Why consciousness is so important to Learning and Development: a philosophical view

What are your values? We all have them; as individuals we have values, the social groups we’re a part of have values. The organisations and businesses that we’re a part of have values too. Though values aren’t always easy to articulate, they define who we are.

That’s why we’re shining the spotlight on ourselves and explaining Farscape’s values. Together they form our philosophy, which underpins everything that we do. That philosophy directly impacts the work we undertake with your senior leaders. And that affects the outcomes your organisation see as a result. In later blogs, we’ll look at our values of ‘place’ and of ‘reflective experience’. To begin, we’ll look at how consciousness forms the basis of our work.

Raising consciousness is the foundation of development

To gain the heady heights of effective leadership, it’s necessary to start with the foundations. In any development programme, raising consciousness is the starting point. Likewise, it’s the foundation of our philosophy. In order for the work to be truly effective, each part of our philosophy must be brought to bear on the process. Yet the process must begin somewhere, and starting with consciousness means the work has the greatest chance of success.

The reason that improving people’s consciousness is so important, is because it opens up a range of possibilities to an individual, to a team, that they were unaware of beforehand. Leaders, particularly senior leaders, are often so busy ‘doing’ that there’s no time to stop and notice. In sticking with what they’ve always done, leaders see the same results. The opening lines of A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s story, Winnie-the-Pooh, sum it up:

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.” – A.A. Milne

Raising consciousness is about that moment of pause: stopping to think, to observe, to notice. That’s the moment when leaders take a breather at the top of the stairs, rather than simply reeling onwards and bumping down them forever more.

What raising consciousness looks like in practice

Improving awareness, raising consciousness… you might wonder what that really means. There are three critical elements that we explore with leaders when doing this work: values, personality, and emotions. For individuals to move forward, on their own or in a team, a strong understanding of these things is key.

  • Values – Our values define why we do what we do. Our values are central to who we are as people, and are the thing that most people are least clear about. This can prove challenging, especially as our values are often defined by a very early age. They are largely influenced by things like our family, community, faith or school experiences. The ingrained nature of values means we’re often unconscious of them – they simply are.This gives rise to tension. Everybody has their own unique set of values. As Elias Porter’s ‘Relationship Awareness Theory’ explains, what we see is the behaviour of others, not the underlying values. So when you show up five minutes late to every meeting and timekeeping is a value that I hold dear, subconsciously, I may judge that behaviour. The problem is, that I’m judging your behaviour against my values. It’s not that you’re a pain in the neck for being late, or that I’m a pain for being a stickler about time; we’re both right against our own values. And it’s not about either of us changing our values. What’s needed is a better understanding of our own and others’ values. This helps you or your senior leaders to get a feel for where tensions are coming from, which can then be explored.
  • Personality – Personality is the way we do what we do; it outlines our preference for how we do things. Sometimes, in development work, the subject of personality is mishandled and the exploration can be facilitated quite clunkily. It’s important to note that personality is not about ability, nor does it equate to a particular job title. Just because your personality indicates a preference for introversion, it doesn’t mean that you’re not able to borrow the behaviours of an extrovert. By borrowing behaviours, trying on various personality traits, leaders can increase their range of behaviours and generate different outcomes.
  • Emotions – Emotions are what physiologically happens in our bodies. If you start to feel sweaty palms, if your heart starts beating faster, and your stomach knots tightly, you realise the emotion of fear is playing out.Emotions tend to generate a behavioural reaction. When we’re unconscious of our emotions, we don’t notice what is going on internally, and what’s on the inside emerges as behaviour. Without consciousness, it’s easy to become subject to the emotion. By raising consciousness and being more aware of what’s going on around us, and within us, we have a better chance of turning the emotion into an object. The language of emotion is critical here, in order to articulate that noticing, for example: I am feeling very afraid, I am feeling angry, I am feeling disappointed. Without that awareness and power of articulation, the emotion takes hold of the steering wheel. And the emotion is blindly driving, unaware that driver and passengers are hurtling towards a cliff edge. Noticing means we pick up on clues; maybe there’s a sign saying ‘Danger Ahead!’ along with some alternative routes. Taking a breath and noticing what’s going on means we can get back in the driving seat, adjust our route, and ensure we’re not a passenger on the bus.

Why raise consciousness?

A higher state of consciousness helps you to take stock of what is already there. It makes apparent what your ‘defaults’ are. That might be a default in behaviour, defaults in how you react to situations, or simply the way in which you do things. If you, or your senior leaders, are not first aware of your defaults, if you don’t know what the situation is currently, then there’s no hope of making changes.

It’s not easy, and it is worth it

Exploring values, personality and emotions is challenging work. So it’s especially important to have the other elements in place at this point. Our value of ‘place’ encapsulates a safe psychological space as much as it does the physical space in which the development takes place. ‘Reflective experience’, the final piece of our philosophical puzzle, is about creating the time in which to reflect upon the work and what leaders notice.

Our philosophy, the values that we as an organisation hold dear, underpin what we do. Leaders need to go through a development initiative that is experiential in order to absorb the work and make real changes. If the ‘experience’ is only cerebral, if leaders are subjected to a PowerPoint in a classroom, it’s not going to have an effect. Leaders need to feel these things in order to assimilate what they’ve learnt.

Why does consciousness matter to Farscape? And why should it matter to you?

We believe that all behaviour is a choice. By increasing your senior leader’s choices, they increase the range of possible outcomes, leading to better results. Rather than reverting to defaults, leaders have a range of behaviours that can flex and apply to different situations. Awareness of the variety of choices on offer can only come from increased consciousness.

In our next blog, we’ll look at the role ‘place’ plays in our philosophy in greater detail. In the meantime, take a look at our resources below to gain a deeper insight into how consciousness impacts the work we do with leaders and teams. Or if something resonated with you, if you feel that your leaders could benefit from improved consciousness, call us on 0117 370 1800. We’d be happy to hear what challenges you’re facing and to explain how greater consciousness may improve them.

Video: Consciousness. What do we mean?

Blog: How conscious are you? Your behaviour might tell another story

Webinar: Conscious leadership

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