Exploring the Potential of Conscious Leadership with G2’s Godard Abel
Most of us would like to be a little more enlightened, but not that many people see their business as a potential tool for becoming a better human being. Godard Abel, co-founder and CEO of G2, is one of the few who is seizing that opportunity and seeing great returns for his efforts.
An entrepreneur with more than twenty years of startup experience, Godard has seen his share of struggle and failure. He has successfully raised substantial funding, and he has seen one of his companies almost go bankrupt. And even when he achieved business success, he still battled the anxiety, fear, and depression that is par for the course in the startup arena.
Godard had gone to business school, worked as a consultant, and knew a lot about business strategy, but he still felt like he was missing a key part of the leadership puzzle. He found that missing piece within a practice framework called conscious leadership.
What is Conscious Leadership?
Conscious Leadership is a deeply effective technique used by many of the most successful and well known business leaders in a variety of industries. It combines deep self awareness, personal responsibility, intention, and a more holistic way of engaging with others to create a culture grounded more in the “we” than in the “me.” This leadership style allows for a much greater level of authenticity and ensures that employees feel deeply valued and are therefore more engaged with their work and the company’s vision.
“The business stuff is important, but the emotional part—your’s and your team’s—is even more important,” he says. “As a leader, being able to tap into the emotions of your team and create a connection and alignment is at least as important as having alignment around your intellectual strategy.”
In a conversation on The BUILD Podcast with Blake Bartlett, Godard shared some of what he has learned while exploring conscious leadership on both a personal level and with the team at G2.
Starting with Self Awareness
“Conscious leadership starts with self-awareness,” Godard says. “This means becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It’s like a mindfulness practice.”
The purpose of cultivating greater self awareness is to learn about yourself in greater depth on multiple layers. It’s not just about getting more familiar with your thoughts, but also your emotions and even what’s happening in your body. And a big part of it is getting to a place where you are more attuned to your blind spots—things you might be missing about how you react and respond to different situations and challenges.
When you are more self aware, you are better able to connect more authentically with your team in a productive way. The conscious leadership framework includes fifteen different commitments, the first of which is about taking responsibility for your own experience.
“The first commitment about responsibility outlines the victim-villain-hero triangle,” Godard explains. “The goal is to take one hundred percent ownership of your experience by asking yourself how you are contributing to it and how you identify your role within that experience.”
As an example, if you find yourself thinking that the meeting you’re in is boring, utilizing conscious leadership would prompt you to explore that feeling by asking what you can do to take responsibility for that situation. What could you do to make the meeting more engaging and productive? The combination of self awareness and ownership is a powerful one that can transform any experience.
Choosing Your Perspective: Above or Below the Line
Another key part of the conscious leadership framework is a concept that deals with being above the line versus below the line. “Above the line is when you’re in a curious and open state in which you are open to learning and ready to listen,” explains Godard. “Below the line, on the other hand, is where you are focused on being right. Being below the line leads to being angry and righteous.”
While it’s almost always better to operate from a place above the line, there is a time and place for acting from below the line. In a moment of crisis, for instance, you may need to make a quick decision even though it may potentially damage your connection with your team. “Sometimes acting below the line is necessary, like when you just need to make a quick decision and move on, ” Godard says. “But that leaves scar tissue. Staying above the line allows you to fully leverage your team’s insight and genius, and ultimately create a healthier team and greater success.”
Part of the challenge is that humans are hardwired to go below the line. Evolution has designed us to do radical things to avoid perceived threats so we can survive. Unfortunately, our brains don’t always make the distinction between actual life-threatening situations and ones that only threaten our egos. So, our response is the same—to become defensive and dig our heels in on being right rather than being curious.
“There’s a lot in entrepreneurship that feels like life or death,” Godard says. “But, even though it’s not, you still feel all the anxiety and adrenaline. If you’re constantly working below the line, it wears you down, and you become less effective.”
Building Into Your Team
Godard’s process for integrating conscious leadership into the G2 organization has two parts. First, he is dedicated to working on himself and modeling the behavior he wants to see across the company. Second, he hired a company coach who also serves as a conscious leadership coach.
Based on experiencing the personal value of applying the conscious leadership framework to himself, Godard was eager to see what kind of transformation he could create by bringing the concept to the entire G2 team. “Our company coach comes to every leadership meeting, to our off-sites, and she does one-on-one sessions with my leadership team,” Godard says. “And once a month we do a conscious check-in with the C-level leaders in which we focus on the ‘unsaid’—the feelings and emotions we have been withholding from each other.”
It’s inevitable that teammates will end up keeping certain things from each other. People are either too busy to make time for hard conversations, or they avoid conflict entirely because they don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings. The problem is that these small disconnects snowball until they create a larger, more problematic misalignment.
Conscious leadership practices encourage everyone to bring themselves to work in a more holistic and authentic way. The framework goes well beyond the somewhat overused idea of ‘bringing your whole self to work.’ It provides specific tools and terms of engagement, ensuring that everyone is making the same commitments, communicating in the same way, and working according to the same rules and expectations. This helps to establish critical trust and a sense of confidence.
Feeling Your Feelings
Too often, we assume that our feelings should be kept apart from our professional lives , but there are two key ways that feelings routinely make a big difference—for better or worse—in a business setting. One has to do with so-called ‘gut’ feelings, and the other has to do with the dangers of denying your feelings.
“There’s a lot of insight and wisdom in our feelings,” says Godard. “It’s a mistake to always let the data make the decisions. The metrics might look perfect, but if you or someone else isn’t ‘feeling it,’ it’s almost always worth taking another look.” This idea may fly in the face of the data-first approach of many MBA graduate consultants, but experience has proven to Godard that the data doesn’t always tell the whole story.
The concept of feeling your feelings to completion is something Godard learned from his first conscious leadership coach. “The idea is that if you feel any feeling—joy, sadness, anger, anything—to completion, it tends to be gone within sixty seconds,” says Godard. “But if you try to avoid a feeling, you’re trapping the energy in your head, and that emotion can live on in you forever.” So, feel the feelings in order to let them move through you, so you can move forward.
Accepting Feedback: Stay Curious
Accepting feedback is a challenging test for pretty much everyone, especially people who are highly invested in their work and their vision. It’s hard to stay curious and above the line when someone is telling you something you don’t want to hear.
“While none of our situations in tech are truly life or death, it can feel that way,” says Godard. “When someone criticizes my work or me personally as a CEO, my fight-or-flight instincts kick in. I get angry. I get defensive. Instead of being curious, I’m going to say the accusations are BS. But that’s not the best response.”
The conscious leadership framework says that the only thing you should do when you get feedback is receive it, and say thank you. This is intellectually simple, but emotionally hard. Most of us will automatically jump to defend ourselves, our teammates, or our work. But the goal is to just receive the feedback and let it sit. It’s like the old advice to sleep on it before sending an email. You don’t want to react at all, just take a breath, cool off, and give yourself the time to think about it.
Instead of immediately denying or deflecting, you want to think about what truth there might be in what the other person is saying. You want to ask yourself how you might learn from what they are saying, and get better. In this context, all feedback is an opportunity.
Making a Conscious Decision about Conscious Leadership
“In the trenches of entrepreneurship, the ultimate challenge is to seek a more enlightened path that will help you become a better leader and a better human so that you can achieve more success and also enjoy the ride more,” says Godard. The conscious leadership framework has helped him both personally and professionally to get closer to this state.
Conscious leadership is not, however, a quick fix, and it’s not for everyone.
Godard acknowledges that he wouldn’t have been ready for this approach earlier in his career when he was more of an adrenaline junkie. It required a certain level of experience and maturity to arrive at a place where he was ready to learn to operate in a different way and accept the challenge of becoming more self aware and growing.
Incorporating conscious leadership practices will also slow you down, because your team will need to take time to get in touch with their feelings as part of the normal operating process. In addition to time, it also requires an investment of money and effort. “In most situations, it’s worth taking the time,” says Godard. “Conscious leadership only works if you’re truly open and committed to it. You don’t want to do it out of a sense of obligation. You want to do it because you’re truly curious, it feels right, and you want to explore it.”
To hear more about how conscious leadership has made a personal and professional difference for Godard Abel, listen to the full episode of The BUILD Podcast with Blake Bartlett.