In today’s dynamic business environment, it’s accepted that effective, strong leadership is not just a necessity – it can be an organization’s differentiator. It makes sense, then, that how a company views and supports leadership development can make a definitive impact.
Through interviewing and coaching executives over the last three decades, Bob Rosen, founder of Healthy Companies International, has learned that leadership isn’t something you can put on before you go to work and take off when you leave the office. Bob also is the author of two books I recently read — Grounded and Conscious. Both combine impressive amounts of research and insights from hundreds of business leaders. The stories he tells show how healthy leadership is built on each individual’s personal development and their overall emotional, vocational, and even spiritual health.
Bob and I recently reconnected to talk about leadership and storytelling, in the context of his coaching and writing. In our interview, he emphasized that leaders need to understand and embrace their own personal stories in order to have a meaningful impact on their respective teams and businesses. In a constantly changing world, staying rooted in who we are and how that affects how you act and perform is a vital part of building strong relationships and great business cultures.
LC: When you think about a healthy company versus an unhealthy one, what are some of the traits you think about?
BR: Healthy companies have a powerful purpose and mission that is embedded in the hearts and minds of people. People inside these companies are agile and adaptive. They bounce back from adversity and stress and navigate through the changes in the marketplace. They’re highly collaborative and high-performing. On the other hand, unhealthy companies are slow-moving, political, bureaucratic and unpredictable.
Leaders in these two companies behave very differently. In healthy companies, leaders are self-aware and committed to their own development. As a result, they see their enterprises as having four strategic agendas: financial (making money), marketplace (having relevant services and products people want), operational (being efficient and effective), and the human agenda (investing in people). Healthy leaders place an intense focus on the human agenda and prioritize the company’s values and culture. This give them a competitive edge.
LC: One of the key interest areas of your work is how leaders respond to the complexities of the modern world. Your recent books Grounded and Conscious give answers to this big question. So, what’s the difference between being grounded and being conscious? Why is each so important?
BR: As the world changes around us, in a counterintuitive way, we must turn inward to develop the personal capabilities to thrive in a disruptive and accelerating world. Staying grounded is the foundation that enables us to withstand the winds of change: speed, uncertainty, complexity, technology, competition, and globalization.
Being conscious is the accelerant. It’s the skill that helps us stay aware of ourselves, our relationships and the environment. It is what enables people to adapt faster and perform at higher levels. So, being grounded and conscious are the two requirements of personal leadership in the modern age: And they’re both critical for leading and working in this frenetic environment.
LC: In Grounded, you spoke to hundreds of executives on how they stay resilient in the face
of so many changes in the world. What did you find out? Was there anything surprising?
BR: One surprising thing we discovered is that companies have spent so much time and money on leadership development and haven’t yet gotten their full return on investment. Much of our current leadership models are built on the paradigm that ‘what you do defines who you are,’ with an emphasis on competencies. Clearly, behavior is important. But we are finding that the best leaders have flipped the paradigm. They’re letting who they are as human beings drive what they do and how they perform.
They are grounding themselves in many ways. They’re healthy physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. We all know these areas are essential to showing up as a mature, productive adult in the workplace. The problem is that we don’t do it consistently because we don’t think we have enough time, are overwhelmed by stress and burnout, or we deny that these capabilities are truly important to our leadership. It’s interesting to point out that we also don’t practice grounded leadership because we’re often so focused on short-term results and we ignore the long-term consequences of our actions.
LC: In Conscious, you talk about being aware of our attachments. Can you give an example of what some common professional attachments are, versus personal ones? Where do they intersect? Maybe for some, it’s defining ourselves by what we do for a living.
BR: In our coaching and research with executives, I’ve heard several leaders talk about being too attached to success and they lose sight of their own personal health and well-being. They don’t realize the impact of their driven behavior, their need to build great relationships on their teams, and they lose sight of the importance of kindness and gratitude. So, we find that the four practices of Going Deep to understand yourself, Thinking Big to discover possibilities, Getting Real to be honest and intentional, and Stepping Up by being bold and accountable are critical to your success. Being grounded and conscious is the new personal leadership capability.
LC: You have so much important research to share and unique points of view. As an author, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
BR: I believe everybody has a story to tell. And it’s really important that we understand our own story. To aspiring writers, I’d say: discover your story and reach out and learn from other people’s stories. Go out into the environment and find examples of people doing what you think is right or interesting, and let them tell their stories, and in the process, you become their storyteller.
This has been so rewarding for me to do. I’ve had CEOs say to me, “I never put my life in these words, but this is really interesting — and helpful.” A lot of people don’t know what their story is, what their contribution is in the world. They haven’t thought it through. Writers can help them articulate what is important and then teach it to other people.