An Integrated Model for Creating Conscious Leaders

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
By Vikas Rai Bhatnagar
Photo by iStock/FangXiaNuo
What we do here in the business school to promote societal impact will get done out there in the business world!
  • By more deliberately integrating societal impact into our schools’ activities and pedagogy, we make it more probable that our learners will become leaders who make a positive difference in the world.
  • Business schools must ensure that their administrators and faculty model social responsibility and conscious leadership for stakeholders.
  • Schools should not only link their visions, missions, assurance of learning, and strategic planning to societal impact, but also adopt and articulate a clear set of values that all stakeholders can live by.


Breathing is vital for life, but people do not exist just to breathe. Similarly, profits are pivotal for a successful business, but businesses do not exist solely to make a profit. But even as people grow increasingly impatient with the capitalistic quest to maximize shareholder return, the motive to remain competitive still drives many business leaders to prioritize profits over people and the planet. Worse, many firms indulge in unethical practices solely to grow their bottom lines.

How can business schools develop learners into socially sensitive business leaders who will avoid adopting a profit-driven mindset? More important, how can we ensure that learners view societal impact as a vital part of their future role as business leaders?  

To answer this question, we might take a cue from the field of quantum physics, which has brought a paradigm shift in the way we view the world. Quantum physics focuses on probabilities rather than certainties. In addition, both quantum theory and systems theory view the world as a system of dynamic mutual interactions among multiple variables, producing unpredictable outcomes—not as a simplified set of cause-and-effect relationships.

Business schools, too, are systems that have many dynamically interacting variables that influence each other. Therefore, it makes sense for academic leaders to create strategies with these variables in mind. When we use quantum and systems approaches in our curricular design, we can never guarantee what any one graduate will achieve. But we can focus mindfully on the variables within our institutions and design our programs in ways that raise the probability that our graduates will become leaders who create societal impact.

The Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management (LBSIM) in New Delhi, India, recently revamped its doctoral program, the Fellow Programme in Management (FPM). During that revamp, I developed an integrated model of societal impact based on three variables that can predict our graduates’ behavior. These include experience (activities with societal impact), exposition (curriculum, pedagogy, and course content), and expression (skills building).

Although we use this integrated model in our doctoral program, discussed in more detail below, its principles can be applied across different geographies, programs, and pedagogical contexts. Through its application, business schools can increase the likelihood that most of their graduates will be leaders propelled by social consciousness.

The Consciousness of a Leader

Although his methods might be controversial, author and mystic David Hawkins measured the consciousness of human beings on a logarithmic progression ranging from 0 (lowest) to 1,000 (highest). On Hawkins’ scale, “negative” emotions such as shame, guilt, apathy, and anger are rated as 20, 30, 50, and 150, respectively; “positive” emotions such as willingness, reason, love, and joy are rated at 310, 400, 500, and 540. According to Hawkins, only 4 percent of the global population exists above the 200-point mark.

When leaders operate at high states of consciousness, they are more likely to adopt long-term perspectives, see systemic interconnections, and recognize the impact of their actions.

Whether or not one agrees with Hawkins’ hypothesis, his framework offers a useful way to explore why consciousness is fundamental to leadership. When leaders, including business school deans, operate at the lower end of the spectrum, they focus on image over substance and often tweak organizational processes to achieve short-term growth; they keep their institutions busy with buzz-creating activities, without achieving tangible long-term impact.

But when leaders operate at high states of consciousness, they are more likely to adopt long-term perspectives. They see systemic interconnections within organizations and recognize the impact of their actions on people, profits, and the planet.

In business schools, consciousness-driven academic leaders don’t just inspire others to create value for all stakeholders. They deliberately adopt processes that increase the probability that learners will become consciousness-driven leaders themselves.

The Three Essential E’s

This is where the three E's I mention above—experience, exposition, and expression—come into play. Below, I describe how LBSIM uses the model to address the three E’s in the FPM.

A simple chart titled Our Integrated Model for Societal Impact that shows arrows flowing from a box with text reading "Responsibility to develop conscious leaders" to a box reading "design of business school and programs," which then is connected via arrow lines to three boxes one over the other denoting experience, exposition, and expression which all three flow to a final box with the text "Higher Probability of Societal Impact" 

Experience—Learners absorb valuable lessons not just by completing their own projects, but also by observing the behaviors of those around them. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Xavier Institute of Social Science (XISS) in Ranchi, India, volunteered to make its campus available for sheltering patients. Through its altruistic action, XISS modeled societal impact for learners. 

Exposition—Faculty can sensitize learners to societal impact by discussing the social implications of any topic, theory, framework, or case study that they introduce in class.

Expression—Learners develop self-efficacy when they willingly carry out activities with societal impact. For this reason, mindful course design should enable learners to act frequently on social issues.

Consciousness-driven leaders continuously examine their schools’ practices across all three E’s to ensure that their strategies are having a positive influence on learners and are beneficial to business and society.

Our Redesigned Doctoral Program

At our school, we have witnessed firsthand the benefits of integrating consciousness-driven leadership in our curriculum. We overhauled the FPM program in April 2022, in response to a high dropout rate among our doctoral scholars. At the time, we realized that our old curriculum incorporated topics that scholars already had covered in their earlier graduate studies, which did not support novel and impactful research. In addition, we were determined to design the program based on the three E’s to increase the number of graduating scholars who conduct research with societal impact.

In our revamp, we worked to integrate elements into the program’s design that more tightly coupled societal impact with our school’s vision, mission, and assurance of learning (AoL) efforts. To simplify our strategic planning, we employed the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule. The Pareto principle holds that 80 percent of our outcomes stem from 20 percent of our efforts. By keeping this in mind, we focused on course elements that we believed would help us develop the highest number of socially conscious learners.

The table below outlines how we map specific elements aimed at social impact to larger program objectives:

Overall Objectives: To follow appropriate epistemology and social science methods in ways that advance management theory, improve management practice, and promote the career progression and well-being of our scholars.
Our Mission: To identify and address socially relevant research questions.
Assurance of Learning Objective: We want students to develop a sensitivity to social issues and a willingness to generate socially impactful knowledge.
Book Reviews: Scholars review books to practice exposition and develop cognitive understanding, and they are encouraged to choose books with social relevance. Suggested books include:

Guest Talks: Representatives from the social sector speak on topics related to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These talks offer scholars opportunities to engage cognitively and emotionally with social concerns.

Development of Teaching Cases: Scholars compose teaching case studies on topics derived from the 17 SDGs that are relevant to management research. They learn to write teaching notes while deeply immersed in social issues, as well as associate those issues with theoretical frameworks.  
Institutional Collaborations: The school collaborates with the social sector to arrange guest talks by eminent leaders in the sector and to facilitate the development of case studies through the introduction of NGOs.

The list of course elements mentioned above is not exhaustive—different schools will likely have different ways to engage learners in socially impactful work. But these examples illustrate how we have deliberately adopted an integrated model so that we develop more leaders with higher social sensitivities.

Modeling Values in the Curriculum

At the same time, LBSIM’s doctoral program encompasses six primary values that reflect the broader values of our school. These values, which drive our program design, include:

  • Psychological safety and dignity—Students should feel safe voicing their viewpoints and feel treated with dignity and respect.
  • Humility in learning—Students should be open to new ideas and willing to collaborate with others.
  • Pursuit of excellence—Students should be thorough in their work, creating and striving to achieve clear benchmarks for success.
  • Imagination—Students should prioritize the development of their imaginations over the accumulation of knowledge, and then act on their imaginations as scholars.
  • Cognitive courage—Students should become fearless when critiquing others’ work, and, more important, when receiving critiques from others. Then, they should act on those critiques diligently.
  • Purpose- and dharma-driven scholarship—Students should develop a sense of purpose, morality, and ethics as researchers. We ask students to embrace “dharma,” a term that connotes having a heightened sense of morality and purpose that leads one to perform one’s work with a natural, joyful zeal.

I cannot overemphasize the importance and centrality of clearly integrating the school’s values into the curriculum. No matter how well a school articulates its vision, mission, strategic plan, and AoL principles, it will not change learners’ minds unless its values are owned, breathed, and lived by all stakeholders.

A Systems Approach to Societal Impact

Using a systems approach to business education, we know that the intentions we implant in our students now will manifest in their actions later. In other words, what students do here in our business school will strongly influence what they do out there in the real world once they assume leadership roles in organizations.

We ask students to embrace “dharma,” a term that connotes having a heightened sense of morality and purpose that leads one to perform one’s work with a natural, joyful zeal.

Here are some final takeaways for business schools that want to increase the probability that their graduates will create higher societal impact in the world:

  • Business school boards should appoint academic leaders who are ecologically sensitive and driven by a sense of conscious purpose.
  • Academic leaders can expand and raise the level of their own consciousness by absorbing relevant literature, spending time in nature, and meditating.
  • Because business schools are systems with multiple variables that interact in ways that produce unpredictable outcomes, business school leaders should take a systems approach to their strategic planning and curricular design. However, they can simplify this process by applying the 80/20 Pareto principle to their processes and strategies.
  • Business schools should ensure that their courses and programs sensitize learners to the social impact of each topic discussed in class and require learners to complete projects that immerse them in gripping social causes. 
  • Schools should pay special attention to the experience, exposition, and expression presented to learners in their programs. They should ensure that learners observe and experience societal impact through projects and volunteer activities, not just hear about it vicariously.  
  • While a school’s vision, mission, AoL, and strategic planning are necessary for creating impact, it is vital that schools also have well-articulated values that are owned and lived by stakeholders who are inspired to joyfully achieve the school’s strategic intent.  

Consciousness-driven business school leaders can make a difference in the world by adopting an integrated model for societal impact throughout their schools’ curricula. As a result, they can go beyond simply hoping their students do good in the world. Instead, they can know that they have maximized the likelihood that their graduates will prioritize societal impact.  

Vikas Rai Bhatnagar
CEO, Hyperspace Action Research Services, and Former Professor of General Management and Chairperson of the Doctoral Program, Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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