On April 5, 2022, Conscious Capitalism Atlanta Chapter leaders Soyini Coke, Founder and Managing Principal of Annona Enterprises, and Deke Cateau, CEO of AG Rhodes, guided a valuable conversation on Conscious Leadership and the role of Conscious Leaders in charting the course to prosperity for their teams, organizations, and communities.
Deke’s role as CEO of one of Georgia’s largest network of nursing homes, a demanding position during the Covid-19 pandemic, shaped the discussion as he provided his perspective on centering around people and relationships, addressing the well-being of all stakeholders, and more. Here are just four key traits for Conscious Leaders from Deke and Soyini.
Like many individuals and leaders, the pandemic forced Deke to think more deeply about what it means to be empathetic to others and their circumstances.
As the pandemic surfaced new safety concerns and feelings of fear and uncertainty in his organization and beyond, Deke realized that a lot of his employees, and prospective employees, were going through incredibly difficult times that necessitated new levels of understanding and sensitivity.
“Walk a mile in someone’s shoes and you have no choice but to feel that empathy for them.”
For example, before the pandemic, Deke admitted to having some preconceived notions about hiring those who apply to jobs or show up to interview with their children in tow. Over the course of the pandemic, Deke got a much clearer look at the plight of working mothers trying to secure childcare, a challenge even before the pandemic, which forced him to rethink that bias. He even put action behind evolving from that mindset by working with his leadership team to adopt new policies to promote flexibility.
Deke said: “These are very emotional issues and topics we’re dealing with … Walk a mile in someone’s shoes and you have no choice but to feel that empathy for them. … I’ve had to take my ‘boss’ hat off and think of them as individuals who have lives, who have families, who breathe, just like you and I, and put myself in their shoes.”
2. A people-first mindset
A people-first mindset certainly includes your clients and customers, but Deke pays particular attention to who he refers to as his primary stakeholder: his staff.
“We, as an organization, are continuing to think of ways to make our staff know that they are our secret sauce. I think they are the forgotten stakeholders.”
Deke and his team began by taking some tangible steps like raising the organization’s starting wage and creating a scholarship fund for staff and their families, but the more important offerings are the day-to-day touch points and conversations that let employees know they’re valued and heard.
To facilitate open dialogue, Deke ensures that he or another senior leader regularly leads a town hall for staff to communicate their needs. Recently, he also took the time to speak to a frontline worker one-on-one after that person expressed extreme discontent with their pay; while the conversation was challenging, and at times tense, Deke revealed that allowing the worker to share candidly and openly actually opened his eyes an issue and the importance of honest feedback.
3. Cross-generational awareness
While Deke and Soyini shared in some of the “legacy” benefits they both value, Deke made note of the changing expectations of the millennial workforce and the need for Conscious Leaders to integrate younger professionals’ unique wants into their benefits and offerings.
“Our emerging workforce, millennials … are not motivated by the same things that some of these legacy workforce folks are motivated by,” Deke said.
He noted that millennials are very vocal about what they want today, benefits like the ability to pick their schedules and to choose between a pension or higher wages. To attract and retain this newer generation, Deke suggests listening to their calls to action for modern change.
Deke remembered his own team’s frustrations with adapting, saying: “We were beating our heads on our desks for years trying to convert that newer workforce into our older, legacy expectations,” but concluded, “we need to stop and listen to them.”
Deke said it best when he said, “Employees want to be led by a humble leader, by humble organizations.”
“Employees want to be led by a humble leader, by humble organizations.”
Rather than allowing himself to get comfortable sitting at his desk or in his office, Deke pushes himself regularly to solicit and accept feedback, show up for his front line workers, and even physically make runs for supplies or other resources they may need to operate effectively and safely.
Deke has shed the expectation of a glamorous CEO life, noting that many C-suite leaders may alienate themselves by not meeting their teams where they are, and instead embraces the value in showing his staff he values and cares for them in whatever way he can.
To get the full conversation, watch the recording of this virtual gathering.
Our Virtual Gatherings are designed for business leaders, investors, and advocates who are looking to level-up their practice by learning from and connecting with Conscious Capitalists around the world.