Denise O’Brien of O’Brien Learning Solutions discusses bringing our soul into our work in this week’s Clare Echo.

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, Socrates.  In coaching, the ‘wheel of life’ is a tool sometimes used as a starting point, whereby the client is asked to assess their satisfaction against eight to ten segments on a wheel.  These typically include finances, health, relationships, family, spirituality, personal growth, career and recreation. 

At the mention of the word ‘spirituality’ people can become uneasy.  Perhaps it is because it is associated with religion, or lack of.  Or, people may have some idea about spirituality, mediation and incense sticks that might not be to their liking.  Either way, it’s something we rarely hear mentioned in relation to leadership development.  I’d like to explore this with you now, so as to help you make an informed decision about leadership and spirituality for yourself.

The word “spirit” comes from the Latin word “spiritus,” which means “breath” or “breathing.” The original meaning of the word was related to the concept of breath, which was associated with the idea of life force or vital energy. In essence then, when we refer to spirituality in the workplace, it could be said that we refer to bringing our life-force, or our soul into our work.  Perhaps then, bringing spirituality into the workplace is the opposite of the term ‘soul destroying’.

A Forbes article from September 2022 entitled ‘What does it mean to be a spiritual leader in the workplace?’ by Kelly Byrnes advises the reader to ‘think of spiritual leadership as creating an environment of trust, honour and success for all. Keep it simple, reasonable and responsible.’  The same article states that post-pandemic, people have become more spiritual, stating that 75% of Americans would describe themselves as spiritual.   However, people feel they cannot safely bring this part of themselves into the workplace.

The “Leader as Healer” theory by Nicholas Janni is seen as a new paradigm for 21st-century leadership.  His theory emphasizes the integration of the rational mind, emotional intelligence, and physical embodiment in leadership. It focuses on repairing the disconnection between ‘being and doing’, perhaps this is the antidote to being a ‘busy fool’.  His theory is to create a culture in which relationships can flourish, through a renewed sense of connectedness between people.   This can only be done when the leadership team role model authentic and ‘whole’ behaviours, as opposed to presenting a fractured, at times unrelatable version of themselves.

As far back as the 1970’s however, the discussion began on a new type of modern leader, i.e., the ‘leader as servant’, based on the theory of Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990).  Greenleaf was an American writer, educator, and consultant who, during his time at AT&T, researched management, development, and education.  In doing so he became suspicious of the power-centred authoritarian leadership style prevalent in U.S. institutions. In 1964, he published his seminal work on servant leadership, which introduced the idea of leaders serving people and focusing on the needs of others before their own.  Since then, this type of leadership philosophy has been embraced by CEOs of corporations such as Ford, YouTube, Unilever and Apple.

Reflecting on my experience at the Buddhist monastery as described last week; it is clear to me now that one of the key indicators of ‘recovery’ from my troubled state of mind was the emergence of a completely different state of being altogether.  After consistent attempts to put into practice what the monks had suggested, I found that through no effort of my own, my focus changed from being entangled up in thought to essentially wanting to be useful to others.  This was accompanied by a pervasive feeling of gratitude, kindness and generosity.  In hindsight, I can see that this materialised as a result of stopping the ‘busyness’ of life, and allowing the emotional and mental discomfort to arise.  This discomfort was ‘treated’ then with mindfulness.  Through the ‘counting’ meditation, the mind eventually settled thus allowing something else to emerge and be present.

In business, we are beginning to hear stories of leaders who truly know that their vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of their humanity.  This level of humility and transparency at the leadership table can become a catalyst for immense change and sustainable growth.  The way forward then surely, is paved for the pioneers of a new leadership style; one in which the realm of the spirit cannot be ignored.

Contact me at denise@obrienlearningsolutions.ie for 1:1 discussion on any of the topics raised here to date.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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