The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 218

John Mackey

Conscious Leadership, Part II

This is part two of two in my conversation with John Mackey.

How do we discover our purpose? John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods and co-author of Conscious Capitalism, joins us to discuss his newest book, Conscious Leadership. Discover how to get in touch with your purpose and the difference between approaching your business with a win-win-win and win-lose mindset.

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Transcript

This transcript is unedited.

Peter:

Hi there. This week’s episode is part two of a longer conversation. I recorded. If you missed part one, go back to the previous episode so you can get caught up. Thanks for listening.

Peter:

I’m curious about how you balance, how we balance love and profitability, right? And like servant leadership at the same time as like, you know, whole foods is not a food bank. Right. And so it, and I’m, I’m just, I’m curious whether those ever feel in conflict to you or how you think about it because there’s certain choices you make and certain priorities you make for the organization. And you, you talk about in the book, the difference between personal and organizational integrity, which I think is a sort of a profound thought and something really important to think about. And I’m curious how you think about those two things.

John:

Hey, I’m impressed. You really have read the book. Most of the time when he talked to people, they’ve had somebody read the book for them and give them a one or two page summary of it. And they kind of stick to the talking points, but you’ve gotten to a more subtle part of the book. So I know you read it. So thank you. That’s an unnecessary polarity that you’ve created. And most people created that. And that polarity is we talk about it in the book to a certain extent, selfishness versus altruism or, or profit versus nonprofit. And they, and these are unnecessary polarities. In fact I don’t have to reconcile profitability because profitability is not, it’s not in conflict with, with love or service. It’s mostly people create a conflict in their minds and they judge something outside of themselves as selfish or greedy.

John:

In fact, business makes money by creating value for other people. That’s the ultimate truth about business. It’s not based on coercion is nobody with a gun forcing you to shop at whole foods market. We have lots of competitors, very few people. I think we’ve got like a three to 5% market share under the United States grocery business. And that means 97% of the people that were shop with us or only shop with us occasionally. And it’s voluntary and we have to create value for other people, or we go out of business. So the profits are created. They’re not stolen. We don’t, we didn’t go. And Rob anybody we’ve, we create value and people voluntarily exchange with us for a mutual gain. And then if we do a good job, there’s some money left over called profit that in our case keeps getting reinvested in the business to make our stores better and to open new stores.

John:

And that’s why capitalism is so great. That’s why it’s such a great system. This idea that profit is theft from somebody like the workers. It’s just marks and marks is nonsense. It’s simply not true. It’s easily disproven in dialogue and it’s cause it’s not stolen because it’s voluntarily exchanged. And the entrepreneur labor does not create all the value. There’s lots of other value creators besides labor. So it’s, it’s, it’s an unnecessary conflict and polarity, which we had more time I could go into into much deeper, but I think the book does try to address it to a certain extent and conscious capitalism also talks about it.

Peter:

Yeah. So I, I love conscious capitalism and, and, and also conscious leadership. And when we were talking before, and you said like conscious leadership is, you know, we sort of talked about what’s my favorite book that I’ve written, and what’s your favorite book that you’ve written in conscious leadership is your favorite. And and, and conscious capitalism. I had such a massive a massive impact that, you know, the, the statement that came out, I think it was like a couple of years ago where a numb 15 million team members, I think it was something I’d read, but it was like a, a number of America’s largest companies came out and they said and, and it became now popular, common thinking that didn’t even exist before conscious

John:

You’re thinking about the business round table.

Peter:

Is this round table. That’s right. Where they basically said stakeholders.

John:

It’s about a year about it only about a year ago. And I will, I will tell you something that I was talking to sort of the person on the business round table, not one of the CEOs, but one of the business round table organizers that kind of helped put that whole thing together. And, and she told me, she said that they use conscious capitalism as sort of a reference book.

Peter:

It has to be because conscious capitalism was the, was the milestone marker of identifying this idea. And certainly popularizing it that, you know, your customer is not your only stakeholder and you have all of these different stakeholders.

John:

Your investor’s not your only statement

Peter:

Investor. Yeah. Are you invested? Sorry. That’s what I meant. Your investor is not your only stakeholder. Right. And that, and, and including the environment as a stakeholder and like, yeah. And so that was profound. So, so this is my question for you, which is, I thought conscious capitalism was such a great book and, and this book you love even more. And so my question is, what about this book? Are you most proud of, like, what about this book? Do you feel like is even more important than conscious capitalism was?

John:

I think this book, I mean, we’ve, we’ve got nine chapters in the book, so it gives me, you gave me an opportunity a little bit to talk about the book. Thank you. But the first chapter is about putting purpose first and that in that chapter, we, we get back to the essence of business is created by entrepreneurs who generally have some type of passion or some type of vision or some type of purpose they’re trying to realize in the world. And it’s only later that business gets, you know, maybe when that entrepreneur’s passed on and you’ve got professional managers in that sort of profits being the God take over very few entrepreneurs. I see this at Amazon, for example, in the Amazon, we sold out to Amazon as, as everybody knows. And, and, you know, Jeff Bezos is the richest guy in the world, right.

John:

But Jeff is incredibly passionate man, and very passionate about, about customers and very passionate about Amazon’s purpose in the world. So he continually makes longterm decisions that have short term consequences to profitability. But fortunately for Amazon, the market’s always been able to accept Jeff’s longterm vision. Other other CEOs have not necessarily had that kind of luxury, but we talk about purpose first in the book and purpose includes making money. I mean, businesses that don’t make money don’t really have an impact on the world because they fail. And then, you know, so profitability is important, but it’s, it’s a means to the end of fulfilling the purpose and what has happened when you put shareholder value first is you’ve reversed. It, you’ve made creating money more important than fulfilling the purpose, and then all types of corruption sets in when that happens. So we talk about putting purpose first and the second is,

Peter:

Can I just ask you one question about that first one? Cause I feel like it’s so, so important that you write in the book at some point along the journey of self discovery, a purse, a purpose begins to reveal itself, right? I’m curious for people who are either blinded might be the wrong word, but drawn to the money piece of things or for people who, for whom a purpose hasn’t revealed itself, whether you have any advice, I’m not looking for worksheets here, but like any advice for how to get in touch with purpose, you know, like you, you had this moment of throwing your textbook on the floor and saying, this is a waste of my time. I’m out. That’s a dramatic moment of shifting your life from one led by your parents and by the expectations of the culture to one that you’re now taking responsibility for no longer becoming a victim, how do you like, is that something that some people are going to hit and some people just aren’t or is there a way that people can nudge themselves towards that kind of a moment?

John:

Of course, you’re exactly right. That was a moment. But there was a buildup to the moment, right? That didn’t just come out randomly. I was struggling with this stuff for, for, for ever since I went into college. Right. So it didn’t happen out of the blue. And here’s what I believe now. I can’t prove this. And each person can judge whether it’s true for them or not. But I think everybody has potential for higher purpose. Purpose is quite common. I, I use a metaphor. It’s like even though we’re not listening to the right now radio waves or, or, you know, we, if we, if we could tune into it, we could hear a different radio stations and they’re happening, whether we’re paying attention to it or not. And I think purpose is there two purposes, it’s a purposeful universe. It’s radiating around us.

John:

Only people are not tuned into the radio station, so to speak. So you’re asking me, well, how do people tune into it? Right? And the answer is you tune into it by beginning to listen and meaning purpose is there. It’s just that people block it out because, because of fear, primarily people are afraid and they try to play it safe in life. They go with the safe path. They, they, they do what their parents want. They do what their friends want. I’m seeing it in the greater culture right now where people are, are sort of too afraid to actually say what they think or feel they might get canceled. And so we’re getting sort of a a, a blanket, a truth out there that you’re you accept, or you’re going to get destroyed at it. So it takes courage to awaken to purpose. And you’re awakened to purpose by paying attention and listening. Because I believe in each of our deeper parts of our being is we’re purpose resides. And you have to be able to tune into that. Some people can get through through meditation. Mine was the path of just stop doing what everybody else told me. I ought to be doing and to try to find out what I really wanted to do. And so that was my path, but there are many paths to purpose.

Peter:

Well, and and I’m hearing you say two things that, that feel equally important and you have emphasis on one, but I but I’m hearing the other really clearly, which is one is listening, which is to say, can you, in whatever way you do it, maybe it’s meditation or prayer or slowing down, or, but it’s like listening to, to feel what you, what you feel or see what you see or hear what you hear. And then the second is the courage to risk. What, you know, in order to follow a call or an intuition, or what you hear to follow that into the unknown, like you could risk what, you know, you had to risk what, you know, because you know, getting good grades and going to college and graduated and got like, that’s what we know. There’s a path there and you’re taking this risk. So it’s like, not only is it the listening, but it’s the courage to follow through with that listening and the risks that go along with it. It’s the hero’s journey. Yeah.

John:

The hero’s journey, Joe, Joseph Campbell wrote about it. It’s in every culture and every, in every mythos that we know you have to make the choice, follow the hero’s path and that, and that can be a lonely and frightening and scary path. And, but I will tell you, I can tell you when you know, you’re on purpose in your life, are you happy? Right? Do you have joy? Do you have joy? Is every day an amazing thing. You wake up and it’s like, I’m alive. This is incredible. Oh my God, it’s so beautiful. We’re so lost in our thoughts. Dreams were so buried in our own fears and our own ego dialogue that goes on. We’re not awake to what’s real. And what is real in the moment is incredible. Beauty, love everywhere, purpose everywhere, but we have to awake to it and you have to tune into it. And that means getting out of your fear, fear is what holds us back. People are frightened, but here’s the thing you can’t escape. You’re going to die. You’re going to get old and you’re going to get sick. I mean, the Corona virus is a fascinating thing because people are so petrified of it. And I’ve, I’m moving again in the world, right? I mean, there’s risk as you go through life. And I am not stupid things, but I’m trying to, I got to live. I mean, I don’t time is of the essence.

Peter:

Life is hard. You’re not important. Your life is not about you. You’re not in control. You’re going to die.

John:

That is, that is, that is it. I believe everything. I believe all five of those are absolutely true.

Peter:

After two is lead with love, you’ve talked a bunch about that. You want to just share a sensor too.

John:

Yeah. love is in the corporate closet in America. And it’s because of the metaphors that we use to think about business, which are all hyper competitive metaphors of war survival of the fittest hyper competitive sports. It’s an, a real win, lose framework. That’s too focused on competition. And they’re yeah, sure. Competition is in business, but business is primarily about creating value for other people. It’s not primarily about competition. That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s in the background, right.

Peter:

And you write, and there’s this beautiful sentence, John, that you write in principle, a few would argue few would argue with the statement that love is extremely important in every domain of human life. And yet when it comes to business, this core human virtue is striking in its absence.

John:

Yes. Because when you’re at war, you don’t have time for love, do it at home, but check. Yeah.

Peter:

Well, not just, you don’t have time. There’s a risk to love if I’m at war and I love, I’m not going to fight, or I might not fight in the same way

John:

People associate love with the weakness, right. But today in our organizations, love is the most powerful thing there is. It’s the glue that holds people together. It’s the glue. It’s why I like coming to work at whole foods. I have a community of people I love and care about. It’s, it’s, it’s I can be fully myself at whole foods. And, but most people have to check the love at the corporate doors and, you know, and, and that’s something they do with their friends and their family outside of work. And so, but if we’re going to really transform corporations, then love has to be, that has to be let out of the corporate closet. It has to be, it has to be awakened within any and all parts of our society by right now. Cause I don’t see a lot of love what’s going on in America. And I just see a lot of hate, a lot of judgment, a lot of attacks, a lot of fear.

Peter:

So how helped me materialize that meaning what does that look like concretely when we’re talking about? Well, first

John:

Of all, it means if you’re a leader, it means you have to, of course the most important thing as a leader is not talk, but what they do. So you have to, you have to be a loving being yourself. First thing you have to do is open your own heart and begin to share your love with the people that you work with. And and that helps people feel safe. And that, that gives them permission to also awakened love. So first you have to model it. Secondly, you have to give permission for it and encourage it with one thing we do at whole foods that is, I call it a love accelerant. We end all of our meetings with appreciations appreciations. You cannot authentically appreciate somebody without opening your heart to do it. And people live in this little petty world of judgments, but, and, and when you get, when somebody actually tells you in an authentic way, how much they care about you and love you and appreciate you, it’s very hard to continue to dislike that person, right? And when you do it yourself, you, you, when you, when you, when you give yourself permission to truly authentically appreciate your in a love space, when you do it. So that this very simple technique which whole foods does, it’s part of our culture, does stoke a lot of love. That’s my, that’s my tip for the day. It’s in the book, right?

Peter:

Which, which doesn’t mean not holding people accountable. And it doesn’t mean not setting boundaries. And it doesn’t mean not, not following through on consequences. It doesn’t mean any of that. You can love your child and you still have to do all of those things,

John:

False polarity that it’s both have to exist, right? You integrate the masculine and the feminine. You have to be strong and you have to be caring. You have to be hold people accountable while helping to nurture them. I’m not saying it’s easy. Hey, the path of the hero’s path, the hero’s journey, the path of love, the path of purpose, path of integrity. These aren’t easy, right? They were easy. Everybody would be doing it. It’s hard work. You have to be working on yourself all the time. And our final chapter is about constantly, continuously learning and growing. You have to continue to learn and grow a good leader. The corporations, they act as a lid. They’re a ceiling for the growth of everybody else. The more, whenever I have sort of a breakthrough at whole foods, I give permission for new energy to flow that I was holding back. And so I have responsibility to become a better human being and more caring, more loving, higher integrity, because that helps the whole company move in that direction.

Peter:

I love that. And, and in your third chapter, we’re not going to get through every single chapter, but it’s worth getting the book in order to go through every single chapter. You, you talked about always act with integrity, right? Which you’ve just mentioned. And I would say that nobody disagreed, no one would disagree with this. Nobody would say, I think we should act with lack of integrity. I’m curious for you what the standard you’ve been able to live by. That sets the bar for conscious leadership.

John:

Well, integrity kind of like love is a complicated virtue, because love has all these different aspects to a generosity, compassion, care gratitude, but integrity has a lot of aspects to it as well. Truthfulness, authenticity, honor honesty. And so integrity is something that I found in my life, integrity and business is it’s not extraordinarily rare, but it’s also not that common. Cause every day people tell little lies and and, and people do a little portrayals all the time. And we, we don’t really in our most corporations, they’ve they talk about integrity, as you say, no, one’s opposed to that, but most places don’t really live it. Right. And again, we’re back to the importance of the leader modeling that because you know what, when you meet somebody with integrity, you trust them, right. And when you meet somebody that doesn’t have integrity at some level, you realize I can’t trust him or her right there. You know? And so integrity is the foundation in an organization to build trust around.

Peter:

You have to be totally transparent in order to have integrity, or can you have a boundaries of not sharing certain information with certain people and still have integrity?

John:

I mean, I think transparency is an aspect of, of of integrity, but in an Aristotelian sense, you can have an excess of anything, right? You can have an excess of honesty, which ends up hurting people unnecessarily. And you can have an excess of transparency where that you just has gone too far. People are, nobody cares what you’re doing with your sexuality on your own time. It’s like

Peter:

Too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing.

John:

And yes, there’s, there’s the golden mean? Is there a style that would put it that we want to get the right balance between these things? The fourth chapter is about finding win-win win solutions. It’s actually, that’s going to be the I’m already starting to work on another book. And because that one needs to go a lot deeper because what I realized in writing that chapter that win, win, win solutions is an ethical code. And we need a new ethical code in this secular age. So if you begin to think in every situation, how can I be truly helpful here? What’s good for me. What’s good for you. And what’s good for all of us. And you think in every situation that way it’s completely transformative act in the world.

Peter:

My book that you and I talked about leading with emotional cards is broken up into four parts. And one of the first is confidence in yourself. The second is connection to others. The third is commitment to purpose. And then the fourth is the most courage. And in every, in every society have studied in every spiritual tradition in every affective business. When I’ve competency modeled organizations, you know, as big as American express and, and, and Citibank, and, and, and as small as, you know, startups, everything can be broken out into me, you and me, and something bigger than all of us. So I love that you just posited it because that to me feels like it’s, it’s it’s, it’s sort of a truth about, about what we need to be good at. We need to be good at, you know, if, if I, if I’m all I care about is my relationship with you and I don’t care enough about myself, I’ll give myself up in order to, in order to keep you happy. And, and that’s not gonna work, but if it’s all about me, then I’ll lose you. So, and then if it’s just about us, then we’re not impacting something bigger than all of us are not connecting to something bigger. Yeah.

John:

Also the dominant paradigm you have to understand is win, lose. Right? Right. And so what’s happening in the United States right now. If I look at it, it’s like we don’t have a win, win, win philosophy going on. We’ve got truly win, lose, and people are struggling to win at the expense of someone else. And it’s highly painful and it’s destructive. We need, we need leaders. We need conscious leaders. We need conscious political leaders at this time that are really seeking the collective good for all, not just their own power, not just to win, not to put other people down, but for us to truly, and to, for the, for the, to the country to unite really around finding solutions to our challenges and problems where everybody wins and not, you know, some people win and some people lose. We all have to win. John, what’s your EDS right now? What

Peter:

Are you contemplating that you need to be thoughtful and conscious about when you think about sort of being really a conscious leader, where do you feel like you, you, you’re sort of wanting to slow down and be thoughtful because that’s your edge for growth. You were talking about this last chapter of continuously learn and grow. And I’m curious about where that edge is for you.

John:

You know it right now, the edges I have to have this emotional, spiritual courage to go out and speak my truth in a very conscious way without being canceled without a whole foods being boycotted by the Twitter bullies and the green bullies and everybody else who wants to take down the, the rich white guy for one thing. So the edge is for me, you know, the temptation is to just hide out in a COVID has made that he’s, let’s just go hide out until this is all passed, but a conscious leader can hide out. Constant leaders, got to go out into the world and has got to speak his or her truth in a loving way that unites people. So I can’t go out in anger and judgment, or I will just get a counter force that blows me away. I have to be so conscious that I, that, that in every moment I’m sharing love, sharing compassion, but also sharing truth that can be uniting truth. And the book is going to give me an opportunity, you know, the ironical thing or Peter, is I a book about conscious leadership

Peter:

I got to live in, right? Cause because I can’t take a day off, I have to live it. And, and it’s like, okay, if you put this book out there, people are going to be, they’re going to be looking for hypocrisy. That’s what people really want to nail you. And you say this, but right. I mean, look at this, is that really very conscious? And so it’s a, it’s a huge test in a way. That’s how I’m going to view it. Can I stay in the moment? Can I stay awake and conscious in the moment and really be the conscious leader that I’m urging other people to be as well? So that’s my edge. My edge now is it’s easy to write about something. It’s a lot harder to live it every single day. And every moment, John, I cannot tell you the pleasure that it has been having you on the Bregman leadership podcast.

Peter:

I’ve so enjoyed your, this conversation. I enjoyed the book. I probably my favorite tasting experience in my life was when I went into a whole foods. This is probably 20 years ago and it was in Boulder and I haven’t found it since in a whole foods. So this is my pitch for you to start putting in whole foods. Again, it was chocolate covered, dried mango, and it was so ecstatic and experience of chocolate covered dried manga. So I you know, I encourage you to have that in the New York whole foods, but it’s been such a balance probably too addicting. We, we, we, we, that might’ve been taken off the show, people were having to go into recovery for that. That probably is right. And the sugar overload was probably pretty high. Sounds really good though. It was really good. It’s such a pleasure. I’m so appreciative of you making the time. Thank you so much for being on the Bregman leadership podcast.

John:

Thanks for having me, Peter. I really enjoyed our conversation and I hope we get to meet in person.

Peter:

I look forward to it.

 

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