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BlueSteps chats with Catherine R. Bell, co-founder of BluEra executive search, and author of the new book The Awakened Company.

catherine_bellIn your book you say “few today would argue that ‘business as usual’ is working well.” How can individual executives and employees become ambassadors for driving more awakened company practices?

Research shows that the more self-aware a person is, the higher performing they are. It begins with who are we and what we need to become to best serve the organization. This means truly knowing what our gifts are. So many times I have interviewed candidates who have a long list of positive traits, but never have something to work on. In practice, I have never met someone who doesn’t have something they need to work on! The moments where we begin to truly look at ourselves and our behaviours, our success and our failures, that is awakening. We need to be compassionate with ourselves during that process. 


Modern leaders are finding their personal and work lives have become more and more intertwined. Your company, BluEra, has taken this into account when doing weekly staff check-in meetings. How and why do you think company leaders should facilitate effective check-ins that go beyond their work role?

The practice is called “Stars and Bones”, the term coined by my MBA colleague, Rob Beamish. Depending on the size of the team, you can allow more or less time. The point of this process is to find out what’s going well in your team’s lives and what’s going not so well.

I do have a funny, practical example of why this is important. I met with an executive team and the CFO was grumpy. No one knew what was going on with her. What was happening was that she was on a cleanse. People didn’t know, so they took it personally when there was no need. So by doing quick check-ins or “Stars and Bones”, we can acknowledge each other’s humanness.

About 75 percent of firms are gone after nine years, so clearly we’re missing something. We also have 80 percent employee disengagement in companies. We need to focus on what we need to do to bring humanity and wholeness into organizations. We should be building something meaningful and important.
 

"Too much emphasis is put on...the bottom line. This doesn’t really motivate people..."
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How can executives leverage self-awareness for their own success as well as the success of their organization?

Self-awareness: there aren’t many people who aren’t interested in learning more about themselves. By learning more about yourself, you learn where your blind spots are. If you know where those spots are, you can work with people who are strong in those areas. If you can round out your team in that way, you’re all going to be better. Empirical evidence shows the more diverse a team is, the higher performing it is. 

Self-awareness is pivotal, but it isn’t for financial success—it’s for the experience of learning and growing and being open-minded. Too much emphasis is put on the financial aspects of a business and the bottom line. This doesn’t really motivate people because the increased income goes to shareholders and a small number of people at the top of an organization.

Executives need to take the time to expand their self-awareness, whether it’s through, for example, meditation or 360 reviews. So much of our culture is focused on constant growth. We’re becoming a virus on the earth. We need to take some time and think about what’s fundamentally important. Too often it’s grow or die.

There is a different way of being. We can do this, organizations are the way to solve many of our current ills. At BluEra, we do stillness breaks. There is a yoga room and we come together and do meditation, no one is forced, it is by choice. I also begin sessions with executive teams and board of director meeting with meditation. I start by sharing the research and explaining the benefits. When I first started, I was nervous; but now many of these executives and board directors are sharing this with their own teams.

Research shows that mindfulness reduces employees’ stress, increases emotional intelligence, increases productivity, lowers impulsivity, and so on. We know there are many benefits, yet there’s always this knowing/doing gap.
 

"When looking at all the different companies that haven’t survived...the list is long. We can do better."
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What benefits are non-awakened companies missing out on? What’s the first step an executive in the organization can take towards awakening?

When looking at all the different companies that haven’t survived or have declared bankruptcy, you can see that the list is long. We can do better. Typically organizations don’t last beyond ten years. We don’t seem to be learning. The whole system needs to change. And the first step begins with ourselves, self-awareness combined with mindfulness, then our relationships, and of course everything is interdependent. However, here is some practical advice for organizations:

The organization needs to be energized. What is your vision? Why do you exist? So many organizations talk about how profitable they will be, but they need to go deeper. What need is your organization going to fill? Why are you in business? This vision needs to be created within a community because what we support, we have to create; and what we create, we support.

It’s also important to ensure that you sustain the vision. Here at BluEra, we take the opportunity to reinforce our vision in creative ways. For example, we have an “evolve and awaken” t-shirt. It’s important to remember why we’re in business. Making money isn’t a good enough reason itself.  Go deeper, inquire, and get curious about how you are fulfilling a need.

Remember to take the time to regenerate your initiatives by examining what you need to stop, continue and start doing. 


In your book, you talk about the fact that “much of our leadership and business culture needs to be turned on its head.” Can you give any examples of current leadership practices that executive leaders should focus on changing and what that change looks like?

When we look at the research in terms of leadership, I like to speak about the transformational leadership model. Leaders aren’t spending enough time in one-on-one meetings (individualized consideration) with their direct reports. One of the top reasons many people leave an organization is because of their direct reports. A good golden nugget for leaders is to occasionally have town hall meetings. But more importantly, take the time to do one-to-one coffee meetings to have real conversations.

Another thing leaders need to embrace is discomfort. For example, in the beginning, trying to be mindful is uncomfortable. However, based on the research, it’s the right thing to do. We need leaders to take a bold stance to communicate what they aren’t good at. 
 

How can executive candidates seek out awakened companies when seeking their next opportunity?

I would look at their vision and see if it’s in alignment with who you are. Then look at whether the values are clearly articulated and see if you fit. Look for open mindsets versus closed mindsets. Are people open to learning, growing, and having a joyful and fun experience? It’s a matter of not being so focused on the compensation. We need to go deeper and more fully understand ourselves, our relationships, and our organizations so that we all awaken together.  

the_awakened_company_book_cover

I leave you with this one consideration: what is one thing you want to awaken in yourself, how can that be aided by the organization you are in and how can you help the organization? 

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Check out Catherine's new book, The Awakened Company.
AN EVOLUTIONARY LEAP from the “business is business” mantra that stifles creativity, neglects human wellbeing, and treats work as separate from the rest of life. Businesses can be prosperous, sustainable, caring, interlocking communities that benefit all their stakeholders and investors — those who work in them, the communities they serve, the international community, and the planet. The Awakened Company comes at a time of crisis in the business world, as evidenced by the most recent financial meltdown, which was a cry for help from a bipolar boom-bust business model that’s failing. From a mentality of profits first and growth at all cost, those in the know in the business world are coming to the realization this approach is no longer sustainable.
Click here to learn more.

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