Skip to main content

The rise of the conscious CEO

by Achim Feige

An new era in leadership has arrived

Even after a tough year 2023, I am convinced that companies can be a force for good. Although the old saying “The Business of Business is Business” holds some truth, we are increasingly seeing personal, social, and ecological considerations becoming integral to business practices. Business and capitalism itself is evolving more towards a “Good Business”. Still. Despite any backlashes the evolution of the universe towards more complexity, connection and consciousness cannot be stopped anyway.

The role of CEOs as pioneers, navigators and bridge builders into the next paradigm is crucial in this evolution. AND as we often see the CEO’s level of consciousness sets the limit for their company’s potential. So let’s raise it together

Let’s delve into what it means to be a conscious CEO, a role that transcends gender and can also be applied to your life. Ask yourself: Are you self-authoring your life or are you still unconsciously chasing external demands and running on historical business, cultural and family scripts.

In our complex world, traditional business approaches fall short. Environmental crises, technological disruptions, and social inequalities require leadership that extends beyond profit and short-term gains. This is where the conscious CEO becomes indispensable.

The Limitations of Traditional CEO Approaches

Classic Executive CEOs, who excel in areas like Strategy, Governance, and Profit & Loss, are now facing challenges unfamiliar to them. Their focus on external, measurable business aspects is inadequate in addressing the nuanced demands of modern society and the environment. This approach often leads to separation, anxiety, burnout, and ignores many personal, social, and planetary costs. Or simply stated “Burned CEOs burn their people and the planet” (thanks Snorre Paulsen Vikingsen for this quote).  To outgrow this problem we need a mindset upgrade and a new leadership operating system (L.OS) that integrates all perspectives more holistically, becoming more effective with fewer costs in all dimensions.

Why “Classic CEOs” only operate on 25% of their full capacity (and how to navigate Leadership’s Full Spectrum)

The Untapped Consciousness Potential of Leadership

In the dynamic realm of modern leadership, a deep, integrative approach is not just beneficial; it’s essential. Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrants framework ( offers a profound perspective, dividing the world of leadership into four distinct realms along the axes of inner/outer and individual/collective. Yet, many leaders, particularly in the traditional corporate sphere, are tapping into only a quarter of their potential by focusing solely on one of these quadrants. It is like running on 1 out 4 cylinders of the “conscious leadership motor”.

The Traditional CEO’s Limited Scope

Classic Executive CEOs tend to cast their light predominantly on the external quadrant: Strategy, Governance, Organization, Processes, Technology, Products, Profit & Loss, and short-term gains. This singular focus, while crucial, only harnesses a quarter of what effective leadership encompasses, leaving vast areas of potential influence in the dark.

The unease within the “We Space”

However, they often find themselves out of their comfort zone in the “We Space” (inner collective) — the domain of organizational culture, with its hidden rules and rituals that famously ‘eat strategy for breakfast.’ This discomfort arises because these elements, being less tangible, are harder to measure and quantify. This is already foggy if not dark to many leaders.

Stuck in old roles and behavior

When it comes to individual roles and behaviors (external individual), many traditional CEOs struggle. Letting go of outdated habits and roles becomes a challenge when one is accustomed to leading with command and control. They have yet to learn the art of leading with flow, trust, and empathy while still ensuring goal achievement. The idea of showing up fully embodied as a transformational leader, ‘walking the talk’, remains elusive if there is no clear path and way to shift roles and behaviors while running the ship on full speed.

The Neglected Inner Self

The journey becomes even more challenging when it comes to the most crucial quadrant: the inner individual. This sphere concerns their inner self, self-consciousness, mindset, fears, emotions, and their own construction of ‘ego’. Often, there isn’t enough time for self-reflection, or some CEOs, fearing what they might discover within themselves, relegate this quadrant to the ‘esoteric’ realm, claiming pragmatism and lack of time. Yet, in many cases, it is the existing ego, with its attachments and fears, that becomes the obstacle to overcome. This task is simple in concept but challenging in practice.

In essence, the classic CEO operates at only a quarter of their full potential because there is the light shining, significantly limiting their ability to unleash full impact and peak performance in their role modeling, leadership, and organizational influence. Given the perceived power of the leadership position in an organization, it must be recognized that:

The Consciousness of the CEO is the limit of the organization

If they do not embrace the growth potential and address the root causes present in the other three quadrants, the company risks stagnating in mediocrity. Failing to break out of the ongoing polycrisis into a new paradigm of business, it becomes trapped in a cycle of repeating history with the same mindsets, systems, and cost cutting styles. This cycle leads to a loss of attraction, relevance, and worthiness, ultimately leading to the organization’s decline.

Without embracing the complete spectrum of the four quadrants, organizations risk remaining in mediocrity, unable to break free into new paradigms of business and innovation. It is time to shine a light on the other 75% of the Leadership Potential.

(To be continued.)