Published: April 25, 2018


On March 22, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR) proudly presented the 8th Annual Conscious Capitalism Conference: Authentic Leadership in Sustainable and Regenerative Enterprises. Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods, was our keynote speaker. Throughout the day, students, faculty, entrepreneurs, executives, and community members learned about the key factors of authentic leadership and its correlated benefits.

Authentic leaders show great self-awareness and an internalized moral compass. They encourage self-development as they engage their teams in collaborative change.

“This isn’t a practice life,” Robb said, encouraging attendees to be brave and true to their passions. “If you want to make a difference, you need to get started.”

After a warm welcome from Sharon Matusik, Dean of the Leeds School of Business, and Mark Meaney, Executive Director of CESR, the morning began with an introduction to authentic leadership.

Values in a volatile world

Susan Skjei, the director of Naropa University’s Authentic Leadership Center, outlined the fundamentals of authentic leadership in the “VUCA” world we live in. “VUCA” refers to the challenging conditions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Inspiring attendees to move from reacting to responding, Skjei explained how character comes from our personal values and the choices that we make. Authentic leadership embraces our authentic selves to lead from our values, moving beyond being the persona that others may expect.

“The new currency of leadership today is authenticity and vulnerability,” Robb said.

Empowering others

Next, Robb discussed his journey to authentic leadership with Mark Retzloff, Chairman of the Board at Alfalfa’s and a member of the CESR Advisory Board. Robb spoke about how he instilled the concept into the culture at Whole Foods and answered questions from the audience. Robb emphasized the importance of humanity and connection when leading. Beginning with self-leadership, knowing who you are and what guides you, authentic leadership aims to foster an environment in which every team member can shine.

“Each and every individual has incredible magic in them,” Robb said. “Your job is to create a place for that to unfold and you’ll be amazed by what happens.”

In the afternoon, attendees participated in a roundtable reflective exercise to analyze their own communication styles and further understand how to foster conscious conversations. A discussion of effective inquiry and effective advocacy allowed participants to exercise their conversational skills to better reflect their intentions.

Leading from vulnerability

To conclude the day, Skjei moderated an interactive panel discussion about conscious leadership with leaders from the natural foods industry. Panelists Chuck Leif from Naropa University, Amy Keller from Organic India, Bruno Sobral from One Health Initiative at CSU, and Carlotta Mast from Naturally Boulder and New Hope Network, discussed vulnerability. This leadership buzzword popularized by Brene Brown means ‘to be susceptible,’ but it can also be associated with weakness – something that others are able to use against you. Keller passionately proposed the use of the word openness instead to embody the power and potential for deep connection that comes with being authentic.

Whether you loved our recent conference or missed out, we hope you will join us for the next Conscious Capitalism Conference. This November, CESR and the College of Media, Communication and Information will bring together Colorado’s co-op, credit union and Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) sectors for the Colorado Shared Ownership Summit.