5 ways to become a 'flourishing' leader

Many business leaders today advocate that creating and deploying the right technology is the linchpin in bringing our world toward sustainability. David Sherman, business consultant and co-author of the upcoming book The Flourishing Enterprise, sees a different means to achieving that same end; he argues that in order to create a future that meets both the needs of society and the laws of nature, we must start with transforming ourselves. Sherman suggests that practices such as meditation, collaboration and dialogue will not only support a healthier, thriving planet, but also will create significant business value.

In this post, we provide an overview of "flourishing," along with specific suggestions on how to become a "flourishing" leader.

Flourishing starts with self-awareness and reflection

Sherman explains that creating a flourishing organization involves unlocking the full potential of employees and partners to drive innovation, creativity and exceptional teamwork through positivity, having a deep sense of purpose and connecting with authentic values (using principles of positive psychology) and disciplines such as those used by world-class athletes and musicians. He argues that to manifest these characteristics, we must work on ourselves from the "inside-out," using both "on-field and off-field reflective practices."

At a glance, with its emphasis on spiritual well-being and connection to ourselves, others and the natural world, the term "flourishing" might seem more appropriate at a personal retreat. Yet the philosophy and approach to "flourishing" was influenced in part by Berkeley-Haas Dean Richard Lyons' work on developing innovative leaders and Raymond Miles, Haas professor emeritus, former dean and author of Collaborative Entrepreneurship, among others. Additionally, according to Sherman, many leading companies already integrate elements of the flourishing approach, including Whole Foods, Unilever, Google, Natura, Tata, Kyocera, Patagonia, GOJO Industries and Fairmount Minerals.

Flourishing is the next phase of management innovation

Today, Sherman sees the traditional sustainability approach (which all too often emphasizes strategy and operations without a focus on activating and inspiring people and culture) as "too little, too late." Moved by a multitude of champions within large companies such as Walmart, Staples, and Sony who connected sustainability to their own deep sense of purpose, Sherman has concluded that our collective impact on the environment will get better only if people are personally motivated to make a difference: "People will take care of the environment if they are in touch with what is most important to them and aligned with their deepest passions." In his view, the next phase of management innovation will unlock the latent potential in employees, partners and stakeholders and focus on intangible and inspirational value drivers such as mindset, emotions, purpose, values, culture, deep creativity and flow.

Sherman recommends five specific practices and actions to help leaders begin to flourish:

1. Be open to learning from others

A key to jump-starting a flourishing enterprise is being open to learning from others and valuing a broad range of perspectives. Sherman points to Wal-Mart's sustainability journey as a case in point. When Wal-Mart was being attacked on social issues a few years ago, its approach was to engage, listen and open itself to learning from its own stakeholders. "They went from being in the 'Bentonville Bubble' to understanding themselves more as others saw them. This was from authentic dialog, starting with Lee Scott and with many others engaging with more than 100 NGOs," Sherman said. One outcome of the conversations was forming big goals in the areas of women's economic empowerment, healthier food and sustainability more broadly.

2. Begin a mindfulness practice

In Flourishing: A Vision for Business and the World, Sherman and his co-authors argue that reflective practices will foster a sense of connection, deep wisdom, purpose and values in action, which they see as building blocks of "flourishing." They recommend individual and group practices built from the latest and best research in team and positive organizational science, as well as positive psychology and neuroscience. One starting place is meditation, or other practices for calming the mind. While some find bringing meditation practices into a work setting controversial (see "Mindfulness Goes Corporate" which discusses Buddhism in the boardroom), firms such as Google have fully embraced the practice. According to Sherman, Google's Search Inside Yourself training helps engineers become more emotionally intelligent.

Below are a few online resources if you are looking for ideas on how to get started with a meditation or mindfulness practice:

Cultivating Conscious Leaders

• Train Your Mind, Improve Your Game: Meditation for the 21st-Century Leader

• Just One Thing

• UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center

• The Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory

3. Get in touch with your deepest passions

"Getting in touch with deepest passions and leveraging these strengths in the work setting are key to flourishing and to unlocking full potential," Sherman emphasizes. He recommends the book The Highest Goal by Michael Ray ("the most creative man in Silicon Valley," according to Fast Company Magazine). Ray's course at Stanford, Personal Creativity in Business, has been cited by leaders such as philanthropist and entrepreneur Jeffrey Skoll as key to their success. The course and the book include exercises to help you get in touch with your deepest purpose in life and then live from that place.

4. Stop, before you go

A simple, yet profound practice is to take a pause, a quiet moment, before you dive into an important task, conversation or meeting. Sherman tells the story of an entrepreneurial chairman of a Fortune 500 who began each board meeting with a few minutes of silence. According to Sherman, at first, the board members considered it a bit strange. However, after a couple of years, at a very busy meeting where the chairman was going to skip the moment of silence, the board members insisted on their quiet time to make the transition.

5. Acknowledge and pace your own energy levels

Tony Schwartz with the Energy Project, which trains people manage their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy to become more productive, got his start helping world-class athletes work at their best. His clients now include Sony Pictures and Google. He advocates managing energy with time for recharging.

A recent blog post speaks about his experience of unplugging for two weeks. Consider taking a short fast from your smartphone and see what impact that has on your creativity and relationships.

Pencil photo by Brian A Jackson via Shutterstock