When practicing conscious leadership, one approaches crisis and stressful situations from a basic formula, where one sees themselves and others as OK, enough, and the relationship as abundant. In other words, “I am, you are, and we are.” Returning to the essence of who we are as human beings is the core of conscious leadership. Experiencing this sense of interconnectedness creates room for appreciating the larger human collective living on the planet and participating in its magnificent ecosystem.
A revolutionary psychiatrist first introduced this idea in the 1960s. Dr. Eric Berne described this as an “existential life position,” the “I’m OK, You’re OK” position. When we lead from this state of mind, there is a fundamental belief that all us are worthy of respect and basic dignity. It is a way of honoring the human in ourselves and in those we encounter in intimate relationships, work, communities and the world at large. This “I+ U+” way of being then naturally invites leaders to see the interconnectedness of their purpose, their organization and the planet’s ecosystem.
Think about the last time you experienced a leadership challenge. Perhaps you had a hard time influencing a project or felt anger or insecurity when managing a member of your team. Consider how you viewed yourself and how you viewed the people involved. Considering this will give you insight into which state you tend to lead from in times of stress. At any point in time, according to Dr. Eric Berne, we are in one of four states of mind. Individuals can have one particular state that is most familiar to their personal history:
I’m OK, You’re Not OK (I+ U-)
If you are in the “I’m OK, You’re Not OK” position, your mind automatically begins critiquing or blaming others. You may think things like, “He’s incapable of doing his job” or “This other team is at fault here; they are always missing deadlines and affecting our productivity.” This is a position that tends to finger point or blame in times of stress.
A leader in this state of mind dismisses others’ abilities and takes over. Over-rescuing or heroic behaviors can mask underlying condescension. The underlining tone is that “Others are incompetent, and so, I as a leader, have to take over.” Common feelings are anger, irritation or frustration. In these moments, your leadership style may have a sense of superiority over others and lead to fear-based or defensive responses. This, of course, is detrimental to the overall organizational culture.
I’m Not OK, You’re OK (I- U+)
If you’re in the “I’m Not OK, You’re OK” position, you may have been leading from a place of self-blame. You may find yourself managing your deepest insecurities or focusing on your inadequacies as a leader. Some in this state experience shame and fear judgment from others. Predominant feelings are sadness, hurt or guilt. This makes leading your team or organization through tough times a real challenge. The underlying belief is that you are unworthy and all that goes wrong is your fault. In these tough moments, your leadership style may seem shaky, and those around you may feel they are unable to turn to you for inspiration, hope or security.
I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK (I- U-)
Some leaders may find themselves not only spiraling in negative thoughts about themselves but also blaming others in times of stress. Self-criticism combined with blame can lead a team toward crashing and burning. Emotions in this state are unpredictable. You could experience confusion, apathy, scapegoating, high office drama, a low retention rate or a “stuck” organizational culture. The culture of the group is, after all, the culture of the leader.
I’m OK, You’re OK (I+ U+)
The conscious leader is aware of these ineffective states of mind mentioned above and actively works toward expanding and shifting consciousness. Moment by moment, we move between these life positions. A conscious leader has the emotional awareness and strategies to maintain an I+ U+ approach continually. Emotional experiences are often joy, a sense of excitement, courage or resilience.
Here are some recommended perspectives and strategies:
• Awareness: Practice mindfulness and take the time to develop a knowledge of who you are as a leader. Do bear in mind that your state of mind could change in a split second, and so this practice is an ongoing conscious endeavor.
• Perspective: Objectively take a bird’s-eye view of the relationships around you. Knowing who you are to others and evaluating the quality of your connections are key here.
• Responsibility: Take ownership of your own choices. Being conscious and awakening to what is indeed happening at the moment is a choice.
• Action: In times of stress or crisis, lead from your deeper purpose. Do what you need to return to I+ U+. It could be a quick walk, a grounding phrase you say to yourself, or an object that calms you. Also, small steps like reviewing your broad goals, renegotiating deadlines or having one-to-one meetings to co-create meaning or re-establish trust go a long way.
When a leader returns to a state of “I+U+” or “We Are,” this state of interconnectedness propels them to larger sustainable practices that honor the human collective and the planet.