What Does Spirituality Have To Do With Leadership?

I usually begin a coaching relationship with a lot of poking and prodding questions around physical well-being, emotional well-being, mental well-being and spiritual well-being of the person I’m coaching. Without exception, it’s the spiritual well-being questions that produce the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look.

I usually get responses from clients like…
What does that mean?
Does it matter?
I don’t do woo-woo.
That Kumbaya stuff isn’t me.
I don’t believe in it.
I go to church.
I’m spiritual, but not religious.
If I’m not spiritual, does that make me a bad person, a bad leader?
What does that have to do with my leadership?

The conversation usually morphs into a conversation about the difference between being spiritual and being religious, I hear thing things like…
Spiritual is about the beyond. Religion is about membership.
Spiritual people meditate, religious people pray.
Spirituality is about personal connection. Religion is about dogma, ritual and control.
It’s all about who is in control, me (spirituality) or an institution (religion).
Spirituality is about believing in a higher power. Religion is about following a higher
power through ritual, adhering to laws and being in good standing.
Spirituality is a choice and operates on the law of attraction. Religion is adherence and
failing to adhere has negative consequences.
Spirituality has no boarders or divides. Religion has rules and divides.

“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience.
Spirituality is having your own experience.”
Deepak Chopra

Leadership is an affair of the heart with one’s soul. Without getting theological, philosophical or scientific, here is what I know for sure. The soul is what we are, our internal life, our raging energy. The soul is life. It is neither good or bad, it’s our energy connected to the universe, the cosmos, connected to the energy that makes up everything. To lead is to connect. This where science (quantum physics) intersects theology – everything is energy and seems to respond to consciousness. I believe there is truth in the ability to sell one’s soul and it’s not a good thing!

For me, spirituality is how we connect and channel our soul. It is essential to great leadership. Thus, consider the soul as a rambunctious child and spirituality as the sherpa, guide and rudder for the soul. Spirituality is how we handle our raging energy, our soul. Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, suggests four behaviors of spirituality are necessary to our self-care including: meditation/prayer; being in community with others and the concentric circles beyond; suspending judgment and respecting other’s spiritual journey; and showing and acting with compassion for the least of these, the underserved, the less privileged, the wounded. Spirituality is carpe diem – “seizing the day.”

To be spiritual requires honesty, focus, humility and compassion. To be spiritual is confront our dysfunctionality. It’s to acknowledge there will be uncompleted things left in our “IN” box when we die and it’s okay. Our spirituality guides us through our many living deaths, like divorce, job-loss, the death of a loved-one, a disability, cancer while we are alive. Our spirituality helps us in the tension between what we desire and our fidelity to our values and commitments. Our spirituality is the source of letting go and some would say (including me), letting God, and always about connecting and dealing with others with compassion. If we are mindful to our spirituality, we find peace and joy. Embracing our soul through our spirituality completes us. Karl Rather says our spirituality “moves us to becoming mystics rather than non believers.” Our spirituality helps us to overcome our perfectionism and the need to be right. It allows us to accept our imperfections. Good, healthy, inclusive religious communities can be a resource and guide for our spiritual well-being.

“The top environment problems are selfishness, greed and
apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural
transformation…and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
Gus Speth, American environmental lawyer

Let’s be honest, when we are a part of a family, a group, a team, an organization, a fellowship, a community, we no longer fully own our lives. We consciously and subconsciously allow others within those connections to mess with our lives. The fundamental requirement is to be vulnerable. Trust begins to take root leading to giving and receiving compassion from one another. We can share hopes and dreams leading to collaboration in creating a better life. While being alone is a good and necessary behavior at times, too much aloneness can lead to loneliness, an epidemic in our society. Our spirituality is an antidote to loneliness. Our spirituality keeps us from allowing others to define us. Our spirituality allows us to assume positive intent in others rather than judge. Attention to our spirituality is the foundation of emotional intelligence. To lead is to love and our spirituality allows us to love others as they are because our spirituality helps us to love our own messy, dysfunctional selves as we are. Being in touch with our spirituality allows the current version of ourselves to be worthy of love.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern, writes that what distracts us from our spirituality is narcissism (self-centeredness, selfishness, conceit and feeding one’s ego), pragmatism (hard-heartedness, logical and practical with a focus on achievement and success) and unbridled restlessness (anxiety, disquietude and impatience causing imbalance). These three behaviors keep us from taking care of ourselves and failing to serve and lead others. These behaviors feed a scarcity mentally leading to a feeling there is never enough and believing we are never enough. They feed wishful thinking as in: “I wish I was like or looked like __________.” “I wish I had ___________.”

“Christianity is mainly wishful thinking. Even the part about
Judgment and Hell reflects the wish that somewhere the
score is being kept.“                           – Frederick Buechner

The toughest person to lead is oneself. You lead yourself by paying attention and focusing on your physical well-being, your mental well-being, your emotional well-being and your spiritual well-being. All four of these practices interact with each other and nurture our ability to lead ourselves as well as others. Paying attention to these four practices and living them is essential to ‘modeling the way’ for those we lead.

According to a 2017 Gallup report, 71% of the American workforce is not engaged in their work which translates into poor productivity, higher turnover, more accidents and reduced ROI. Workforce leadership should be deeply concerned about this fact. After pondering my thoughts, how does your spirituality affect your engagement with others at work? Are you able to be still and listen? To get in touch with one’s spirituality, begin by listening.

“…listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people
are looking for an ear that will listen. He who can no longer listen
to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either. This is
the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Some ideas on reconnecting and nurturing one’s spirituality:

  • When you wakeup in the morning, linger in bed. Breathe. Consider with gratitude the rest you just experienced. Breathe. If your significant other is beside you, lightly touch them and consider your gratitude for your relationship. Breathe. Reflect on how you want to be experienced in the unfolding day. Consider who and what is really important.
  • Carve out time daily to be still, intentionally breathe, pray, meditate for at least ten minutes. And if you can’t find ten minutes, make it twenty minutes.
  • You are the five people you to whom are closest. How is their spiritual well-being? Choose well and wisely.
  • Seek out a mentor or faith-guide who has a strong spiritual well-being who can coach you on your spiritual well-being. After all, this is not a DIY practice. Spirituality requires connection with ourselves as well as with others.
  • Seek out, read or listen to books like Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now, Thich Nhat Hanh Living Buddha, Living Christ, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Nadia Bolz-Weber Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, Robert Fulghum’s Everything I Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Anne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair
  • Listen to podcasts like Krista Tippett’s On Being, The Moth: True Stories Told Live, Ira Glass’s This American Life, Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It, The Good Life Project.
  • Carry a reminder, a special object in your pocket that when you touch it, you pause to listen, to breathe, reflect, meditate, pray or just be still and become mindful of what’s around you.
  • Be intentional and mindful in discovering the “thin places” where heaven intersects with earth. It could be in the middle of a flowing stream or river; it could be on the subway where a person gives up their seat for an elder or disabled person; it could be in the golden hours where you sit quietly and observe the first light of day or the last rays of sun in the evening; it might occur when a cat or dog curls up in your lap; it could be that mellow fire with its deep red coals of a firepit or fireplace.
  • Create or be a part of inclusive communities. Be fully present. Listen. Don’t try to fix others. Turn off your smart phone.
  • Sit down to dinner with others. Be present. Breathe. Reflect on all the hands that made the meal possible. Say thank you out loud. As you eat, put your fork down. Breathe. Really taste what you are eating. Linger after you finish eating. Breathe. Consider how many ways you have been nourished in this time and space.
  • Use a canceled appointment to take a walk and breathe without your smart phone and take in what you see, hear, smell and feel.

What behaviors do you recommend for connecting and growing one’s spirituality?