Feature Article: Conscious Leadership: Transformational Approaches to a Sustainable Future

John Renesch

John ReneschThe state of the world is screaming for leadership! Global events of the past few years make it painfully evident we humans are at a major crossroads. We all know the list of challenges and crises awaiting future generations so there’s no need for me to cover them here. Questions looming before us include:

Do we continue trying to resolve our differences through force and incivility which further divides us, while technology makes it easier and easier to do lasting harm? Or do we work collaboratively toward a better world for all of us?

Do we continue to polarize ourselves instead of seeking common ground and mutual interest?

Do we continue giving legitimacy to dysfunctional systems rather than standing tall for long-term approaches to achieving a sustainable future?

Continuing to think and behave like we have been is contrary to the best interest of humanity in the longer term. Working collaboratively appears to be impractical and unattainable. This apparent paradox tends to make us a resigned, impotent global population.

Another way of looking at this deadlock facing humanity is as a precipice rather than a crossroads. On the other side of the great chasm before us lies enormous possibility for humanity, all the things we dream about. Yet given the unknown dangers and apparently treacherous barriers that lie between the cliffs of today and the shores of tomorrow, the situation can appear hopeless and impossible. Einstein stated, “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.” This is the challenge of the conscious leader – to look at seemingly hopeless situations with new eyes, to see possibility where others see none, to bridge this chasm of impossibility so consciousness, wisdom and real leadership can come together to transcend the human condition to which most people are resigned.

Let us look at what appears to be “impractical and unattainable” as well as what seems to be “foolhardy.” Einstein warned us decades ago that we cannot solve our problems with the same consciousness with which we created them. Yet, maintainers of the status quo continue ignoring his advice.

A different kind of leadership is needed. This new leadership is not necessarily elected, promoted or appointed. These leaders don’t require credentials to see what needs to happen and take a stand for required actions or remedies. They don’t remain silent, condoning and thereby maintaining the status quo. These new leaders aren’t irresponsible anarchists or rabble rousers but a breed of more mature, long-term thinkers who have developed a level of consciousness closer to what Einstein was advocating.

“Conscious leadership” is the term I coined some years ago to communicate the quality being called for in leading people, organizations and society through these critical junctures and determining the future our children and grandchildren will inherit. I call it “conscious” because our circumstances call for a higher state of consciousness – a state of mind that includes heightened awareness of what is needed for the whole of humanity and taking responsible action. As emphasized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “As people see their predicament clearly – that our fates are inextricably tied together, that life is a mutually interdependent web of relations – then universal responsibility becomes the only sane choice for thinking people.”

Where Will the Conscious Leaders Come from?

When paradigms change, the agents or catalysts for change rarely come from within the core of the system. The established leaders are usually so embroiled in the traditions, beliefs and priorities of the existing system they rarely see the need for change much less initiate it. As former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Harlan Cleveland writes in his book Nobody in Charge, “Those with visible responsibility for leadership are nearly always too visible to take responsibility for change.”

Much like the emperor with no clothes, the new leaders dare to blow the whistle on dysfunctional behavior. They recognize it more readily because of their higher state of consciousness. Sometimes they see the insanity in the existing status quo. This new consciousness will be coming from people who are not mired down in the system. They didn’t drink the Cool Aid of status quo and have wider perspective.

We are seeing this today on an international basis as more countries are taking leadership roles in mitigating global concerns since the established “leaders” are failing to respond. We see leadership coming from individuals as well, like the woman who took on the worldwide elimination of landmines and received a Nobel Prize.

In contrast to traditional leaders who spend years building resumes, acquiring wealth and power, playing politics to get the titles and rank, these new leaders know the way to a better future is incredibly simple.

No widespread education or re-trainings are needed. No large budgets are required. No expert consultants need be hired. And it doesn’t require years to implement. An internal shift in consciousness allows new thinking to begin immediately. It can happen in minutes! Conscious leaders give up their patterns of “going along to get along.” They are no longer willing to condone the status quo. That becomes their stand.

A Better Future

Our hope for a better world lies in this new consciousness. In contrast to the old consciousness, which is resulting in greater disconnection, obsessive consumption, environmental degradation and cultural homogenization, this new thinking can lead us to a better future. New consciousness is based on the assumption we are all connected, like leaves on the same tree, not separate entities competing for the same resources.

New consciousness requires looking through a new lens toward the future. Here are a few comparisons between conscious leadership and the darker sides of traditional leadership:

traditional-conscious leadership

Through conscious leadership we will be able to transcend traditional means of resolving conflict in our world. We can transcend perverse nationalism, elitism and fundamentalism. Through conscious leadership we can create a way of life that is sustainable so our descendants will inherit a world that is life-affirming and flourishing for everyone. With the help of these new leaders, greater numbers will come to recognize the interconnectedness of all life. What a wonderful future we humans have waiting for us if we can get past this impasse of separateness. We will stand a greater chance of fulfilling a destiny that goes beyond our current level of evolution.

This “better future’ is not a fantasy for one person or one group. It is a future which affirms and respects all life. It allows all of humanity to have their basic needs met. It assures our planet will continue to serve as a hospitable home, following democracy pioneer Thomas Paine’s decree: “My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”

Getting Into Action

All these thoughts are mere academic rhetoric unless there is action to back them up. So, dear reader, what about you? Are you going to continue giving legitimacy to those systems and institutions you complain about? Or are you going to begin speaking out to people who can do something to change things?

Are you ready to embark on a practice of self-discovery, to examine your life and raise your own consciousness so you are sensitive to the pulse of humanity and the power and purity of a responsible global citizenry?

What do you see that needs to be changed? What will you do about it? Now is the time to get into action. Now is the time to take responsibility to lead the way if you possess the consciousness, the awareness and the sensitivity to be a conscious leader. The only question remaining is when do you start?

About the author

John Renesch is a San Francisco-based businessman-turned-futurist. His background includes over thirty years’ experience as a business owner, CEO and Managing Director in real estate, investment securities and other industries within the private sector. Later, he edited a series of forward-thinking business anthologies including the original writings of over 300 visionaries from industry, academia and the professional community. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. For more information about his work visit his website – To contact him by email: