The Rise of Conscious Business

Why Everything Matters and How Values are Re-entering the Workplace

– by Mark Walsh

Imagine two scenes – both real possibilities, several decades from now after you have finished working.

Possibility one: You are retired and wealthy, living in a beautiful gated compound. Outside social injustice has led to endemic violence and the air is polluted but inside you’re fine. Inside your house at least, though perhaps not inside yourself. You have a nagging suspicion that spending your life making money and accumulating power wasn’t all you were capable of and you feel unsatisfied and ill-at-ease. While at work you saw the world go downhill, but it wasn’t your problem so you got on with things and trained people to do what they’ve always done. Yes, you bullied and schemed your way to the top but business is a hard game and everyone else was playing that way. You take another pill to feel OK – your physical and emotional health is poor and you have few friends to enjoy your wealth with. The weekend beckons and you wonder how you’ll fill the time trying not to think of what might have been. You wonder if you are as rich as you seem.

Possibility two: You are retired and wealthy, living in a beautiful community you have chosen to call home. Outside the world still has it’s difficulties but things are starting to change. Business has become accountable, corporate social responsibility is the norm and personal and environmental sustainability is now at the heart of organisations. Your grandchildren are entering the workplace and find the high levels of emotional intelligence, authentic leadership and values-driven environment common sense. You are glad you played a small part in them being able to be human 9-5 and tell you them stories, which shock them, of how people struggled in the bad old days. You’re glad that you didn’t let your spiritual life suffer at work: by really doing what you love in the service of others work became a spiritual practice which was deeply satisfying. You have a game of golf lined up for the weekend and while things are a bit creaky these days you’re still fit and well. You worked hard your whole life doing things you cared about, things that were good for both you and the world, and despite some ups and downs made good money doing it. While you’re officially retired, people still ask your advice and you’re happy to help out.  You consider yourself as rich as anyone.

Now, think of someone you respect, perhaps a past manager, a world leader, a family member or a friend you look up to. List the virtues which you admire, perhaps courage, wisdom, compassion…they’re your values. Now ask yourself how many of these did you express at work in concrete ways in the last week? How many are you really living while you are at work? If not what’s getting in your way?

The visualisation that opens this article is based on Stephen Covey’s famous retirement exercise, used in time management and leadership workshops, that asks what you want to achieve and be remembered for? Retirement is the wimp’s version of course, the real question is ‘what do you want to do before you die? (because you will soon)’. Our time is limited and we spend half of it at work. The second exercise is is inspired by management consultant and writer Fred Kofman. Both the exercises point to what is important for us and how this relates to the world of work, which leads to the claim at the heart of this article: the deep values people hold are often not expressed at work with personal and social consequences, this needs to and is, happily, starting to change and leaders and trainers can support this. Let me labour this point somewhat because I think our happiness depends upon us having the courage to look at this – our time is limited, we will die and yet we’re spending at least half of our waking lives doing things that contradicts what we really value. I see people everyday closing off the best part of themselves when they enter the office and suffering and causing others to suffer as a result. This would be seen as an act of utter insanity it wasn’t so commonplace.

The Old Way (is Broken)

Yeah but….yeah but… yeah but… it’s not that easy right? We all want to be good people but nice guys finish last! Some things are just not appropriate or useful at work! There’s a very powerful and deeply embedded narrative that states that work is not life (hence “work-life balance”), that emotions, the body and spirituality are not needed at work, where we can and should turn these things off. This narrative has its historical roots in the Renaissance when science started taking back ground from the church (Galileo was at the turning point for example). This continued through to the industrial revolution where the dignities of separating out art, morals and science – or the beautiful, the good and the true – degenerated into an excessive reduction of everything to what could be easily seen and measured, people became cogs in the machine. The management theory used in most training today was born out of Ford’s factory lines. However, this stage in culture’s development has been valuable and has led to some great leaps forward: life expectancy has doubled since before the industrial revolution; fundamentalist religions no longer get to say what is true for everyone (outside of Kansas at least); we have put a man on the moon, etc. The problem is that this stage in our evolution is becoming badly outdated.  It no longer matches the kind of work many people do, which is now informational and creative not industrial, the personal problems people face (stress-related illnesses are now the biggest killers – UK Statistic Office ) and the global issues that threaten annihilation within our grandchildren’s lifetimes (at a conservative estimate – see for example

IBM’s 2010 study ‘Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study’ provides a business leadership perspective on “the old problem”. This study was based on face-to-face conversations with 1,541 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders who represent organisations in 60 countries and 33 different industries. In it, senior leaders state, “We are now leading in a drastically different world […] in a very short time, we’ve become aware of global climate change; of the geopolitical issues surrounding energy and water supplies; of the vulnerabilities of the supply chains for food, medicine and even talent, and of sobering threats to global security. The common denominator? The realities and challenges of global integration. We occupy a world that is connected on multiple dimensions, and at a deep level – global system of systems…. Increasingly interconnected economies, enterprises, societies, and governments have given rise to vast new opportunities. Increased connectivity has also created strong—and too often unknown interdependencies. For this reason, the ultimate consequence of any decision has often been poorly understood.”

In other words…we now live in a new world and the old ways aren’t going to cut it anymore. The IBM report provides an overview, on a personal level, I meet burnt out executives in stress and time management workshops, training and HR managers, who long to convey something more and many people who just want to be happy and more themselves at work.

New Solutions – Conscious and Integral Business

So how might we resolve this damaging split between work and being human (emotions, embodied, spirituality, play and being fully alive). Let’s go back to the values…and I’m not talking about the utterly inauthentic made up pseudo-values I see on 9/10 of corporate mission statements….but your real values. Of the aspects of people you admire how many of these are really incompatible with work? Some of them might be challenging or hard to imagine bringing to the office, how do you embody compassion in banking for example but how many are really impossible to bring into the workplace? In my experience exceptional leaders and companies build their success on virtues such as honesty, integrity and care. There is a long tradition of this in capitalism, particularly in the UK (see for example Cadbury’s or Rowntree). Virtues that might be described as “spiritual” are the very basis of the success of many businesses! And yes there are even compassionate successful bankers our there…and many more still in the closet. The idea of business as a force for good or as a practice of personal growth is not unusual when one looks at either at history or considers the logic of what any marketplace in its essence is – a place where people increase their own wellbeing by serving others. Brought up to believe that “one can not serve God and mammon” and that rich people aren’t good and good people aren’t rich this idea took some time to become evident to me so I can appreciate that it may seem strange at first. Business is powerful and becoming more so. An example of this new way of thinking is Hunter Luvin’s work who states how climate change can not only be solved by business but solved at a profit.

If conscious business implies values and therefore multiple bottom lines are at work, what would a truly integral business look like? Ken Wilber calls calls his work, half jokingly, “a theory of everything”. Wilber’s theory includes internal and external collective and singular aspects of reality, which he calls quadrants (see diagram for business applications), developmental levels (explained below), states of awareness, multiple intelligences (“lines” in this language) and types (e.g. Myers Briggs).  By trying to reduce people to cogs and eliminating and ignoring two quadrants (half of reality) and many states, lines and types,  business made a huge mistake. This limiting what “counts” at work was an error as the other factors at work were still, quite literally, at work. If you’ve ever seen a manager make a decision based on heated emotions that they aren’t even aware of let alone can manage, you know what I mean. If you’ve seen a leader with zero embodied personal presence or charisma you know what I mean. Employees will still leave a workplace if is not aligned with their values even if these aren’t acknowledged. You’re smart people, you know what I mean. It makes sense for a business to consider as much of what is going on as possible. Broadly speaking this means subjective interior aspects (which are often ignored), cultural aspects, hard facts and figures (still important) and systems and structures. Any effective training will include, or at least consider, all of these. Let’s take a stress management training as an example. It would need to consider biology/behaviour, psychology, culture and environment/systems associated with stress (Wilber talk about 4 “quadrants”). A stress workshop could include some meditative work involving state shifts, CBT techniques to look at thinking, physical grounding techniques, changes to office layout and helping build a culture of accountability and empathy in an organisation. “I” (psychological) “we” (cultural) and “it” (measurable outcomes) must be considered for a comprehensive picture and therefore best results. Note the similarity to Adair’s classic model which examines “task, team and individual”. The task is built on the team which is built on individuals’ self awareness, self-management and development. There is a very “hard case for soft skills” as Daniel Goleman would say. As well as emotional intelligence I would add creativity, spiritual awareness/ethical development and embodied training. These need to be included for a leadership training to be truly effective. Simply put, everything matters.

Developmental Levels

I’ve mentioned personal and cultural development a number of times already so maybe it’s time to get a little more vigorous about what I mean by that. Let’s start with children, they grow though distinct stages of psychological development, for example a child of certain age cannot understand that others can see them even if they can’t see the other person (see Piaget for more examples). Early development becomes more culturally driven and continues into adulthood becoming progressively less tied to age. Levels or waves of development exist in all “intelligences” e.g. you can be developed cognitively, emotionally and morally. Note that traditionally business has only valued cognitive intelligence which is a very perspective limited. and has had no accurate model of what personal growth is.

A simple model of moral or values development for example would be from egocentric (me) to ethnocentric (mine) to worldcentric (all of us). The difference in management effectiveness at these levels is extreme. What is common throughout different intelligences, and in fact defines “development” is increased perspective and concern.  The idea of conscious or integral business only becomes possible at certain developmental stages which are now becoming more common, before which the idea has no appeal, and after which the idea of anything less becomes unbearable.

Why Integral? – It Just Works Better

I’d like to be clear that I believe, from my own experiences and from reviewing the evidence base that a conscious / integral approach to business is not only more ethically sound but more effective.  Because more of the things that are going on anyway are considered, this stands to reason. It is more sustainable, more attractive to potential employees, creates better employee engagement, is more creative and offers a longer-term and more encompassing vision. as perspective and concern with development this is true by definition. In short, it just works better. When I look at the companies that I see as a success in the modern world I see many of them starting to embody these principles. On an individual basis there is growing evidence that higher developmental stages lead to more effective leadership (e.g. Joiner & Josephs 2006, Jim Colins on “post-egoic stage 5” leaders, Torbert 2004). A good summary of much integral research and how it can be applied to coaching is Martin Egan’s paper on the subject (Egan, 2010).

It’s Happening Anyway

Those who study adult development have seen this change coming for a while. Starting in the 60’s a new value set emerged first in counter-culture than is now becoming established in business, already dominates Universities and will soon be utterly mainstream (see Spiral Dynamics for more of values growth). In short the hippies have grown up and gone into business, but they have not reverted to the values of their parents. The younger generation is even keener on conscious approaches to business as the rise of social enterprise and the demand in even the most traditional business schools for courses on related topics shows. One reason most call-centres have high turnover of young people for example is because bright young things won’t put up with anything less. While ageist generalisations are somewhat crude, I do see a trend that Generation Y, unlike their post WW2 austerity parents, are not happy just to have a job. Perhaps new financial realities will change this but I don’t think so. Something profound has shifted in how people relate to work. Young people are no longer prepared to sacrifice doing good, and their own health, development and enjoyment just for a pay-check. In the US there are a several conscious business conferences with growing numbers of participants each year. The book “Megatrends 2010 – The Rise of Conscious Capitalism” explains the phenomena. My contention is that conscious and integral business is coming into being to meet the demands of the times in any event. There will be ups and downs, dinosaurs who say it is ridiculous, people who can’t adapt, and it will happen anyway.

Training For a Conscious Workplace

Trainers can support leaders and emerging leaders in organisations develop a number of key skills which will lead to a “conscious culture”. While this task is potentially huge, and supporting adult-development (which enables a values-driven approach) a long and difficult path, here are a few critical areas training managers may want to pay attention to:

Long-term thinking and a wide circle of concern are almost definitions of adult development and these can be supported and encouraged.

Time management training (really commitment, energy and attention management) and stress management training – preferably including meditative aspects which support development – see Alexander et al,(1990). These are necessities in the modern workplace to get (the right) things done without going crazy and help look after the “I” aspect of a business.

Emotional and embodied intelligence are two critical areas that are often missing from management. For people who know their jobs and are cognitively smart these two areas are often where you will get the best leverage. Aside from the substantial leadership benefits of working in these areas (self-management, empathy, inspiration, etc) they also “open” the whole area of values-led business and “being human at work.”

“Unconditional responsibility” as opposed to being a victim and being a learner rather than a knower are two area that Fred Koffman identifies.  The first is a prerequisite for coordinating action and the latter not only enables learning but is necessary for humility.

Communication training – learning to coordinate effectively with language is highly beneficial as this is most of modern work! I recommend the ontological coaching approach from Fernando Flores for this (see Brothers 2005). For contacting the deep values and needs at the heart of conscious business I would recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s work on NonViolent Communication.

Creativity training, intuition and visioning experiences like Otto Scharmer’s Theory U  encourage the emergence of conscious business and add value for organisations looking to be dynamic, agile and innovative.

Why Training and HR Managers are Important

The two most important groups of people to lead this change within business are CEOs and other senior leaders (changes comes from the top) and training and HR managers. Training managers are responsible for “setting the tone” in inductions, giving staff skills to lead integrally and developing an organisational culture that is really values led.  HR, in the best cases can be the “human” side of any business and perhaps it is time they reclaimed the name. Their role in hiring and firing based is also critical, and these decision can be explicitly based on more than facts and figures (as they usually are anyway) to incorporate multiple bottom-lines.

I would like to end with an impassioned plea that anyone involved with leadership, training and HR within an organisation start making steps to support this evolution. It will reduce suffering and make your organisation more competitive at the same time. Come join the revolution, it’s good, it’s fun and you’ll make money from it. The alternative, and I won’t pull any punches here, is a wasted life hurting others and yourself. The choice, if you’re conscious of it, is yours.


Aburdene Patricia (2005) Megatrends 2010 – The Rise of Conscious Capitalism

Adair John (1984), Action centred leadership, London: McGrawHill,

Alexander et al (1990). The Vedic psychology of human development: A model of development of consciousness beyond formal operations.New York: Oxford University Press.

Beck D and Cowan C (1996), Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change

Brothers C (2005), Language and the Pursuit of Happiness

Collins, JC (2001) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t.

Covey, Stephen R., (1992), Principle Centered Leadership, Free Press

Egan Martin (2010) Coaching for Integral Leadership in ‘Leadership Coaching:

Working with Leaders to Develop Elite Performance’ Ed. Jonathan PASSMORE, Kogan Page

Goleman, Daniel, Boyatzis, Richard E., McKee, Annie (2004), Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, Harvard Business School Press

IBM (2010) – “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study.”

– Thanks to my integral business friend’s from The Netherlands Realize for pointing me towards this study.

Joiner, William B., & Josephs, Stephen A., (2006), Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change, Jossey-Bass

Kalman, M., (2007),

Kofman, Fred (2006), Conscious Business – how to build value through values, Sounds True, Boulder – Book and abridged CD set.

Luvins, H (1999), Natural Capitalism

Piaget, J. (1977) The Grasp of Consciousness: Action and concept in the young child.

Rosenberg, M (2003), NonViolent Communication

Scharmer, O (2007) Theory U

Torbert, William (2004), The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

UK Statistics: –

Wilber, Ken (1996-2007) – For a light introduction I recommend The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything.

Shambhala, 2007.

Wilber, Ken (1999), Integral Psychology. Shambhala

Diagrams are representations of Ken Wilber’s “big three” and quadrants, with assistance and thanks to Martin Egan.

If you liked this article you may like to look at the following:

If your organisation is interested in learning more about how our embodied training techniques can help in your workplace then call us on (+44) (0) 7762 541 855 or (+44) (0) 1273 906828.

If you would like to receive the Integration Training newsletter with free tips and news of events please click on the link below.

Sign up for our Email Newsletter


  1. Thea Allison