What is a "Concious Leader"?



Kevin Devine, DMD


Consciousness can be defined as: "Being aware of, and responding to, one's surroundings and the effect one has on them." How does one gain awareness? Usually by asking questions and seeking advice. A "conscious leader" is constantly looking for feedback and trying to understand the consequences of his actions.

We have talked here before about your business having a purpose, and the importance of defining that purpose. Have you done that? It is difficult, isn't it? I recently read an interview that works this out from a slightly different direction.

You may have heard about "Blue Zones", a term coined by Dan Buettner. These "Blue Zones" are places throughout the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest. Dan is a National Geographic Fellow, multiple New York Times bestselling author, and founder of the company "Blue Zones". He founded this company with the purpose of optimizing people?s environments so they can live both longer and better lives.

Dan was telling a story of a keynote speech he gave, trying to make the point that eating a healthy diet is actually very inexpensive. He made the comment, "It just goes to show that you don't need to shop at Whole Foods to be healthy.? Little did he know that John Mackey, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, was in the audience! Can you imagine how he felt? After the speech, John Mackey approached Dan and said, ?I?ve spent my career trying to make it easier for America to eat healthy and then guys like you badmouth us? ? Dan Buettner felt bad and apologized to John through email correspondence, which eventually led to a friendship.

John Mackey has written a book, "Conscious Leadership". It chronicles the wisdom he has accumulated from starting a small "hippie co-op", to creating the now-massive Whole Foods chain. He built Whole Foods by starting with a sense of purpose: promoting a plant-slanted lifestyle. This approach works not only for longevity, but evidently for business, too, as he recently sold Whole Foods to Amazon for $13.7 billion.

In his book, Mackey talks about the importance of identifying one's purpose as a leader. When asked to explain his views regarding "purpose", John said, "Let's talk first about finding purpose RAY OF LIGHT January 2022 for the organization. Generally, entrepreneurs who start a business have a higher purpose. There is something they are excited about. There is something they?re passionate about. It may not be explicit, and it may not be conscious to them yet, but something is driving them on. If they were to do the inner work, they would discover a purpose."

Business is about creating products and services which customers want to buy. In dentistry, it is pretty clear that it is about selling oral health as it relates to whole body health. Mackey takes it a step further. "For an entrepreneur, or for a company, that purpose is going to be found in however they're creating value for OTHER people. The higher purpose of the business will be found in value creation, whatever that might be."

Take some time to think about the value that your business creates for people. Whole Foods' higher purpose is "to nourish people and the planet". Can you believe they have already been doing this for 42 years?!

Take a company like Google, whose higher purpose might be "to organize a world of information and make it easily accessible to everyone". If you look at the Humane Society of the United States, their stated higher purpose is "Confronting cruelty and celebrating animals".

Mackey continued, "Every business can find its higher purpose by going deeper into its value creation. Now, if we can look beyond whatever value creation you have and ask the question from a sense of higher perspective, then we take that value creation even higher."

He used Netflix as an example. "Remember when they started? They were competing with Blockbuster and were delivering DVDs by mail. So, if their higher purpose was just to deliver DVDs by mail, then they would not be the company they are today. Instead, they saw themselves as an entertainment business and were focused on creating better ways to entertain and educate people. That led to streaming and now it has led to them creating their own shows, their own documentaries, and doing their own content creation. They didn't see their value creation in just delivering DVDs by mail. They had a higher purpose that went beyond that."

What is your higher purpose? It may seem obvious to you, but it isn't simply fighting tooth decay, or providing a living for your family. It is deeper than that!

Ed Freeman, the founder of "Stakeholder Theory", uses the red blood cell metaphor, which is this: "The body produces red blood cells. If it stops producing red blood cells, you will die. You can't live without red blood cells. But just because your body has created red blood cells, the body's purpose is not to create red blood cells. It?s just something it has to do to survive. Similarly, businesses have © Photographer Name to make money. If they don't make a profit, they'll fail. But it doesn't follow that a business exists just to make money, anymore than we exist just to produce red blood cells. They're both necessary, but that doesn't mean that's why either exists."

How do you know you are following your purpose? We know when we're on the right path in life when we are happy. Do you feel good about what you are providing for your patients, for your team, for the world? The things we're most passionate about are like windows into our souls about our own personal higher purpose.

John Mackey started with his purpose to nourish the world and then decided to open a grocery store as a way to follow that purpose. Most people don't know what their purpose is. Most dentists graduate from dental school with enormous debt. Then, they need health insurance, a job, they want to get married, and then they have a mortgage, and so on. How do you find your purpose if it doesn?t naturally occur to you?

You have to continuously learn and grow, because defining your purpose isn't easy! It's a discovery process. It is important that your team knows and shares in the practice's purpose. So, why not include them in the discovery?

Have a conversation with your team. Tell them why it is important for a business to have a purpose. Explain that you are trying to figure out the purpose of your business and need their help. WHOA! Did I just tell you to not only be vulnerable but admit it? YES, I did! Being vulnerable is a "super-power" for a leader. However, that is the topic of another article.

Work through going deeper and deeper into the purpose of the business. Don't rush to an answer. The goal isn?t to define a purpose in one meeting! It is a process, a journey that can change as you continue to examine it. When John Mackey was asked about his process of finding his purpose he said, "In a lot of ways, I'm still figuring out my higher purpose, and it's evolved over time as I?ve gone deeper into it. I used to think it was just Whole Foods, but now I?m thinking a lot bigger."

Mr. Mackey was told that most people just aren't as talented as he is, in all the ways necessary to take a tiny grocery store to a chain of over 550 stores. He replied, "First of all, I?m not good at all those things. If I'm good at some things, it's because I made a lot of mistakes and I learned a lot and have gotten better. To create anything really great in life, you tend to not do it by yourself. You do it with other people. I've been very fortunate, because I've been able to attract other people who want to partner with me."

Dentists isolate themselves. In my opinion, it is mostly out of fear: fear of judgment by our peers, by patients, and even by our team members. Successful business founders always credit partners, advisors, and mentors with being essential. They ask their employees and customers for help and feedback. They don't let fear of judgment or others' opinions keep them from being successful. The opposite is true! They embrace the opinions and questions of others.

As dentists, we aren't taught business skills. John Mackey did not go to business school. He © Phot ographer Nam e has said that he did not take one business class in college. However, he has read hundreds of business books. He has had conversations with some of the most brilliant people in the world and he says the common trait is "continuously learning".

What areas of dentistry are you passionate about? What procedures do you really enjoy? Learn to do those better. Learning is easier and much more enjoyable when it is focused on what you are passionate about. You think that you can't afford to take the time or spend the money? It is an investment in yourself, an investment in your mental and physical health! You will be happier and healthier doing what you are passionate about, and your business will be healthier doing what its higher purpose is. A business that has a higher purpose, and whose leader follows that purpose, will attract the best employees.

People want to feel like their work has value and makes a difference. It will enrich all of the lives involved. That includes you, your family, your team and your patients. Talk about giving back to the world! All this comes from taking the time to identify your passions and identifying the purpose of your business. All it takes is to look inside yourself, and ask those around you to join in your discovery.

John Mackey says it this way, "You can attract the right people to your company with your passion, your vision, and the rewards they can get. If you get the right people on your team, then your team makes you look good. So, if you get the wrong people on the team then they make you look bad. So you're no better than your team."

The process isn't easy, and you may feel like you have more pressing problems. So, here is a head start. (It isn't mine. I borrowed it, and therefore, feel I should share it.)

How does this sound for a higher purpose:

"It is a good day when we change a smile. It is a GREAT day when we change a life!"