October 26, 2022

Now that most of my classes have shifted back to in person, I have a bit more zoom-energy to attend webinars from organizations that hope to change the world in the same ways I do. I recently learned about Conscious Capitalism, an organization that aims to change the nature of capitalism so that more businesses “have trusting, authentic, innovative and caring cultures that make working there a source of both personal growth and professional fulfillment.” They value many social causes and the holistic wellbeing of the workforce, asserting that Conscious businesses “endeavor to create financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, physical and ecological wealth for all of their stakeholders.” In these ways, Conscious businesses embody many of the theories and practices that we see in positive organizational scholarship, and that we value at Riverbank. 


In order to move towards the future they envision, Conscious Capitalism focuses on leaders to bring about change. In their recent webinar entitled “Engaging Emerging Leaders: Insights to Empower the Next Generation”, Conscious Capitalism hosted Harvard professor and former CEO of Medtronic Bill George to share his insights about what he calls authentic leadership.  


In the webinar, George emphasized that organizations across the board are undergoing massive changes in leadership as the demographics of leaders shift from primarily baby boomers to the next generations. And the workforce has been shifting for a while too, as millennials make up a good portion of it and Gen Zers like me are starting to make our way into the corporate world. Throughout his points, George often reiterated the importance of leaders and organizations to be Conscious Capitalists that value issues like DEI and the environment because many of the best and brightest of the workforce who can choose where they want to work are choosing companies that align with their values.  


As a Gen Z about to move from my research phase to actually applying for jobs after graduation, the values of the organizations I’m considering are factoring heavily into my choices. When I first consider a company, I start off by looking at their LinkedIn posts and the vibe of their website, trying to see the image they’re creating for themself. Are they promoting DEI efforts? Work life balance for their employees? Volunteering initiatives?  


George went on to say that when it comes to conveying your organization’s values, press releases and social media posts won’t sway the talent you’re looking to attract. People will be looking at what you and your company actually do. How do your actions actually work to bring about a better world? Looking at LinkedIn posts and graphics and such can give me a good sense of the image an organization wants for themself, but to get at these issues at a deeper level, I look at things like benefits structures and development programs, and I talk with actual employees to get a sense of the lived experience in each organization. 


Practicing authentic leadership that promotes your and your organization’s values is more than just something leaders ought to do — it makes plenty of business sense as well. In addition to helping to attract and retain talent, having a higher purpose, as is the first tenet of Conscious Capitalism, helps rally everyone together after a shared goal. Importantly, the quality of people’s engagement will be much higher if the goal is something they actually personally value. As George questioned, “If making money is the only mission, how can anyone get excited about that?” 


As one caveat, George clarified what he meant by authentic leadership. He doesn’t just simply mean adhering to any beliefs a person might have because that could include a lot of harmful notions he’s not condoning. Instead, he restricts his definition of values to require that they be sound values, not grounded in any evil or anger. He would not consider someone leading from a place of bigotry to be an authentic leader. 


When George spoke about leaders, he often referred to C-suite executives, but as he closed his talk, he advocated for leadership development to start much earlier in people’s careers. In order to develop leadership skills, George strongly believes you have to learn by doing, and you can seize opportunities to lead from anywhere in an organization: “Find a place where you can make a difference and lead now. You don’t have to have a title… Don’t wait until somebody taps you on the shoulder. Lead now. Nothing is too small to lead. So if you get the opportunity, just go do it.”  


If we want to realize the world that Conscious Capitalism envisions, we’ll need leaders at all levels of organizations to bring us closer to our values. Riverbank’s Leading With Values assessment identifies the gap between the values-driven leaders you say you want to be, and how you and your leadership team is actually perceived in your organization. To learn more, email info@RiverbankConsultingGroup.com. 


Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing. 

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