: respect, justice, love, humility, and inclusivity. They lead with candor, curiosity, and appreciation--and then empower others to do the same. This genuineness has a ripple effect, causing everyone's tides to rise in recognition that there is plenty for all.
The converse is true as well. I've always observed that shareholder primacy amounted to unintended or intended consequences that were not in favor of employees, customers, the environment, and communities. The effects have been profound and harrowing. Leading with a scarcity mindset has resulted in expanding global inequity, extreme poverty, racism, a depleted planet, and massive social inequalities.
My argument, and ours at Beyond Capital Fund, is that there is no true wealth and prosperity unless these issues are taken into consideration, and all stakeholders involved in long-term goals are seen and considered. A small business in Africa named Kasha exemplifies this.
Operating in Rwanda and Kenya, Kasha enables women to order affordable products—menstrual care items, soaps, lotions, makeup, family planning care—easily and discreetly. The company turns a profit, but its founders, Joanna Bichsel and Amanda Arch focus on its holistic impact beyond measurable financial returns. Working hand-in-hand with the government, employees, customers, suppliers, and their local communities in Africa, these two women are true conscious leaders. I'm sure their long-term goals will positively impact more lives than if they only focused on their single bottom line.
Rather than a leader with an autocratic drive and a willingness to exploit others to reach their goal, a conscious leader considers, cares for, and honors others. Like those at Kasha, this type of leadership exists to serve, never the other way around.
These tenets may seem idealistic and spark the question: How can one successfully lead by focusing on others? To that, I say that conscious leadership is the needed breakdown of stereotypes that have plagued humanity for centuries. Serving and considering others is the only way to move forward humanely because the status quo is too damaging. There is no one magic straight shot to this, as we all vary. But some ways to get started include:
- Shift from a scarcity mindset of one of abundance: By investing in the wellbeing of others, you go from focusing on how big your piece of "pie" is, to instead creating a bigger pie.
- Find freedom from a doomsday mentality—and see all change as an opportunity: Launching our second venture fund, Beyond Capital Ventures, was a risk—and a scary one. But rather than thinking from the perspective of what can go wrong, this new ground provided an opportunity to reflect on what the key ingredient to social and environmental impact actually is.
- See people—not dollar signs: I have always said: No investment is neutral. And one step further: No action is neutral. In every leadership decision, consider the people directly and indirectly impacted. See their faces and those of their relatives. At Beyond Capital, we changed our pitch deck from logos to faces to encourage a "people forward" state of mind regarding investment. This opposite of this is an ideas-only approach, which is sterile and risks lacking any true values.
- Be adaptable: A tenet from The CEO Mindset, a mission of Hooman Yazahari's, is that adaptability is critical as all leaders these days are met with an evolving landscape. As Hooman writes, "you and your organization can never stop learning, and you should never assume that you know everything." Be open, be curious, be conscious.
- Lean into humility: It is true: You can be powerful, engaging, and persuasive while also showing grace and humility. A conscious leader proves this.
It has been said countless times that money is power. But true power, the kind that impacts lives, breaks glass ceilings, and moves humanity forward, is found in courage, inspiration, and inclusivity. When a leader has the courage to see that all humans are equal and that their role is to honor and inspire, that is where life-changing power is found—and conscious leaders hold the key.
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