Sudhir Chadalavada

Can Purpose Enhance Profit? A Banker’s Journey in Conscious Leadership!
ast week I had the privilege of speaking on Conscious Leadership and engaging in an onstage discussion with an outstanding Orange County business leader known for his entrepreneurial skills and financial acumen. Ash Patel is the President and CEO of Commercial Bank of California and Chairman of National Bank of California. Prior to this, Ash served as the Founding President and Director of Premier Commercial Bank and grew it to one of the most profitable banks in California by deftly navigating the storms of the great recession and severe turmoil in the banking industry.

Ash shared his quintessential American success story of starting his banking career as a teller and rising to lead one of the most successful community banks in the country. In the process, he earned a reputation for accelerating growth and turning around distressed banks. When he credited me as his coach for helping him become a more effective and conscious leader, I felt humbled and realized how far we had come since we started this journey in early 2011. Truth is I see myself more as a partner to Ash than a coach. I have learnt a lot from him too; especially his manic focus, and his accountability – he has a disarming ability to admit mistakes and absorb criticism.

I have had the good fortune of working with several outstanding business leaders, CEOs and corporate executives in the past 20 years. There are many contenders that come to mind who could be role models for conscious leadership. However Ash Patel stands out for his sheer desire, commitment and execution to put the learning to practice in real-time and demonstrate exceptional results.

Why Conscious Leadership matters? The nature of work and expectations from work has evolved since the dawn of Industrial revolution, when work was a place to earn a steady paycheck check to make a living. Then came the Information Revolution, and we sought professional excellence and an intellectually stimulating work environment in addition to a paycheck. Fast forward to the current times, we are no longer satisfied with a paycheck and intellectually stimulating work. Employees want their business leaders to foster a high trust and high performance work environment so they can pursue professional excellence and personal fulfillment.

This perhaps explains why (according to figures from Gallup) only 33% of employees are engaged, 49% are not engaged and 18% are actively disengaged. Less than 25% work at their full potential. Only 40% of Americans feel purposeful and our purpose is tied to professional satisfaction. The ultimate paradox is that many of us would rather work even if we don’t have to, but an overwhelming majority can’t wait to leave work and go home. Only 1 in 8 employees feel cared for – which wouldn’t be the case if work were meaningful.

Trust in business has plummeted to historic lows. In a 2012 Gallup poll, the approval rating for business at 19% was just above US congress, telemarketers and car salesmen. This is after the remarkable achievements of capitalism in the past 100 years; it has lifted much of the world from poverty and significantly elevated our quality of life. So then what gives? I shudder to imagine what employee engagement would look like if we were to practice the old command and control approach.

Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the global business leaders recognized that businesses serve a higher purpose beyond profit. This is no longer a debate at least among the best and brightest leaders today. Saying conscious leadership is important to organizational performance is like saying oxygen is important for breathing. When Jim Collins published Good to Great in 2001, Greatness was defined in terms of financial performance. Today a great company is one which excels in stakeholder return and earns the admiration of not just shareholders but also employees, customers, suppliers, partners and society.

The new breed of conscious leaders treats business as a playground to express our gifts, fulfill our deepest yearnings and realize our highest potential. Ash famously declared to his leadership team, “I am a good and successful leader, but to be a great leader, I need to become a greater person, spouse, friend and father. We all have to make that shift to build a great organization.” A business leader with a track record of building profitable organizations, Ash said that he treats profit as a byproduct of building a great team and a great organization. Unlike most CEOs, he spends no time in analyzing the monthly P&L statement with his CFO. He seems to come from the school of thought that believes achieving profitability is like happiness, it has to be a result of right action, honorable practices and authentic living. We can’t go chasing after it.

What is Conscious Leadership? A leader has to be aware, awake and present. It is not just about having great intentions, but also about being conscious of the impact of his or her actions. I believe Conscious Leadership has three components.
Professional Mastery: All successful leaders and professionals have this covered. We have spent years studying and practicing our professional craft, be it technology, marketing, operations, finance or sales. We need two other dimensions to make the shift from success to greatness.
Personal Mastery is about staying inspired no matter what the external circumstances are. We are present, optimistic and enthusiastic in the midst of challenges and obstacles. We are aware of the beliefs, thoughts and values that drive our emotions and actions. We manage and master our emotions and stay conscious of how we are showing up.
Organizational Mastery is the ability to inspire others to give their very best towards a common vision and goal. This is a requirement to build aligned leadership teams and a fully engaged organization.
Ash recognized that he and his leadership team needed to develop personal and organizational mastery. He admitted to his shortcomings and by example inspired the team to embark on a purposeful journey of conscious leadership.

How do we develop Conscious Leadership? Knowing our strengths and weaknesses and focusing on strengths can help us achieve a degree of success. However pursuit of personal mastery requires us to express our natural gifts and to overcome the shadows that are blocking us from doing so fully. This involves behavior change, and starts with the CEO and the leadership team at the top. Then, there is organizational mastery which involves bridging the “disconnect” between the noble vision and stated values and the reality of daily actions.

According to a recent EY Oxford University study 87% of business leaders believe companies perform best over time if their purpose goes beyond profit. But only 37% say their business model and operations are well-aligned with their purpose. It seems like we are beautifully equipped to deal with a situation that no longer exists. Our business models and structures are geared for the old command and control hierarchical leadership, top-down decision making and carrot and stick approach of rewarding and punishing performance. We have to make a fundamental organizational shift from the bottom-up. This is what Ash and the organization committed to. We developed a curriculum of cutting-edge practices when diligently implemented result in: Authentic Communication, Empowering and Accountable decision-making, Dynamic and inclusive Strategy Planning and Execution, Objective Performance Evaluation and a system of fair and inspiring recognition, rewards and compensation. Ash actively participated in the initiative, leading by example, being transparent and vulnerable with the team and sharing his determination to show up fully and lead with intellect, heart and spirit. The entire leadership team got deeply engaged, resulting in a dramatic shift in trust and empowerment. Mastery is a journey that requires years of discipline and consistent practice. It is not for everyone. As Michelangelo said,” If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” From time-to-time it is only natural for individuals to get impatient. As a team we help each other to stay the course and hold each other accountable. The journey itself is the reward. In the process, we achieve breakthrough results and realize our collective dream of building a purposeful and transformative organization that is “best for” the banking industry. We will become role models for building Exceptional Leaders, Aligned Teams and Engaged Employees – the holy grail of Business Organizations!