Leading with spirituality

“In every moment, something sacred is at stake.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I begin this article with a confession… I realize that while I have wanted to write an article about Leadership and Spirituality for some time, I have also experienced “writer’s block,” resistance or just plain fear.

I think I have been afraid to offer these reflections for fear that readers will not think it “businesslike enough.” And yet, we learn from our clients that spirituality is an integral part of their growth and development as leaders, whether they use the language or not. And so, with courage, I offer these reflections.

What is your experience?

Have you considered what spiritual means for you? We have been struck by the recent reflections of clients who somehow appreciate that the deep inner work they are doing, individually and collectively, is in the realm of spirituality. For example, while reviewing his goals for our coaching work, the CEO of a national financial institution paused and said, “I would like you to ask me how I am doing spiritually each time we meet.” And recently, after a team retreat, one of the leaders said to my colleague, “You have an amazing way of blending spiritual and corporate.”

What is spirituality? What does it mean for leadership?

I stumbled upon this description of spirituality from the Wellness Center at Ohio State University. It captures the dimensions of spirituality that resonate with my experience.

“Spirituality is not religion. While the definition of spirituality is different for everyone, here are some common themes associated with spirituality:

  • The idea of a process or journey of self-discovery and of learning not only who you are, but who you want to be.
  • The challenge of reaching beyond your current limits. This can include keeping an open mind, questioning current beliefs or trying to better understand others’ beliefs.
  • A connectedness to yourself and to others. Spirituality is personal, but it is also rooted in being connected with others and with the world around you. This connection can facilitate you finding “your place in the world.”
  • Meaning, purpose and direction. Spirituality, while it doesn’t necessarily solve or reach conclusions, often embraces the concept of searching and moving forward in the direction of meaning, purpose and direction for your life.
  • A higher power, whether rooted in a religion, nature, or some kind of unknown essence.”

I would also add that spirituality strengthens our ability to be fully present in the moment.

In 1998, Kevin Cashman authored a book titled, “Leadership From the Inside Out.” He dedicated his book to “those rare leaders who have the courage to commit to authentic personal transformation in order to enrich the world around them.” He further suggested that our “ability to grow as a leader is based on our ability to grow as a person.”

That growth requires an ability to enter into the unknown and it requires a willingness to be vulnerable and uncertain, even when the world around us demands that we know the answers; remain strong and resolute.

Recently, I learned that a client leader who, facing serious surgery, had the courage to engage in a conversation with his colleagues about his vision for his successor. He was willing to face the reality of his own mortality and allow himself to be vulnerable with his inner circle.

What can you do to strengthen your spirituality?

Reflection – Creating the time and space for personal reflection strengthens our spirits and grounds us in the present. We often encourage our clients to begin by investing five minutes at the beginning and the end of each day for reflection. Beginning the day with reflection allows us to be intentional about how we will “be” in the face of change or challenge. Reflection at the end of the day provides an opportunity to assess how we have been, what we might do differently, and what we can celebrate.

Journaling – Many people have found that recording their reflections provides a level of clarity. It allows us to recognize patterns over time that we may or may not want to continue.

Meditation – Mindfulness, retreats, music, poetry, art, theatre…are means to deepen our awareness and strengthen our spirits. Even the act of eating and exercise, done with intention, will strengthen our capacity to feel connected with a power beyond ourselves.

As we enter into a new year, may you remain open to possibility and deeply aware of your influence and gift in our world. May you remember that…”in every moment, something sacred is at stake.”

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