A few years ago I had the privilege of working with a senior leadership team in a particularly well know insurance company. This business was expanding rapidly through organic growth, was very entrepreneurial and people loved working there. Employees were committed, high energy and had fun as they helped the company expand through great product propositions, innovation and fantastic, flexible customer service.

My brief was to help a high performing senior leadership team take responsibility for future strategy, innovation and continuous improvement initiatives. The assignment was commissioned by a Director who was very unusual and considered by many to be a bit of a maverick.  The reason he was considered a maverick was interesting.  He cared about his people, wanted them to really grow and develop not just as professionals, but as human beings too.  He thought people should love to come to work, should be proud of the company they worked for and have a big say in how that company was run and its future direction. Today we might describe him as a ‘Conscious’ leader!

The insurance company was acquired by a major bank led by a particularly authoritarian CEO (you might guess who I’m talking about!). Over a period of about eighteen months, I watched the entrepreneurial spirit being driven out of the insurance business.  Employees quickly became disillusioned as their feelings of being valued, encouraged and honoured for their contribution to shaping the business was eroded by inflexible, bureaucratic processes where even their toilet breaks were timed! Innovation slowly died, absenteeism increased and loyalty went out of the window. The spirit of the organisation changed from one of hope and positive expectation to one of fear.

This got me thinking about the contrast between the darker side of ‘Traditional’ leadership and what we now describe as ‘Conscious’ leadership.  John Renesch, a San Francisco based “businessman-turned-futurist” wrote in his article ‘Conscious Leadership: Transformational Approaches to a Sustainable Future’ (- see http://integralleadershipreview.com/4902-feature-article-conscious-leadership-transformational-approaches-to-a-sustainable-future – ) about the difference between Traditional and Conscious leadership and listed the differences as follows:

Traditional leadership( the darker side of) Conscious leadership
Intimidates, rules, manipulates Inspires, evokes greatness
Relies on form, structure Trusts in Self, other
Outer-directed Inner-directed
Eventually becomes incompetent Continues to grow and learn
More adolescent, even if highly functional Adult, wiser and more mature
Strong persona, maintains image Authentic and genuine
Politics prevails Truth-telling prevails
Tends to lead forcefully Leads with presence
Tends to be dominating Possesses dominion, mastery
Protects own image Serves those who follow


So what happened to this insurance business?  Well you can probably guess! It went into decline, lost market share, revenues and profit decreased significantly and employee morale plummeted. They lost enlightened leaders and the Director who commissioned me to work with his senior leadership team retired through frustration. And what happened to the parent bank? Well, as has been well documented, it was at the point of collapse in 2008, had to be was bailed out by the Government and lost its customers’ confidence and respect.

I think I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about which style of leadership you would prefer or chose to adopt for your business.

Share Button