John Mackey’s 3 Steps to Conscious Leadership


That was how John Mackey dug into his speech last fall.

I had just introduced my fellow Austinite to the Commercial Finance Association’s national convention. He’s the Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. and literally wrote the book on “conscious capitalism,” a practice that I try to implement at Far West Capital.

He did his usual thing, explaining the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism, extolling their virtues, preaching his gospel. And then he told the crowd of 1,200 elite bankers and lenders to get their shit together. That’s not an exaggeration — those were his exact words.

What he meant: Articulate what you stand for, take a stand and show your stakeholders why and how you bring value to their lives.

Notice he said “stakeholders” and not shareholders. People think that businesses are only about profit and those who control the decisions. Stakeholders refers to everyone. But, how do you show everyone how you bring value to their lives?

Start with one of the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism: Conscious (or Servant) Leadership. It says, Conscious Leaders focus on “we”, rather than “me.” They inspire, foster transformation and bring out the best in those around them.

Now, I know what you are thinking right about now. Servant Leadership? Really, Cole? Yeah, at one point I also felt like this was getting a little preachy. It was a little hard for me to do this kind of stuff. I felt like, “Well, your actions should just speak for themselves.” But, just as Mackey told the Commercial Finance Association, I am going to also tell you: I realized that if you – as a leader – aren’t speaking up for what you stand for in your industry, your team and your organization, then you are leaving it open for interpretation.

I don’t sit around at work and say “C’mon guys, we are all going to be Conscious Capitalists.” They know that I tweet about it and have given a talk on it. I don’t walk around with the book like a bible. I just try to practice the principles.

Let’s whittle down what Mackey says about leadership to focus on three main ideas.

  1. Figure out why you did this in the first place.  Mackey says that business owners tend to forget their passion and the purpose of why they started their business. It becomes about their shareholders. But, then it’s no longer the same business that you once started. So, follow your bliss back. (Watch more of Mackey’s advice for entrepreneurs here. )
    Reflect on the following…

    • What do you take the time to do to remind you of your passion? Do you go to conferences where you are excited to hear industry leaders speak? Do you have a favorite podcast that leaves you feeling inspired?
  2. Audit yourself. Part of Conscious Leadership is to develop yourself, to know yourself and take 100% responsibility for where you are in the world. In his book, Mackey says “More than once in the history of Whole Foods Market, the company was unable to collectively evolve until I myself was able to evolve — in other words, I was holding the company back. My personal growth enabled the company to evolve.”
    • Start by getting feedback…about yourself…from anyone. See how you are perceived through other’s eyes, especially your employees.
    • Use a method where your staff will feel protected and openly share.
    • Then, make a growth list. How would you like to see yourself behaving differently in 3 months, in a year? What kind of impact do you think this will make on your team and your business?
  3. Be part of the team.  If part of conscious leadership is a commitment to develop both yourself and your team, well then… how do you do that?  
    • At Far West Capital, we have a disciplined approach to growth and development. We have a lot of opportunities for outside training and continually working together to grow as a team.
    • So we orient our goals around nothing but team with one core vertical. I leave that fairly open for people to pick and choose what they want to do. Telling people “you’re going to send out an email recognizing your teammates” sounds kind of cheesy. Part of conscious leadership is developing myself and sharing with others. If I am not doing that for myself, how can I expect anyone else to do that?

Why did YOU do this in the first place? What did you discover, auditing yourself? Let us know in the comments here or over at our Facebook page.

Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.

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