Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business

Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business


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From Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and his coauthors, a follow-up to groundbreaking bestseller Conscious Capitalismrevealing what it takes to lead a purpose-driven, sustainable business.

John Mackey started a movement when he founded Whole Foods, bringing natural, organic food to the masses and not only changing the market, but breaking the mold. Now, for the first time, Conscious Leadership closely explores the vision, virtues, and mindset that have informed Mackey’s own leadership journey, providing a roadmap for innovative, value-based leadership—in business and in society.
Conscious Leadership demystifies strategies that have helped Mackey shepherd Whole Foods through four decades of incredible growth and innovation, including its recent sale to Amazon. Each chapter will challenge you to rethink conventional business wisdom through anecdotes, case studies, profiles of conscious leaders, and innovative techniques for self-development, culminating in an empowering call to action for entrepreneurs and trailblazers—to step up as leaders who see beyond the bottom line.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593083628
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 53,350
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

John Mackey is the CEO and cofounder of Whole Foods Market, cofounder of the nonprofit Conscious Capitalism, Inc., and coauthor of Conscious Capitalism. He has devoted his life to selling natural and organic foods and building a better business model.
Steve McIntosh is the author of Developmental Politics (Paragon House, 2020) and the president and cofounder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution.
Carter Phipps is the author of Evolutionaries (Harper Perennial, 2012) and cofounder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, a nonprofit social policy institute.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: My Awakening to Conscious Leadership
John Mackey

As the plane touched down in Florida in January of 2001 and I looked out over a world of palm trees and sunshine, I knew my life had come to a crossroads. I wasn’t here for a vacation, although I could have used one. I was here at the behest of the Whole Foods Market board of directors. My job and my future were on the line. At a meeting planned for the next day, I was going to be interviewed, along with the other members of the company’s executive team, as part of an investigation intended to determine who should lead the company into the future. Would I remain as CEO of the company I had co-founded in 1978 and shepherded for more than two decades? Or would I be asked to step aside and make way for a new leader? The answer was far from clear.

As I disembarked the plane and got my bags, I felt somewhat numb. The prospect of losing so much of my life’s work hung heavily over me, and even Florida’s sun-drenched beauty couldn’t dispel the psychological clouds that darkened my disposition. How had it come to this? Driving away from the airport, I reflected on the series of events that had culminated in this difficult day.

Only a couple of years earlier, the internet boom of the nineties had been in its maximum ascendency. Like many during the era, our team recognized the profound disruptions that were coming to the retail market as a result of the online revolution. It was exciting; it was transformative; it was all happening fast. How could we be part of it? Looking back on those heady days, I can also admit that, like many others, we were a bit caught up in the moment. We drank our own version of the internet Kool-Aid.

At Whole Foods Market, we hatched a plan to get out in front of the dot-com revolution. We had a loyal, growing customer base that was passionate about natural and organic foods. Why wouldn’t they also be interested in a natural, organic lifestyle? In fact, the LOHAS market (lifestyles of health and sustainability) was the hot new sector at the time. And we had a direct pipeline to the wants and needs of those influential consumers. So we decided to make a significant online move. We bought a mail order nutritional supplement firm in Boulder, Colorado, named Amrion and launched We took on some venture capital to help fund the initiative. We set about selling food, supplements, books, clothing, travel—everything our target market wanted, and all of it available in one place: online.

To focus on this new project, I moved to Boulder to lead Whole Of course, I still kept one eye on the larger company, but most of my day- to- day attention was on the extraordinary possibilities of this new venture. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and after many years growing Whole Foods Market into a large national company, it energized me to be back in startup mode.

The saga of, which ultimately failed, is its own longer story. Our timing was not ideal, the expense of getting the enterprise off the ground proved excessive, and as the dot-com boom turned into the dot-com bust, it became clear that the business was facing dimmer prospects and a much, much longer, more difficult runway than we had anticipated. It simply wasn’t going to be the out-of- the-gate success that we had hoped for. Moreover, our shareholders didn’t like the internet initiative, and our share price over that period reflected their distaste. As the internet bubble deflated, it became clear to me and my team that it was time to refocus on what already made Whole Foods wonderful.

In late 2000, we sold a majority ownership in to the lifestyle brand Gaiam, and I returned to Austin, ready to get back to leading our well-established company. What I didn’t anticipate was that a coup was afoot. One of my most trusted leaders on our executive team, plus two members of our board of directors, had decided that this was the moment to replace me, and a battle for control was under way. My job and my future were suddenly in doubt. I wasn’t in the envious position that some entrepreneurs enjoy these days, with special super-voting shares and de facto control over their company. Despite having co- founded and built Whole Foods from the ground up, I owned a relatively minor percentage of shares. In other words, I served at the pleasure of the board of directors. But I still had supporters on the board, and I was very close to most of the executive team—many of whom had been with the company since its early days. Together we had helped build the company into the natural foods behemoth that it had become. I was shocked by this turn of events but still hoped I could convince the board that I was, in fact, the right person to continue to lead the company into the future.

In Florida, knowing there was not much more I could do to prepare for the fateful meeting the following day, I decided to do what I always do when traveling and take the time to tour our local stores. As I walked the aisles, stocked with an abundance of healthy, natural food, and as I spoke to the team members who were doing incredible work on the ground, the clouds lifted for the first time in weeks. The mission of Whole Foods reawakened for me, in all of its clarity and relevance. This was what our company was about—not boardroom battles or dreams of dot-com success. This was the heart of Whole Foods—beautiful stores filled with smiling team members, working hard to support our customers in their quest to eat the healthiest and most delicious natural foods possible. This was what I loved; it was my passion and my calling. This was why I’d been inspired to start the company all those years before. I felt my own purpose renewed. At forty-seven, I was just entering my prime leadership years. There was so much left to do. I deeply wanted to continue to build this amazing company; I only hoped I would have the opportunity to do so.

When I entered the board meeting late that afternoon, I was still very much in an altered state. The transmission of love and purpose that I had received from the Whole Foods team members I encountered was still fresh, and my anxiety about the challenge I faced had completely evaporated. The board asked me many questions, which I answered from my heart. I didn’t defend myself or try to prove anything. I just authentically shared my passion and my conviction in the power and potential of Whole Foods, and my commitment to go forward with the company into the new millennium.

The meeting ended and I flew back to Austin, where I awaited the board’s decision. But I didn’t just wait. A new realization was dawning on me. Whatever the result of their deliberations, it had become apparent that I needed to grow and change. The entire episode was a wake- up call. My leadership style had to evolve. I was called to step up to a much greater degree of care for the company I had co- founded. Part of the debacle I was facing, I realized, was my own fault. I wasn’t just facing an external challenge to my leadership—there was an internal challenge to be confronted as well. I had shied away from being the confident and conscious leader the company needed me to be. In fact, my unwillingness to take that necessary growth step had created a leadership vacuum, and I had been all too willing to let others step in and fill that void—people who had the drive to be in charge but not necessarily the right skills, motives, or care. When one doesn’t appropriately step up and take the reins of effective conscious leadership, that vacuum is inevitably filled by people who want power, and not always for the right reasons.

If I wanted to continue to lead Whole Foods into its bright future, I needed to grow and evolve as a conscious leader. I had to take a deeper responsibility for this billion-dollar company I had co- created. That didn’t mean I had to micromanage everything—not at all. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial focus and been good at keeping my attention on the big picture. But in some fundamental way, I had to fully embrace the role of CEO in all its responsibility and power, and that also meant putting a healthy, productive team around me that represented an effective complement to my strengths rather than an abdication of responsibility. I had to up my game in all kinds of ways.

Over the next several weeks, I did a lot of soul-searching. I spoke frankly with close friends and mentors; I journaled; I read; I meditated; I engaged in some powerful therapeutic techniques. Through these processes, I came to appreciate even more deeply the transformations I needed to personally undergo. I was at a critical transition point; it was no time for halfway measures. The CEO I had been up through 2000 was finished. It was time to become a deeper, wiser, more confident, and more conscious leader.

Table of Contents

Introduction: My Awakening to Conscious xi

Leadership John Mackey

Part I Vision & Virtue

1 Put Purpose First 3

2 Lead with Love 25

3 Always Act with Integrity 53

Part II Mindset & Strategy

4 Find Win-Win-Win Solutions 79

5 Innovate and Create Value 101

6 Think Long Term 127

Part III People & Culture

7 Constantly Evolve the Team 155

8 Regularly Revitalize 181

9 Continuously Learn and Grow 203

Appendix: On Cultivating Cultural Intelligence 229

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 237

Index 245

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