There is a question that has fascinated me for some time now: How would the practices, processes and skills of leadership be enhanced and changed if they were intentionally integrated with elements of contemplative spirituality and transformation? In the press of all that leaders and service providers must accomplish, this may seem to some as a question of little practical relevance or one we simply don’t have the luxury of time to explore. For example, a colleague of mine confided that she felt like she was “drowning” in all that she had to do. When one is drowning, it is hardly the best time to teach a new stroke. However, in the long run, perhaps it is a new stroke that may be the very thing that can assist.
Leadership and Spirituality
Leadership can be described as the process of influencing human behavior to achieve the goals and objectives of an organization or group. Many leaders today are feeling stretched to capacity to achieve “more” with “less” in environments of greater complexity and uncertainty.
spirit \spir’ it\, n (as defined by Webster)
- the animating life force of a person; vital essence
- incorporeal part of humans, an aspect that pervades mind or soul
- conscious being, as opposed to matter
- energy, vivacity, enthusiasm, courage that stirs one to action
- loyalty that somebody feels through belonging to a group
- the general atmosphere of a place or situation and the effect that it has on people
- pertaining to sacred things, transcendent, God.
An Intentional Relationship
Parker Palmer, in his essay, Leading from Within, describes the intentional relationship between leadership and spirituality:
Matter is not the fundamental movement of history. Spirit is. Consciousness is. Human awareness is. Thought is. Spirituality is. These are the deep sources of freedom and power with which people have been able to move boulders and create change. Leadership involves power. Spirituality involves consciousness. The relationship between spirituality and leadership is a conscious use of power to create conditions that uplift the human experience towards the goals of justice, peace, and the common good. – Parker Palmer
How do we support and encourage the growth of something such as “consciousness”?
I agree with Parker Palmer in suggesting that the answer is related to an intentional relationship between leadership and spirituality.
The “Being, Knowing, and Doing” of Leadership
While “knowing” and “doing” are certainly critically important aspects of leadership, too often it is the “being” aspects of leadership that receive little attention. In his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, the late Edwin Friedman, Ph.D connects the Being of leadership to the quality of one’s presence and self-differentiation. What does this mean?
Let’s begin with a very common phenomenon in modern life today: that of “over-functioning” which can lead to “perpetual hurry syndrome” and “time poverty”. Without saying much more, we know that these experiences can lead to a type of “non-being” in which the quality of life and relationships feels diminished.
In contrast, there is a power in experiencing ourselves or another as fully present, aware, and in-the-moment. Friedman suggests that leaders must learn not only to be fully present, but also a “well-differentiated presence”. Self differentiation is built upon a number of factors including, one’s own integrity, having clarity about one’s own life goals, being able to remain separate while still remaining connected, being able to manage one’s own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and being able to take clear stands even in the face of displeasing others. Leaders must first nurture these factors within if they wish to call these forth from their followers.
In keeping with the nature of spirituality, self-differentiation is not something that can be given to us from outside; rather, it can only be freed from within. Integrating spirituality with leadership holds the key.
Janet M Drey is the managing director of the Consortium for Contemplative Leadership, a community dedicated to advancing the adoption and practice of contemplative leadership. Find out more about Janet’s services and the Consortium here.