Make Presence (and Compassion and Money), Not Wara chat with Nilima Bhat

In In the first part of our chat, Nilima and I talked about the need for change in leadership and how both men and women will be impacted by those changes. Here our conversation continues with two of life's biggest themes: love and money.

Money is a bit of a paradox around Conscious Business: for some people the question lingers how a business that is out to make a profit can be conscious, i.e. "good", at all. Others wonder if a focus on purpose doesn't automatically doom a business to financial disaster.

"In Conscious Business it's not an either or choice. Whenever you're stuck in a dilemma and think you have to choose one or the other, you really can find ways that get you the best of both. Money is not bad. It's good to be profitable: you pay taxes and can sustain you're own business. You are independent. Why can't you also do good and have a greater positive impact? Many businesses that are profiled in Raj Sisodia's research show that they are capable of having a bottom line that's beyond profit and at same time they are very profitable. They can be 9 times as profitable as other businesses. So being good is good for business," Nilima points out.

That's definitely what I found in my research as well: the businesses that I came across all benefited from their conscious nature — and not just in monetary terms. The big question for many is: "But where do I start?" It often appears overwhelming to move the organization into more consciousness, especially because it first requires a transformation within the leader herself. I asked Nilima what she sees as the most important first step.

"The very first element is presence," she replies. "As a leader you have to cultivate presence. It is not the default space that's available to most of us because our default space is ego: we function from the ego self. We defend, we fear. Presence requires us to step back from all those states and to stand in an unconditioned place of openness and willingness to respond to a situation instead of automatic reactions. That requires a level of mastery like emotional management. That's why people do tai chi, meditation, and other techniques: to slow down the mind and control one's emotional upheavals."

And that's already the first obstacle: to bring oneself to take up a new way of being and to stay on the path. "It takes practice. Just like you can't develop a huge biceps without consistently going to the gym. The same way you cannot develop consciousness without putting in the time to develop it. It's a muscle," Nilima says.

"You have to put in the work," she adds. "It's an emotional and mental fitness regime. You can't excuse that with business. We have to choose our priorities. If learning to be present becomes your single highest priority, then everything else will fall into place. Faster, easier, better. All the things you really want if you make presence one of your high priority items."

Her book Shakti Leadership describes in detail how one can start moving into conscious leadership and then lead the journey to completion.

Taking personal responsibility to make presence a priority — a habit — is your choice. Another aspect of conscious leadership is love. Some companies actually mention it openly in their values, mission statements and in meetings with their customers. They feel that it is opening all stakeholders to a whole new level of connection and success.

"I also think it is important — although in different cultures we use different terms for it. For example, in India love means romantic love. So here we would use the terms care and compassion instead. That is a very big theme. Especially proprietors that have very strong values, or even the Tatas, align their agenda with the national agenda: what is good for the country, is good for the Tatas. They think of all their employees as citizens of the country, so they are serving the country as much as those citizens: the employees and stakeholders. Care, compassion and inclusion would translate as love."

"John Mackey of Whole Foods is very open with the word love," Nilima continues. "He said he created Whole Foods very much with love and care at the center of it. When your leader uses that language, then it's easier for all stakeholders to use that language. I think it depends on the culture and the sector of the business, if it's a male dominated workplace the word love might make them uncomfortable, so we would have to explain what we mean by it."

We noted before that these times feel like the birth of something new — so much change is happening everywhere within companies and societies at large. We feel something is coming, but exactly what, we don't know yet. Experience has shown me that one of the key traits of such a business is to stay true to its values and make them a priority even during such uncertain times.

Nilima agrees: "To stay the course, to go the distance, not to panic. That's what leaders have to do now. Not to forget your core values and to be able to become very quiet and concentrated and not be on the surface of the chaos. But to stay on the ground, close to the core purpose, talents and values."

In these times of turmoil it definitely can seem like the perspective of wholeness and connectedness is getting lost, and egos and self-serving agendas are taking over. Yet there are a lot of movements that point in the other direction, such as Conscious Business. Nilima knows that it's crucial to keep going:

"The book is a lifetime's work, and now I'm going into the program. For me that means creating a global Shakti Leadership network. That involves a 9-months certification program that would take place in business schools around the world, where women would be trained to become Shakti leaders and entrepreneurs. They will be change agents and a force for good. It will have a multiplier effect and help bring back the balance of energy in this world."

It's ideas such as Nilima's that keep us moving in the right direction. Never forget that everyone of us, no matter what you do or where you work, can contribute to a more wholesome and healthier way of working — and living...just start with one step toward presence. And then take another.

External resources mentioned in this story:

Nilima Bhat & Shakti Leadership:

© 2017, updated 2019

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