The Ethics of Conscious Capitalism: Wicked Problems in Leading Change and Changing Leaders

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Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, consultants, critical discourse analysis, d/Discourse, ethics, leader(ship) development, mindfulness, organizational change, paradox, transforming business, values, wicked problems

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Given corporate scandals, organizational crises, and accounting irregularities (e.g. Citigroup, BP oil spill, Enron, Arthur Andersen), leadership ethics has grown in relevance. The current study takes a discursive approach to engage in a multimethod case study of a consulting and leadership development firm that takes Conscious Capitalism as the impetus for, and target of, leader development. Using constructivist grounded theory and critical discourse analysis, we reveal themes and ‘best practices’ voiced by consultants and clients for cultivating mindfulness and developing ethical leaders, as well as micro- and macro-level paradoxes, tensions, and challenges: structuring-releasing; expanding-contracting; opening up-closing; and collaborating-competing. Our critical approach contributes (a) a critique of Conscious Capitalism as a Discourse that appears to offer hope for business ethics and societal transformation and (b) a critique of ethical leadership development through embedded power relations and the complex discursive processes within and driven by leadership development and ethics at the intersection of various d/Discourses. This research helps explain some of the challenges involved in developing ethical leaders. We reveal that although Conscious Capitalism appears to offer solutions to many of today’s social problems, including leadership ethics, developing ethical leaders ironically leads to problems that are ‘wicked.’

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Human Relations, v. 66, issue 12, p. 1619-1643