Philippe Joannis on Conscious Leadership
In his own words, Philippe Joannis is “a magician gone wrong.” Fueled by a youthful passion for prestidigitation, he spent his teenage and young adulthood years performing sleights of hands for many audiences. Then, willing for a more “serious” professional life, Philippe had himself hired by Apple to take the lead of Apple Education, a two-function entity in charge of both educational market and internal training. With years of experience under his belt, he participated to creating a company that would act as a subcontractor for Apple in French-speaking Africa, before getting back to his first love, magic.
However, now, what magic means to Philippe is a bit different. For now, instead of (merely) performing magic tricks, Philippe accompanies executives to help them find back the magic they felt when they started their trade or company, or find a new one.
Watch the interview (in French):
Reinventing the World through Conscious Capitalism?
Philippe believes we are going through a pivotal period of history. Young generations, he says, are reinventing the world. Of course, he is not only a witness of what he describes, but a contributor as well. Philippe’s commitment goes to the movement of Conscious Capitalism, as leading representative John Mackey called his eponymous book. “The movement aims at the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, beyond mere profit”, Philippe states. There is only a semantic issue: in France, “capitalism” sounds like a swear word, so Philippe rebranded his commitment as geared towards the entreprise consciente (conscious company).
When asked about what it means to him, he answers that he wants to rethink companies along to three principles:
- An aim beyond profit. Making ends meet is necessary to keep the venture alive, but it should never be the paramount purpose. If there is no higher end than mere profit, then the company lacks a reason to be.
- All stakeholders should be taken into account, not merely shareholders. Customers, suppliers, unions, up to the environment and the planet.
- The most important one: conscious leadership. This one is closely linked with proactivity. “Unconscious leadership”, as Philippe dubs it, is only reactive. All too often, Philippe says, such a leadership style comes with selfish motivations. Most individuals who reach positions of power would be motivated by personal ambition and the will to earn more. “Eighty-five per cent of leadership ambitions, today, are still fueled by motivations that foster a reactive leadership”, Philippe states, supporting studies at hand.
Reactive leadership spans in several modes. The first one expresses through a mania to control or micromanage others. The second one consists of systematically intellectualizing events and seemingly distancing from them. The third would sneak through as a propensity to seek for external validation and acceptance. All three modes are subconsciously linked with the idea the leader or manager entertains of himself, and all three are “reactive” in the sense of not having been chosen but constructed during childhood and hardened through custom.
Reactive leadership modes could be contrasted with creative modes, which would go along with a conscious, and good, leadership.
Sometimes the “reactive” modes appear inadvertently. Philippe mentions an example from the last company he worked at. Auditors who were working there too had a habit – and perhaps more, a culture – of working late. When Philippe told them to go away at 8:30 PM as the whole building had to close, he saw the “feeling of distress” in their eyes. “This is the force of a collective, subconscious culture” where working late is part of one’s identity.
Instead, a proper corporate culture should choose to favor consciously such traits as benevolence and clarity. Philippe gives the example of a company in where it is forbidden to speak of another employee if he is is not here. So they record all meetings so that if someone is mentioned, he can receive the conversation through email and listen at it.
Philippe also quotes Robert Kegan, a Harvard teacher and well-known specialist of personal growth, who once noticed that “when one works at a given company, one has two jobs; first, the work one was hired to perform; second, the necessity to give a constant impression of doing well, of being well.”
In opposition to that, Philippe makes a plea for consciously designing a culture where individuals can “bring themselves completely, with their strengths, weaknesses, and all that can be discussed and developed.”
Conscious Businesses and Positive Feedbacks
If asked to give examples of particular leaders or companies Philippe thinks of as “conscious”, he answers that he knows more of them in the US than in France. However, he adds, independent media like the Canard enchaîné or Mediapart show consciousness in working “for truth” and without advertising. Philippe also mentions a young and highly competent IT startup who only accepts to work for other startups or projects with some greater aim.
On the other side of the pond(s), Philippe has various examples in mind as well. A Los Angeles-based company feeds screenwriters with true stories they can build on. “This is important”, Philippe notes, “because in LA screenwriters and others who know how to tell stories yield more power than producers do!” Such a relationship would allow for independence and creativity.
While in said city, Philippe was able to meet with one of the leading screenwriters of the hospital series Emergency Services. “This man loved to tell stories”, so he went quite naturally from pediatrics to storytelling. His life experience and inspiration allowed him to write an episode where a protagonist has his life saved thanks to another person who donated her organs before she passed. After the episode was aired, hospitals noticed a peak of new donors.
Such a response is a positive feedback, which proves that something good was given to the world. Philippe likes to think of this kind of phenomena “as if a kind of global nervous system was emerging.”
Another example of intertwining between noteworthy real stories and fictitious, albeit inspired ones Philippe recalls: somewhere in Africa, tribesmen would noisily drum on pans to shame a man who shouted at his spouse. The practice was picked up by a South African TV series, and since then, the practice has been imitated by other previously unrelated tribes.
These examples give Philippe inspiration and drive in his professional life. “I accompany executives through, roughly, one third of coaching, which includes faceoff if necessary, one third of business advice, and one third of personal improvement tailored for the corporate world.”
Concerning new or recent trends, Philippe mentions two. First, more and more executives entertain meditative practices. So-called white collars take a daily time to focus inward instead of constantly following the hassle. An executive Philippe worked with told him about his peculiar morning ritual: when getting up from bed, he would recall himself that “five thousand people depend on [him] and above all count on [him]…” A thinking that means more humility, as well as less ego invested into leadership than before.
Second, Philippe also noted a transition “from individual to collective leadership.” Flatter interactions, shared decision-making processes, and thus a better inclusion of stakeholders, which would also yield a competitive advantage.
Asked to conclude with advice for being future-ready, future-proof, of fit to what is to come, Philippe shares three tips.
- Get in touch with the integral approach. “This is not about pretending to an integral knowledge, but about an ability to integrate information from various sources” and to hold multiple perspectives instead of focusing on an all too narrow specialization. For sure, sometimes one must be able to enter into details, but one’s perspectives should also be constantly widened, and one should remember that truth is but the sum of many perspectives.
- Keep up with personal improvement. Everyone learns during childhood and teenage years, but what too many people seem to ignore is that the learning process can be maintained during adulthood. Thus, it may never end, and as the world keeps changing, it should never end. One must take responsibility for one’s personal growth, get aware of whatever plateau one meets, and overshoot.
- Meditate. “Connecting with something larger than oneself” is crucial, he says. It can be done secularly, perhaps conventionally, through sport, dance, or exploring nature, yet it can also be more straightforwardly spiritual. At any price, “get back in touch with yourself.” A good way to do so could follow a method taught by the Zen expert Michael Brown of breathing consciously, every morning and evening, for fifteen minutes, and maintaining the routine for ten weeks.