Bob Rosen

An interview with author Bob Rosen: What is Grounded and Conscious Leadership?

Shaara: You’ve published numerous books on business and leadership, the latest one being Conscious. And you’re going to be speaking on Grounded and Conscious at the Summit, so I’d love to hear more about why self-awareness and awareness in general is critical to good leadership.

Bob: Well I think that we’re finding ourselves in an accelerated phase of transformation where the world is changing faster than our ability to adapt. There’s as a result a growing gap between where our organizations need to go and where they are currently. And there’s a gap in terms of the leaders that we have and the leaders that we need inside organizations. I think everybody is grappling with the same six disruptors of speed, uncertainty complexity, technology, competition, and globalization. And so, we’re stuck having to change faster, adapt faster, accelerate faster than we’ve ever have had to do before. As a result, people have to be more aware of what’s going on.

The Conscious book really was the accelerant, whereas the Grounded book was the foundation, and we have found – and this is my big goal Shaara is to recognize it – that the next big intelligence, the next big capability inside organizations, is to be grounded and conscious. And it’s relevant to employees at all levels. The more grounded and conscious you are, the better you are going to deal with all of these forces that are changing our society and changing our businesses so quickly.

“The next big intelligence, the next big capability inside organizations, is to be grounded and conscious.”

Shaara: I really love that you talk about it in terms of being applicable to everyone in the organization, right?

Bob: Very much so.

Shaara: And I have that same belief – that you have to personally understand what you are contributing to the organization in terms of where it is today, in order to help bring that aspirational culture to life. If you don’t know where you are and you’re not willing to be insightful and thoughtful, it’s not going to happen.

Bob: Just on that point, I think that this whole notion of living and leading in the gap between your current reality and your desired future is a core capability that we must learn. And in the gap between current reality and desired future is our anxiety, our motivation, our engagement, our excitement and aspirations, our blind spots, and that’s where all the work of change happens. I think that’s what’s been missing from the change literature is we haven’t really understood and made that connection between personal transformation and organizational transformation.

“We haven’t really understood and made that connection between personal transformation and organizational transformation.”

Shaara: Yeah, I would agree, and actually, Edgar Schein really talks about it in his work.

Bob: Right, exactly.

Shaara: So, this wasn’t a question that I had planned, but you talked a little bit about leaders being stuck in their ways. I’m curious about your point of view on how did we get here and why do you think that is?

Bob: I think one thing is that many of us grew up on the belief that the goal of life is to be happy and to be stable, but the reality is life has its ups and downs and uncertainty is reality.

Secondly, we grew up in a paradigm that said the goal of life is to be the smartest person in the room. And that smart paradigm is really based on a scarcity model that you think you have all the answers, so you’re not really open to learning. The conscious model is built on abundance, which suggests that you learn both within yourself and outside by interacting with communities and organizations. It’s more driven off the principle of love, whereas scarcity is driven off the principal of fear. That’s one theme.

I think another problem is that many of our investments in leadership development have not really panned out because they haven’t produced sustainable behavior change, and I think it’s because we haven’t focused on the four channels of change. [a] So, I think we have to get much more sophisticated about how people change.

And then the third area is that we live in a very action-oriented society. We don’t have enough time to introspect. I think as the world changes faster, it requires us to reflect and act in a different way, in a more balanced way.

Shaara: Actually, what I’m hearing is as the world turns faster, we need to go slower not faster.

Bob: Exactly we have to go slower. I think people just get seduced and highjacked by a very intense, stressful, action-oriented world, and it doesn’t work as much in the future.

So, I think you’re absolutely right that we have to rethink leadership development in a fundamental way. We have to rethink relationships. We’re just in phase one in terms of understanding the relationship between human beings and digital machines, and we’re just going to have to continue to learn.

I think another thing that’s really interesting that’s changing is the democratization of power. Huge, huge shift. Technology has fundamentally changed the power dynamics in global society and all of our institutions and the like. People have access to all this knowledge, so power isn’t kept at the top of the house. It’s distributed and dispersed in organizations, and we have to educate everybody about being a leader. And it was sort of a throwaway line, but today it really is true.

“Technology has fundamentally changed the power dynamics in global society and all of our institutions.”

Shaara: It’s true. You talk about this democratization of power and knowledge because knowledge is power to a certain extent.

Bob: Absolutely.

Shaara: So, as we think about the three things I’ll be talking about at the Leadership Summit – the AI, the gig economy, and the social aspects of Gen-Z – from your perspective, what do you view will be the most challenging for leaders in the next five years?

Bob: I think the digital revolution is just fundamentally changing everything. It is the über disrupter of all.

With respect to giggers, I think we’re moving toward organizations as collaborative networks and ecosystems where the glue that holds the organization together is purpose, technology, knowledge, and relationships, and everything else is a variable. So, there’s a whole new set of skills that are going to be required to excel in that collaborative network ecosystem environment.

The third thing is that we have five generations in the workforce at the same time, and they all have different definitions and understanding of authority and what a successful life is and the role that work plays in your life. And that’s a fantastic thing if we can leverage that into a learning opportunity across the generations, rather than point fingers at one generation or another for having the right or wrong answer.

I think all of this grounded and conscious stuff comes back to in order to solve the problems of the day and in order to build these organizations of the future, we need grounded and conscious people.

“We cannot afford to not have grounded and conscious people to work together and thrive in this changing environment.”

It just doesn’t work. I mean, what’s your sense? Does this resonate with your experience?

Shaara: Absolutely. Everything you have said is steeped in tons research and data, but it’s sort of intuitive too. And part of it is getting people to have that aha moment, “Oh wow. I’m contributing.”

Bob: “I’m part of the problem. What’s the solution?”

Shaara: “I’m part of the problem.” That’s exactly it.

Bob: I think we’ve been tinkering around in this sort of psychological awareness base for some time, but I think we need to hit it head on. This is really a fundamental mindset shift inside organizations and in fact, families. I’ve given the Grounded book out and have gotten a ton of emails from people who say they have conversations about “Are we a grounded family? Are we conscious or are we too small minded in the way we think about ourselves as a family?” And so, I think it’s sort of human growth.

Shaara: Well I remember when we first met and talked years ago…because we’ve been neighbors now for over 20 years. I think you’ve evolved your Grounded model because that was what I interpreted you founded Healthy Companies on, right?

Bob: Right. Well, I didn’t know it then. Then it sort-of emerged 25 years later.

Shaara: I thought, “Yeah that makes perfect sense to me as a leader.” It’s that you have to bring your whole self to work as a leader, right?

Bob: Exactly.

Shaara: And all of those elements are part of who we are, so you can’t just compartmentalize. Potentially, back in the 70’s and 80’s when leaders came to work they were able to compartmentalize more.

Bob: Good question.

Shaara: I think part of what contributed to it was that you had mostly men in the workplace who had women at home, so you had that sort of separation of work/family, and you could be a little bit more compartmentalized. And I think as more women came into the workforce and stayed in the workforce, you have more dual working families, dual income earners. I think that put a lot of pressure on leaders.

Bob: I think it’s a really big issue. I agree with that totally.

Shaara: And then people will say they don’t want anything different than millennials, but they never asked for it. “I want a work-life balance. I want that.” But you know what? There are 70 million of them, and they are empowered. Between them and now the Z-ers who speak their minds, and they’re being taught to speak their minds, to speak up, to debate, to share their point of view, which is exactly what you want.

So, my last question. We talked a little bit about artificial intelligence. It’s the opposite in a way of feeling and being emotionally intelligent, and you define Conscious and Grounded as the new human intelligence.

How have you brought these elements of grounded and conscious to the forefront? How is that going to really help leaders as they deal with artificial intelligence and the pace at which that is going to impact how we do our work?

Bob: What a great question. Well one of the skills of being conscious is to engage in what psychologists call participative observation or metacognition. And it’s basically being detached from what’s going on in your mind and looking down on yourself as you think and as you interact in the world. We have relationship tools and we have information or knowledge tools, and the more conscious we are, the more we can understand what we can get from each of those tool chests. Artificial intelligence is going to provide us with just a ton more choices, and the more grounded we are, the more effective we are at making smart decisions.

I’m trying to do a lot of thinking now about how do you truly integrate grounded and conscious into business? So, this is a topic I’m just starting to think about, this whole notion of digitization. I’ve gotten more focused and more clear about what we’re trying to do, so for me to have a lightbulb go on in a person’s life for some reason is really great. So, I really appreciate your interest.

Shaara: So, I wonder if this is what caused your clarity. It sounds like you became more grounded and more conscious, so it allowed you to become more creative.

Bob: Great insight. I got more peace. My work got clearer.

Shaara: You seem more Zen.

Bob: I am. I have a desire to really learn more deeply how to integrate this stuff into life and leadership and organizations.

Read more about Bob and the Grounded and Conscious theories.

Shaara and Bob

[a] Four channels of change:

  1. Perception: Are you seeing yourself in the world clearly?
  2. Mindedness: Do you think with an open mind versus with a closed or fixed mind?
  3. Emotion: Do you live your life with negative emotions or positive emotions?
  4. Action: Are you acting constructively or destructively?

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