Spirit in Leadership
There have been a lot of changes in leadership over the last 15-20 years and I have watched with interest as we have evolved and shifted seeking continually to find the higher moral ground consistent with modern values. This aligns of course with our social evolution and the growing respect we have developed over time for the individual and their rights as well as collective worldviews around critical issues. And we have come a long way making great progress in areas such as decreasing discrimination, establishing greater gender equality, our responsibilities to the environment and a commitment to corporate social responsibility to name a few. The question on my mind is “where to from here”?
In recent years we have grown to understand the importance of employee engagement in ensuring our people are aligned with our corporate vision, values and goals. The benefit of this to us as leaders is a work force that is ‘engaged’ both mentally and physically in what we are trying to achieve. This generates greater motivation and job satisfaction, which then leads to improved innovation, productivity and efficiency – essentially, more effective organisations. I would like to suggest that the next ‘big thing’ in organisations will be the engagement of the human spirit in the workplace. We are becoming quite adept at utilising a person’s body and mind and stimulating them to achieve or exceed their potential. Very few organisations however, proactively seek to engage their people’s spirit and reap the benefits of this.
What is the human spirit?
Even talking about the human spirit in the context of leadership and the workplace is foreign and uncomfortable to most people. In fact many find talking about spirituality in any context awkward. The fact is we are first and foremost spiritual beings. Beyond the intelligent function of our mind and body there is a universal component to human nature that connects us and allows us to tap into a collective unconscious. This is where models and archetypes for living exist, those that guide and direct our behaviour, as well as a collective dharma or purpose. John Teske in his book ‘The social construction of the human spirit’, describes the human spirit as “a social construct representing the qualities of purpose and meaning which transcend the individual human.” So whether you want to wrap the human spirit in the shrouds of structured religion, the stories of mystics, the vestiges of science or even the potential void of atheism, there is a spiritual aspect to being human that, when engaged, will generate greater energy and enthusiasm and provide us with a larger sense of purpose and direction. When I talk about spirit in leadership I am referring to leaders who have the capacity to create a vision for their organisation or business that touches the human spirit and engages the ‘whole person’. Through this they can help people achieve amazing things while at the same time feeling satisfied and validated as they are fulfilling their purpose and giving something back.
The best example of this are charities, people achieve great things working for charities, doing positive things to improve the lives of others. Most often they do this in their own time and are not paid for the work they do. They are motivated and committed and often work very long hours with no complaints…and all for zero monetary reward. Why? Because they have connected with the spiritual aspect of human nature and individual higher purpose.
Some commercial organisations have tapped into this, giving their people a sense of vision and purpose. Many of the people working for Apple have bought into the Steve Jobs vision of ‘changing the world’; Anita Roddick’s Body Shop takes an ethical stand against a range of social and environmental issues at both a local and global level attracting staff that share these values; and a local coffee shop near me that only hires troubled youth from a suburban shelter and raises money for ongoing support of the shelter in order to give back to the community. Some people are getting it and those that are will reap the benefits. I believe that in the next few years more organisations will realise the value of engaging the human spirit in this way and will proactively seek to do so.
Those who embrace ‘spirit’ in their leadership practice ask themselves one question relating to their people: “How can I enrich the lives of others?” This becomes the lens through which they view their role as a leader. This in essence is engaging the human spirit. It is determining how, within the context of work, they can ignite the higher purpose of the individual spirit. You are probably wondering what value is there in seeking to lead in this way?
There are a bunch of benefits, including increased:
• job satisfaction
• discretionary effort.
This is an idea that deserves some serious thought. Over the next year we will revisit it and explore it some more. In the meantime, you might want to start seeing your people in a different light. As spiritual beings seeking a higher purpose who are hungry to be engaged and to be involved in something great.