The article reproduced below was originally written by Benjamin Schultz on June 6, 2018.
The socially and economically interdependent world civilization that is emerging from our modern technological revolution has left business leaders with a previously unimaginable domain of problems to solve. Our invention and distribution of contemporary conveniences (think motor vehicles, air travel, pharmaceuticals, television, computers, email, cell phones, and even chairs) has created fantastic comfort for many of us, but has also served to increase the pace, scale, and information density of our society.
In the wake of this rapid development, many of us admit to experiencing a systematic personal overload. Trained from birth to make sense of our life by processing external information with a linear mental thought process, we find our minds consistently full, constantly calculating. In many cases, the rest of our self (body, emotion, breath, senses, and awareness) is taken along for a ride piloted by habitual patterns, unanalyzed desires, and disparate communal information (from the internet, television, music, our family, our workplace culture, and from marketing technology that is becoming increasingly adept at inserting information into our conscious or subconscious minds).
Consider momentarily the last time you made a decision based on one of these pieces of information. Do you feel that you were truly in the driver’s seat of your decision-making process? Did you take the decision deeply within yourself to let the machinations of your mind determine the best path to take for the sake of your short and long-term goals, your family, your coworkers, or your conscience? Of course, none of us take such a belabored approach to choosing where to eat in the morning or which meeting room to book a meeting in. We may try to make such a calculated decision for which car to buy or which vendor to select for a major piece of equipment, but we can only gather so much information and in the end our thoughts will most likely focus on one or two factors that we currently (and perhaps subconsciously) perceive to be most important (consider price, convenience, communal perception, etc.). Have we brought to light what those most-important factors are and why? What is the groundwork on which we base our multitude of life and business choices?
Most sources estimate that we each make 35,000 decisions each day. Many of these decisions are made largely autonomously without much consideration of the consequences now or in the future. It’s obvious to most that a thoughtless choice of food or a careless comment to a coworker could have lasting effects, especially when compounded over time, but in our moment of action we often find ourselves blind to the consequences of these decisions. As a result of continuous suppression of personal awareness on most levels of our life experience, many of us develop wide blind-spots to how we are truly affecting our own life and the lives of others with our actions in each moment.
Reawakening personal awareness is especially critical for business leaders with a desire to practice business ethics and lead a positively productive career. As daily business decisions influence every part of our society, professionals who wish to participate in an ethical culture of care should carefully consider their responsibility to connect with their entire human organism. This self-connection may very well be a prerequisite to making ethical global business decisions, as all our family, friends, coworkers, and customers are distinctly human, experiencing the results of our actions with varying levels of personal awareness. Only decision-makers who bring their level of self-awareness to at least that of the decision beneficiaries can claim to make holistically competent decisions.
Returning to a previous example: the simple act of creating a meeting, setting the agenda, and choosing a room. A professional who has practiced self-awareness and mindfulness of his physical body may naturally consider many human wellness factors in this decision. He may ask himself if the room has enough natural light. (Personal experience and scientific studies have shown her that being exposed to natural light during the day improves productivity and creativity, and can have an effect on sleep later in the day). When scheduling a longer meeting, he will make sure that there are adequate stretch-breaks and that filtered drinking water is available in the room or nearby. During the meeting, he may even be cognizant that a new employee is nervous to speak up but may have something valuable to add. Having confronted his own fear of speaking in front of an experienced crowd, he is able to help her bring her voice into the conversation. In the end, a creative solution is brought to light during the meeting and everyone felt that they could contribute.
Now consider a professional who has systematically cut off awareness from his physical body and emotions. Already overloaded with tasks because he was uncomfortable speaking up to his superior about his workload, he quickly books a room in the basement. He sends out the meeting without an agenda and entirely forgets to invite the new-hire. During the meeting, he avoids going into details and rushes the decision-making process because he is not experienced in the topic and is afraid his coworkers will notice this if details are discussed. The meeting runs long anyway, and there were no breaks for 3 hours. Key stakeholders leave the room to go to the bathroom and are not able to contribute to the decision. The rushed decision is made and everyone returns to their desk tired and exhausted.
Most of us have experienced the second type of meeting and can relate to its difficulties. We may become used to enduring this sort of collaboration, so we cut off our own self-awareness to cope. Some may even be asking why this matters at all. After all, we all have work to do and a bottom line to watch out for: worrying about sunlight hardly contributes directly to our stock price. To answer this challenge, imagine that this hypothetical meeting revolved around selecting the design-build contractor for a new facility’s living quarters. Which group’s living quarters would you rather reside within for 14 days straight? Which group’s living quarters would facilitate your proactive safety-focused decision making while on the job? Which would allow you to be in the best shape to better contribute to the bottom line?
The factors that profoundly affect our decision-making quality at work every day cannot be easily analyzed on a balance sheet or tied directly to financial metrics. These human factors are wiggly and subjective. They are difficult to track and plan, so they are easily ignored – but this ignorance leads us only to a world of working for the sake of work, leaving our unique strengths, skills, passions, dreams, and desires unacknowledged on the backburner. This is not an inevitability of how our life’s work must unfold. If we desire to contribute to our company, our society, our world, and our own life experience with the grandeur of our whole being, we must just acknowledge the value of all that we are. Connecting with our inner world of physical, mental, and emotional strength, creativity, and individuality, we can each discover our unique ability to contribute. Armed with this confidence, we can all collaborate authentically and openly to create a workplace that aligns with and supports the wellbeing, purpose, and motivation of all.
The power of this enlivened viewpoint can multiply if supported by the organization. Even at the level of the individual contributor, a more self-aware worker in today’s organization structure will be more likely to find a role where he can perform at his peak and will tend to be more empathetic in managing and supporting others. However, as a group, an increasingly self-aware workforce could be empowered to creatively self-organize into a more dynamic structure than could ever be dreamed up by a business consultant. This workforce, driven by personal values, creativity, and a desire to always contribute their whole on every level, can collaboratively uncover the deepest talents of each colleague to improve personal performance and create business value through entirely new methods that can only stem from an imaginative, enabled organization. Allowing this type of culture to flourish is both the responsibility of the worker and the organization. Individuals must understand the value of self-mastery and work to discover their strengths while shedding light on their shadows in every aspect of life. Simultaneously, the organization must offer the tools to enable worker wellbeing and creativity. This leads to a state of mutual trust and respect that can allow the highest benefits to unfold organically, both for worker and organization.
Regardless of organizational structure or awareness, the sort of decisions that affect human quality of life throughout the supply chain are made in corporate headquarters every day. These decisions cannot be understood solely through metrics and analysis, but require the exercise of true discernment that comes from experiencing the depth of this life experience. Unless each of us seeks to understand and address the factors that are truly affecting our perceived quality of life (from body and mind to emotions and health), we cannot hope to make ethically pragmatic decisions that affect the lives of others. The more one looks within to consider and understand the universal human experience, the more she may see that many of the frustrations and challenges in our life and our world do not stem from malicious intent, but rather from unaware, unconscious decision making. Money can be made at the expense of our clients, customers, coworkers, and environment or it can be generated through mutual understanding, awareness, and respect. Let us all look within to authentically face our true self, wholeheartedly embracing our strengths and compassionately acknowledging our weaknesses. With awareness, we will harness our natural ability to peacefully collaborate, collectively creating the unimaginable new wonders of our shared world.