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Conscious Leadership is an Inside Job — Reflections from Casey Sheahan, CEO Patagonia

Leadership

“For companies to transform on a larger scale, individual leaders must transform.”
- Casey Sheahan

At its core, business is a form of human social organization — people coming together to do something with purpose and to create value for themselves, each other and others around them. Businesses, like other forms of human social organization, are created and guided by leaders — people who see a path and inspire others to travel along it with them.

Conscious Leaders understand and embrace the Higher Purpose of business and focus on creating value for and harmonizing the interests of the business’ stakeholders. They recognize the integral role of culture and purposefully cultivate Conscious Culture.

Patagonia is one of those special companies with a clearly articulated higher purpose that has guided its operations since its inception, in 1972. Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia to address the damage he and other rock climbers were doing to the rocks they were climbing and other environmental impacts of their sport. This simple purpose has created a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenues that has pioneered innovation in countless sport-related products and fueled a business sustainability movement that inspires and engages millions of people and hundreds if not thousands of other companies — raising awareness, transforming business practice and generating substantial funding for environmental stewardship initiatives.

Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan carries the company’s commitment to Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis to new levels. Casey understands that leadership is “an inside job,” requiring ongoing personal learning, growth and development.

“When I think about conscious leadership and a new way of conducting leadership it’s that … we all project an energy whether individually or as a company out in the world and around us. Whatever we do, whatever we say, really has an effect on those around us.”

For companies to transform on a larger scale, the individual leaders have to transform. All the powerful ways of operating have to come into play: being a good listener, being calm, being centered, being confident, and speaking without anger or ego. It just means that as an individual or as a business you are operating at your best, most natural self. When you are doing that it’s fun, its effortless, and when you are done it feels like your hearts opened up.

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These values you embody as a business and the stories you tell, the example you set, really sets out a huge ripple effect of positive energy.

“The companies that are going to prosper for the next 100 years are those that are lead with and lead with this mindfulness, compassion, and soul.”

This approach to leadership and deep commitment to its higher purpose has taken Casey and Patagonia into terrain traveled by few companies, pioneering new paths for corporate behavior and relationship to society and the natural world. This path includes exceptional accountability and transparency in its supply chain.

“Any responsible company needs to set social and environmental standardsand communicate clearly with (supply chain) partners. We send social environmental auditors into factories to make sure conditions are held up, and write out the standards and have your partners post them, with numbers to call if people stray.”

With our Footprint Chronicles — an online report on our supply chain practices, we do our best to show customers where everything is made, how it’s made, and what conditions are like. Through the Footprint Chronicles we celebrate the practices we are proud of AND we reveal those, which we are not so happy about. Building a sustainable, environmentally conscious supply chain is an ongoing process. Some materials are really hard to source in ways that fully align with our ideals. But we see this as an ongoing process and challenge to improve. By being transparent we hold the bar up for ourselves, and we invite our customers and others to keep the light on us and to help us figure out how to improve.

“It’s turned out that the more honest and open we are and more candid about what’s going on, the more our customers want to engage with us in our efforts to be a better global citizen.”

Casey is serious about the idea that “conscious leadership is an inside job,” and he incorporates daily practices to cultivate the capacities of conscious leadership and encourages others to do the same.

“It’s important to start your day with quiet time, whether that’s yoga, stretching, or deep breathing. This is time to reflect on all the things you’re appreciative and thankful for. You can connect in with your higher self, and look at things that are troubling you (in your business, with your co-workers, or with your family) and have the opportunity to delve deeply.”

Thank everyone, and ask people for forgiveness.

If you can spend 20 minutes doing this everyday, you’ll have a better day, will probably be a better person, and will be a more effective leader.

“It’s critical to connect with yourself: be aware of every day, every breath, and what a wonderful lesson it is that we get to spend time on this planet!”

I wonder what the world would be like if every CEO shared Casey’s orientation to leadership. With the accelerating emergence of Conscious Capitalism, we may be heading in this direction!

You can hear more of Casey’s insights in person at Conscious Capitalism 2013, April 5th & 6th, in San Francisco, CA. Visit consciouscapitalism.org for information about the event.

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