Leading from Within: A book review by Bob Morris

Leading from Within: Conscious Social Change and Mindfulness for Social Innovation
Gretchen Ki Steidle
MIT Press (October 2017)

How mindfulness can “enhance social impact as well as ensure sustainability for self, others, and the planet”

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of an observation by Abraham Lincoln that Harry Truman kept near at hand as he faced all the challenges after he succeeded FDR as president: “I do the very best I know how — the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so to the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I am right won’t make any difference.”

Obviously, great leaders such as Lincoln and Truman are especially mindful of the circumstances in which they found themselves when making especially difficult decisions. They draw upon inner resources such as their values and convictions — and credibility — that served as a compass as they struggled to make the right decisions, take the appropriate actions, and meanwhile sustain the engagement of those whose respect and trust must never be compromised.

Every successful social movement has value-driven leaders who provide what Gretchen Ki Steidle characterizes as “a pathway to inner and outer transformation to contribute to a better world.” It is no coincidence that the companies annually ranked among those most highly-admired and the best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. They exhibit what is now referred to “conscious capitalism.” Here are four of its core principles:

1. Conscious/mindful leadership: Organizations mirror the actions and personality of the individual at the top. This is the kind of person people want to follow.

2. Stakeholder orientation: Conscious leaders know the importance of taking into account all of their stakeholders. You’re never going to become a premium brand by only focusing on the shareholders.

3. Conscious culture: A values-based culture is one that is intentional about how people act and perform. When a culture is not defined and enforced, your people aren’t all moving in the same direction.

4. Higher purpose: Finally, the company should be in business to do more than just make money. Great leaders realize that in order to become successful over the long term, they and their companies must provide true value. That occurs when passionate people are inspiration by their work.

The importance of leadership cannot be exaggerated. As Steidle correctly explains, “Cultivating your skills as a sincerely impactful leader involves making a contribution to that which is greater than yourself. As much as leadership is frequently measured by accomplishment — even accomplishment of how well you are serving others — it must also be measured in terms of personal growth, self-awareness, and consciousness.”

Leaders as well as those who aspire to become leaders will appreciate the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that Gretchen Ki Steidle provides in this volume. Those who share my high regard for her and Leading from Within are urged to check out these volumes: Ellen Langer’s Mindfulness, 25th anniversary edition; Robert K. Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, 25th Anniversary Edition; and Conscious Capitalism, With a New Preface by the Authors: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, co-authored by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia.

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