“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren G. Bennis
Very often it hard to name exactly where our impulses originate. We have conscious intentions and unconscious ones. And, try as we might, our desire to evaluate — to be conscientious and to do the right thing — is really difficult.
So eventually we have to ask ourselves: “Conscience for the sake of what?” What are we trying to realize by “doing” the right thing? Which voice really supports us “the most” anyway?
There are three classical answers to this question of “voice.” To be conscientious means to be in alignment with:
- the voice of personal life experience,
- the voice consensus reality, and
- the voice of objective reality.
What we are trying to do is discover the “balance” that offers us the most of who we are.
Let’s look at an example:
Ted has a decision to make. He is thinking about entering a degree program. He’s wants to “figure it out” so he can be at peace with his decision and feel a sense of integrity in it.
Here’ s what he knows:
- The program will take three years and cost $15,000 (this will be a hardship)
- Studying is hard; at 43, Ted feels less ready now than he did 10 years ago
- Doors will open; his studies will make a difference, AND
- It’s not clear how his life will change
Ted’s asking himself:
“If I ignore personal, consensus, and objective realities can I really do the right thing? Do I understand — that “what’s at stake” AND “what makes me whole” — is how well I balance these?”
So what does Ted do?……
According to Stephen Covey, conscience operates in a spiral fashion — by Learning, Committing, and Doing. Conscience is an endowment that NEVER arrives at completion.
By acting conscientiously, we reflect on the “thinking without thinking” which makes life experience accessible and on the more conscious thinking that weighs impact against integrity. We question our motives and intentions: “Are we generating the impact we want? Can we live with the result that we expect? Is personal expectation in agreement with consensus and objective realities?”
Let’s look at the three “voices” again — using Ted’s data:
- Personal experience – age, past experience in school, future expectation, feelings about change
- Consensus reality – doors will open, his studies will have value, and hardship will be created
- Objective reality – time will pass, resources will be used, and nothing will be certain
So the question: “Conscience for the sake of what?” actually asks us to be responsible for the impulses that inform our actions. Conscience asks us to engage with Learning, Committing, and Doing.
But the cornerstone here is acknowledging vulnerability and reciprocity.
Ted will be making himself vulnerable. He will be expecting some reciprocity. And his answer to the question: “Conscience for the sake of what?” requires a certain leap into his future role. Ted needs to believe that by the end he will be better equipped and more skillful. Learning, Committing, and Doing is a spiral of self-development – one that impacts more than just the ONE individual.
It impacts our capacity to be present and to reciprocate with others.
So what does Ted do? Despite the hardship and the challenge, he believes he will be better able to meet his own needs and those of others if he completes the program. Ted’s decision is not a selfish one. The balance he makes weighs all three perspectives and leverages his personal vulnerability to create a larger and greater capacity for everyone.
As Warren G. Bennis writes “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” How we exercise conscience speaks volumes both about leadership and about our capacity to Learn, Commit, and Do. We make the world a larger place for everyone.
Thanks for listening!