By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster

We often get the question, “who do you work with?”

Most times, the questioner expects us to list off an industry, a company size, a revenue level.


We usually say, “We work with awake leaders who want their brand to be a monument to what they believe,” or some variation of that.

So what does that truly mean?

We recently gathered as a Root + River team to determine who “awake” leaders are. As it turns out, they possess three core traits, which manifest in a number of powerful ways in the business world.

Here’s we determined the three core traits of awake leaders are:

High EQ (Emotional Intelligence/Quotient) – Awake leaders have a great awareness of self, others, situations, strategy and unplanned leadership moments. That means they understand their relationships deeply, their strengths and weaknesses, and the emotional dynamics of others. In tense or emotional situations, they are able to remain self-possessed and clear about who they are and what the best action to take is.

Heart for Others – Awake leaders genuinely care about other people and also practice self-care. They espouse servant leadership, where they look to serve others before themselves. They are listeners, reflectors and want to lead after they have carefully considered how their actions will impact others in their organization and world. They recognize when they are run down, fearful or in an uncertain place and are able to step back to recalibrate themselves. They are in tune into their heart when making direction-changing decisions.

Mission-centric – Awake leaders have their souls on fire with a purpose. They view their business as an extension or fulfillment of their personal mission. All business decisions run through the filter of “Does this align with our/my mission?” They trust both kinds of data – hard data and intuition.

That all sounds nice, right? But how does being an awake leader manifest in the business world? The ROI of being awake is a continuum of both short and long-term value creation, but here are a few benefits.

  • An awake leader’s high standards of excellence about, well, everything, increase the overall productivity and performance of a business. These high standards remove the myth of perfection and replace it with habits of excellence.  High standards give guidance to the “yeses” and “no’s” leaders have to make every day. The financial benefit is higher output and improved quality.
  • An awake leader is essentially the “Chief Spiritual Officer,” meaning they are the one person in the organization that holds the meaning, beliefs and values above all else. This creates a brand with a soul, which in turn creates a natural attractant for both talent and customers. The financial benefit is that recruiting and customer acquisition costs are much lower.
  • Awake leaders have a willingness to invest — in their people, in the right systems, and in building a brand rich with meaning. They are discerning about their investments, but see the value in developing depth of humans, depth of efficiency and depth of meaning. The financial benefit is loyalty of their people, greater talent inside the building, steady growth and stable profitability.
  • This may be the most immediately recognizable outcome of being an awake leader: customer experiences that create delight. Delight is such a rare experience for grown-ups. But awake leaders have a child-like wonderment and joy for seeing other people enjoy unexpected happiness. Therefore, they want to create that experience again and again in their business dealings. When they — and their teams — do so, the financial benefit is enormous: starting with much lower advertising costs, reduced headcount for customer maintenance, and streamlined operating costs.

If these traits or benefits resonate with you, it’s likely you are an awake leader. That doesn’t necessarily mean you work at the top of your organization or have a group of people working under you. Awake leaders are found in every part of every organization and in every size of business.

We get you. We are you!

So don’t let anyone tell you that being the sort of leader you are is “squishy” or that it doesn’t benefit the business. Frankly, that’s bull honky. Being awake is the greatest business advantage of the 21st century.

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge

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