Conscious Business, by Fred Kofman

Conscious Business, by Fred Kofman

Conscious Business, by Fred Kofman

Effectiveness in professional as well as in personal life is strongly influenced by a set of basic human behaviors and attitudes that may not be difficult to comprehend, but are very difficult to implement.

In his book Conscious Business, author, philosopher, executive coach and former MIT professor Fred Kofman describes the qualities that not only cultivate success in organizations, but also contribute to personal fulfillment in individuals. In other words, he talks of qualities that promote the most effective and rewarding way of working and living.

Assuming Unconditional Responsibility

Systematically acknowledging your share of responsibility in any given situation is a quality characteristic of a player. On the other hand, finding the causes of all problems outside of oneself is the sign of a victim. Kofman argues, for instance, that although it may be accurate, it is ineffective to blame a traffic jam or other factors outside of one’s control for being late to an appointment.

Unconditional responsibility (…) lets you focus on those aspects of the situation that you can influence. (…)  You are not responsible for your circumstances; you are responsible in the face of your circumstances.

Freedom is available to everybody, suggests Kofman. However, true freedom doesn’t consist of having the option of doing what you want (there are always restrictions we need to deal with), but choosing how to deal with any given situation. It is the difference between being a spectator and judging what we see versus taking command of a situation, sitting in the driver’s seat and being the captain of your life. Kofman exemplifies it very well as follows:

Acknowledging that you have a choice is uncomfortable (…) When a phone rings in the middle of a meeting and you say ‘Excuse me, I have to take this call’ (…) You do not have to take the call. You are choosing to take it, because you find it preferable to continuing the conversation (…)

Acting With Integrity

Kofman also talks about “essential integrity” and defines it as “the alignment between your behavior and your values”. Integrity is not intended to attain happiness or ordinary success but it does contribute to the two. Acting in accordance to one’s values drives what Kofman beautifully calls “success beyond success”.

Most people believe that happiness is an outcome, a result that accrues to the winner. This is just not true. (…) Happiness comes from integrity rather than success, from behavior in alignment with essential values rather than winning or losing.

What makes the heroes different from rest of the mortals is not the results they achieve, but the way they behave.

Heroes require extraordinary adversity to show their mettle. They need challenges that let them prove that they are not just fair-weather sailors. They need a fierce storm to show that they are able to navigate gallantly. Their virtue lies in their response to the situation, not in the outcome. They may not be able to bring their boat safely to port, and they may even perish in the rough seas, but that is irrelevant to their virtue.

Communicating Constructively

Another critical behavior highlighted by Kofman is what he defines as “authentic communication”. People find it extremely challenging to handle difficult conversations. Many times we feel more comfortable not speaking our truth or eliciting others’ truths than plunging head-on into a problem that needs to be talked about.

Perhaps the greatest secret of authentic communication lies in speaking the unspoken. Kofman implies that when a conversation takes place, in addition to the actual conversation, each of the parties holds a stream of thoughts and emotions that go in parallel to it and never get disclosed. It typically includes“ugly stuff, broad generalizations or intense emotions such as fear, anger, and anxiety”. Sometimes there are also ‘positive feelings’ which we feel uncomfortable and vulnerable expressing. These thoughts and emotions involve critical information that people are withholding.

Kofman claims that it is necessary to find a way to deal with those thoughts and emotions if we want to improve our interactions. But it is not easy. Neither spitting the information out nor swallowing it is a good choice. Spitting out those ‘raw’ thoughts and feelings “triggers aggression and antagonism; it hinders problem solving and destroys mutual respect”. Silence “makes it impossible to discover and address difficulties”, and at some point the toxic thoughts and feelings come out anyway, usually “in the form of anger directed towards the wrong people at the wrong time”.

The solution is to refine and transform these thoughts and emotions“to support task effectiveness, healthy relationships, and self-integrity”.

Honoring Commitments

The impeccability of commitments drives the effectiveness of our interactions and generates satisfaction and well-being for the parties involved.

Are you impeccable about your commitments or do you take them lightly? (…) I have noticed a remarkable correlation between the impeccability of commitments and the effectiveness of individuals and groups. In a culture in which people hold each other accountable for their impeccability, where commitments are taken seriously, there is trust, coordination and efficiency. (…) impeccability of commitments fosters a sense of achievement, dignity, and self-worth in its members.

Kofman further elaborates that “clarity” is the essential ingredient of impeccable commitments.

A successful commitment maintains clarity among its participants about the most concrete of matters: who commits (is accountable) to deliver what by when (to whom).

It requires courage to ask as many questions as needed to ensure there is a proper understanding of the requirements. Honoring commitments does not imply holding rigidly to them. Rather, it involves adapting to changing circumstances when it makes sense.

(…) part of honoring commitments is recognizing when circumstances change, calling for changes to agreements, and learning how to honor commitments impeccably even when it is impossible to fulfill their original terms.” (…) “When we realize that there is a serious risk that we will not fulfill a promise, we can still honor our word by apologizing. An effective apology requires much more than simply muttering ‘I’m sorry’ and asking for forgiveness.

It also involves acknowledging the previous commitment (or owning your promise), your failure to honor it, offering reparations and negotiating recommitment.

Conscious Business is a powerful and practical guide filled with many very well illustrated examples. Developing and implementing the behaviors and attitudes as explained in the text can not only improve organizational health, but also drive true professional success, and contribute to personal fulfillment. It is a must-read for anyone interested in organizational, leadership and personal development.

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