I’ve just checked out of the Sunninghill Guest Lodge in Johannesburg, South Africa, a small little conscious business, and I am armed with nothing other than a Christmas present.  When last did you stay at a small hotel and receive a gift in return from the owners when you settled your bill?

The Sunninghill Guest Lodge is a conscious business because you feel it in every fiber of every interaction with every staff member.  You feel it in the culture of the place.  They serve the business with a sense of a higher purpose which, even if they don’t recognise it as such, is to make every guest feel special and welcome.  The grounds are charming, no request is too much trouble and they have perfected the art of serving guests without seeming to suck up to them too much.  It feels like just a genuine enjoyment of having you there.

They could easily save money and increase profits by not having the welcoming armchairs with the port decanter and glasses at the front door for guests to help themselves, or by not giving me an executive suite for the price of a standard room because I am a returning guest.  But they do this because, I feel, they really like to connect with their guests and make them happy.  And as a result I am writing this blog and promoting the Sunninghill Guest Lodge in Johannesburg, South Africa, and thoroughly recommending to whoever might be reading this that if you’re ever in the area you should stay with them.  Such is the magic and power of the community and society benefits of conscious business.

What else I noticed is that I commented to them this morning that they were, I thought, a conscious business.  They did not know what a conscious business was, but their eyes lit up and they sat up with interest as I described higher purpose and creating value for all stakeholders.  They immediately got it.  They could connect with it straight away, possibly because it is an owner-managed business and they are directly connected with the purpose of their business and its profits.

Fast forward an hour or so to my meeting nearby at one of the largest global professional services firms, where my enthusiasm in talking about conscious business and conscious leadership is met with the stony expression of leaders I have come to recognise when addressing this topic to larger organisations.  One politely asked me a few questions, so as not to appear rude I suspect, but really, try as I might with the selling job on conscious business, they just couldn’t seem to see the point.

I wonder about these large corporates where thousands of people burrow away in their jobs, cranking metaphorical handles, where even the leaders feel removed from the direct link between their efforts and outputs.  It seems to me the more tenuous the chain between my efforts and the contribution I can see I’m making, the less connected I may feel to the higher purpose of what I am doing.   Owner-managed businesses have it easier – if they can be bothered – to operate as conscious businesses.  Larger organisations have a lot of inertia to get through first.

Whole Foods, Patagonia, The Container Store et al. – these big companies have got it right somehow.  They lead the way with battalions of motivated and inspired staff supporting the company’s conscious purpose.  How do we ignite the same enthusiasm in Joe Average at XYZ Company?

It seems to me it’s got to lie in the leaders who can create the culture that can ignite and sustain a conscious business for every individual working there.  And this, I have found, is a difficult task (so far).  My enthusiasm for what seems like the bleedingly obvious evolutionary leap to conscious business is generally met with glazed expressions or obvious disinterest in most leaders when I broach the topic – but funnily enough, is more gettable to the man on the street.  It’s crushing really.

I take comfort from the network of conscious business thought leaders across the world I can connect to, like Mark Lefko and Runa Bouius of the Conscious Leader Network in the US, who are getting excellent results with getting together groups of influential, conscious leaders at their events, and Dr Sarah Morris from the Global Institute of Conscious Leadership in the UK who tells me that she is getting a better reception to the idea of conscious leadership amongst the leaders she meets there.  This makes me feel less isolated (and, let’s be honest, a bit less freakish) and gives me hope again that it won’t be too long before conscious business and conscious leadership make it into the mainstream.  In the process, let’s not forget to acknowledge and promote the ‘little guys’ who instinctively get it.