Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
09 Dec 2010

Are you leading consciously?

09 Dec 2010 • by Changeboard Team

What makes leaders inspirational?

How can you create better awareness to ensure greater collaborations, constructive dialogue and a more successful business outcome?

Conscious leadership describes a state of leadership that is driven by emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and authentic communication and action.

History is peppered with inspirational stories of individuals who triumphed over adversity, exhibiting on their journey tremendous character strengths and motivational qualities of leadership. Individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa demonstrated a vision so compelling that they became a magnet for the passion of other people – they inspired rather than simply motivating. But aside from their achievements, these stories more often than not show how individuals demonstrate the characteristics of true leadership, exhibiting high performance through learning and transformation in challenging circumstances to become the living embodiment of conscious leadership. 

Mahatma Gandhi – a man who lived a truly authentic life – described his mission quite simply as, “my life is my message”.

But leadership is a skill not just learned in the workplace. Historical leaders displayed their greatness when they were taken out of their comfort zone and challenged on their personal assumptions and perspectives to rethink their self-awareness. And the result? Better informed decisions, wiser choices and greater success in all areas of life.

Story of Ahmet Dervisoglu

One such inspirational example of conscious leadership is Ahmet Dervisoglu, an individual not widely known outside his immediate intellectual circles, but someone who reflects the positive characteristics from which aspiring leaders could learn a great deal.

Ahmet was born 75-years ago in a village of 45 houses situated to the South West of Istanbul, on the very same route that Alexander the Great took on his way to conquer the Persian Empire. This is a rural village where its inhabitants were largely illiterate and where new generations followed in the footsteps of their forefathers by going into farming once they reached adulthood.

In every respect, Ahmet should have followed in the footsteps of the generations before him; instead, he became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a world-renowned figure in his field, famous for his groundbreaking work in technology and a totem for aspiring graduates and business leaders alike. So how did he do it?

The Latin alphabet had just been introduced replacing the Arabic one, when one day Ahmet’s father – Hasan – found his first son Recep curiously looking at some books that happened to be in the house. It was then that Hasan decided to ask the priest in the nearest village to help Recep learn how to read and write. After a couple of years, at the age of 14, Recep was the first person in the history of his village to go to school – apparently this chance was given to him by his father as Recep was too thin and not suitable for hard farm labour, so running a grocery shop seemed like a better prospect.

It was Recep at the age of 14 who taught his younger brother Ahmet basic writing and reading and to do simple calculations. Soon after, Ahmet was noticed by his family members to have a very good memory, “He should be an Imam as he will certainly be able to memorise the Koran”, someone said, but Ahmet insisted that he wanted to go to a traditional school instead, and so at the age of nine he went to school in the nearest town. Given that his village had no electricity, no roads and no school, Ahmet recalls, “My first trip to school was like going to the moon”.

After elementary school Ahmet won a scholarship and went to Izmir, 300Km away from home, where he stayed for seven years until he was nineteen. He went on to study Engineering at Istanbul Technical University, gained a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana, became professor of circuit and systems theory at University of California at Berkeley and then Dean of the electrical engineering faculty in Istanbul for nine years –undertaking this role for an unprecedented three terms – and leading a staff of 85 professors and a University community of over 3,000 people.

Ahmet still teaches in Istanbul and is frequently asked to give speeches at his university and abroad – not just on the topic of electrical engineering, but more broadly on how to inspire young students to fulfill their potential.

This man, against all odds, changed his future and lived a life of conscious leadership, driven by self-awareness and authenticity, a clear purpose based on moral virtues and a vocation to help others fulfill their potential.

Learning from your life story

In ‘Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value’, the author, Bill George, outlines the traits of those leaders who distinguish themselves not only for the great achievements and tangible results gained throughout their career, but more importantly for reaching such heights by leading consciously.

According to Bill George, the first distinctive trait of conscious leaders is rooted in self-awareness. Knowing who you are starts from learning from your life story, being able to frame it in such a way for it to become transformational, not to look at it passively but to actively elaborate from the most significant events and experiences of your life, and translate them into core values. The story you tell yourself, the narrative that repeats itself in your head, is what matters most as it will eventually define the way you show up and see the world.

Looking back at his life, Ahmet can see a long stretch of events that shaped him, all of which are rooted in his humble origins, giving him strength and a clear purpose, and helping to achieve his impressive leadership qualities:

“Little things can turn the world around”, says Ahmet, “like when my brother picked up those books and showed interest in them, or when I won my first scholarship. According to the local Turkish rules I was two centimeters too tall in proportion to my weight (at that time, in order to win a scholarship, on top of your grades you also had to meet certain physical standards), so the judge told me to bend my head so that I could fall in the right parameters.

“If my brother hadn’t picked those books or the judge hadn’t bent the rules, I, like my father, would still be a farmer. Since then I always look for those little things, the ones that may seem irrelevant, transparent, invisible, and ask myself, can they make a difference and how can I help”.

“The story of my life - and I believe the story of humanity - is one of abundance, not scarcity. Abundance that comes in the form of possibilities to be taken, where the extraordinary is available to those who don’t underestimate themselves and dare to follow their dreams despite adverse circumstances”.

Tranformational leadership the four 'i's

At the core of conscious leadership is the principle of empowering individuals to lead, rather than coercing subordinates to follow. Authors: Hall, Johnson, Wysocki and Kepner describe transformational leadership as the ability to inspire individuals to want to change and improve. They identify four factors to transformational leadership, which are also known as the ‘four I’s’: 

1. Idealised influence
Being a role model to those around you

2. Inspirational motivation
Encouragement to commit to a vision and reach common goals

3. Intellectual stimulation
To encourage innovation, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving

4. Individual consideration
To act as coaches and advisors

With this in mind, Ahmet reflects on his approach to leadership:

“Serving others, empowering others to embark on a journey of personal and professional growth is what makes me get out of bed every morning. I try to do it when I teach and in my personal life, as I think there is no real boundary between what I do and who I am.”

The spark of conscious leadership exists within all individuals and it is simply a matter of knowing who you are, how the story of your life can serve you and what core values are hidden in that story.

It’s about having a purpose that is meaningful and not falling in the trap of running only after the extrinsic and tangible motivators of our society. It’s about building a balance in your daily routine that will ground you, and strengthen your presence and sense of connection with your roots and the world.

Moral virtues are the result of habit and are not engendered in us by nature. As Aristotle commented in his fabled writings, Ethics:

“It is the way we behave in our dealings with other people that makes us just or unjust, and the way that we behave in the face of danger, accustoming ourselves to be timid or confident, that makes us brave or cowardly. So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age - it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world.”

And finally, Ahmet reflects on a visit he made once to a school that changed the life of an individual he met there and subsequently that of generations to come:

“Nazife was in 8th grade when I visited her school and gave a speech there. Her teachers had told me that she was an extraordinary pupil but that she would have to leave school that year as her family was too poor to even buy a pencil. I supported her and mentored her up to University. Nazife is now a schoolteacher and her children and grandchildren will have an education. Little things can change the world.”

If you then happen to be born on the route of Alexander the Great, your chances of achieving extraordinary things in your life become suddenly far greater.

The spark of conscious leadership exists within all individuals and it is simply a matter of knowing who you are, how the story of your life can serve you and what core values are hidden in that story.

It’s about having a purpose that is meaningful and not falling in the trap of running only after the extrinsic and tangible motivators of our society. It’s about building a balance in your daily routine that will ground you, and strengthen your presence and sense of connection with your roots and the world.

Moral virtues are the result of habit and are not engendered in us by nature. As Aristotle commented in his fabled writings, Ethics:

“It is the way we behave in our dealings with other people that makes us just or unjust, and the way that we behave in the face of danger, accustoming ourselves to be timid or confident, that makes us brave or cowardly. So it is a matter of no little importance what sort of habits we form from the earliest age - it makes a vast difference, or rather all the difference in the world.”

And finally, Ahmet reflects on a visit he made once to a school that changed the life of an individual he met there and subsequently that of generations to come:

“Nazife was in 8th grade when I visited her school and gave a speech there. Her teachers had told me that she was an extraordinary pupil but that she would have to leave school that year as her family was too poor to even buy a pencil. I supported her and mentored her up to University. Nazife is now a schoolteacher and her children and grandchildren will have an education. Little things can change the world.”

If you then happen to be born on the route of Alexander the Great, your chances of achieving extraordinary things in your life become suddenly far greater.

About Giulio Brunini and conscious leadership

Giulio Brunini is a leading transformational coach who works with individuals in pivotal and influential positions of life, creating personal and business transformations via the method of conscious leadership.

Drawing on his own extensive corporate experience gained from working in senior positions that included CEO at a Universal Music/WPP company, Giulio empowers individuals to operate in a state of conscious leadership by maximising their potential to generate high performance and proactive self-realisation.