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The Spiritually Informed Leader

Our workplace experience is that we know something is wrong and something is missing. Wouldn’t it be great to get the right answer to the questions that gnaw at us? You know: “Surely there’s more to work than this?”; “What’s the point?”; and, “Isn’t there a better way to operate?”

Fortunately, questions are the engines of thought, and thought is the driver of innovation. What would it look like for innovation — authentic and fearless elevate-the-arc-of-human-trajectory innovation — to provide that elusive but transformative answer to what’s wrong and what’s missing?

Gallup offers an intelligent starting place. In Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton opens his introduction with, “The very practice of management no longer works.” After presenting the findings that merely one-third of American employees are engaged at work, 16 percent are actively disengaged, and the majority 51 percent are not engaged (numbers that have held steady since that survey and report first launched), he observes: “America needs to historically transform the practice of management….”

In our view we first transform leadership and management follows. Fortunately, further in his introduction Mr. Clifton writes, “These figures indicate an American leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore.” He’s correct. He also writes, “One also wonders if the country’s declining productivity numbers point to a need for a major workplace disruption.” He’s again correct. Three years later the COVID-19 pandemic further revealed the need for that ‘major workplace disruption.’ No, the pandemic itself isn’t the limit of the disruption. Rather, it’s just the starting-pistol invitation to a marathon of necessary transformative reconstruction by everyone who sees and cares.

We foresee transformative reconstruction as beginning in the most unexpected place. Humans possess various kinds of intelligence. In addition to the familiar physical intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and emotional intelligence, there is spiritual intelligence. Let’s talk about the unexpected and untapped resource of spiritual intelligence. Spiritual intelligence, which is distinct and unrelated to the practice of religion or any specific faith tradition, is best defined as: “The ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation.”

Photo Credit: Paul Knowlton and Aaron Hedges

Imagine being the leader, or working with the leader who, having developed his or her spiritual intelligence, is equipped with “the ability to behave with wisdom and compassion, while maintaining inner and outer peace, regardless of the situation”? In our analysis that leader is considerate – his or her behavior springs from wisdom and compassion. That leader is also congruent – internally and externally at peace in their actions and decisions. And that leader is also consistent – wise and peaceful in situations that often include rapid change if not chaos.

What kind of environment is needed to create and support more of these kinds of leaders? The tendency is to look externally, but the majority of the clues that emerged from our exploration and research all suggest looking internally. Looking internally with enough curiosity and courage to see what’s wrong and what’s missing in our workplaces, either inadvertently or prejudicially, we find the kind of leaders described here possess a mature spirituality. At and in the book Better Capitalism, we define spirituality as, “The nature of every person to possess an inner strength and trust, which in turn gives meaning to work and life.”

What might it look like to bluntly acknowledge and correct that what’s missing in our organizations is our collective courage to acknowledge, recognize, and honor each others’ spirituality – the spark and core of humanity indelibly residing in each of us? What might it look like to finally recognize that we spend the majority of our days trying to build while simultaneously suppressing our spirituality within systems that foster mistrust and learned helplessness? What might it look like if this acknowledgment and correction began with executive and professional leaders – we gatekeepers primarily imbued with the power and resources to make and sustain meaningful change in our organizations?

That would look like authentic and fearless elevate-the-arc-of human-trajectory innovation, such as the Partnership Ethic and Unified Decision-Making Model we introduce in Better Capitalism. If that prospect is too overwhelming out of the gate, we’re okay with baby steps. With a nod to Mr. Clifton, let’s just call unleashing a more ethical and profitable capitalism “a major workplace disruption.”

In a nutshell, our decades of pain points and questioning are the basis and testing ground for our awakening and pointing to a new model of leadership. A model of leadership receptive to authentic and fearless elevate-the-arc-of human-trajectory innovation, that we identify as the “spiritually informed leader.” The spiritually informed leader is the future of leadership for every organization that expects to successfully navigate our increasingly deconstructed and flattened world.

The spiritually informed executive recognizes that everyone in the organization is fully human. To be fully human means to be on a spiritual journey, some more than others by their choice. Spirituality was defined earlier. We define spiritual journey as: “The process of developing inner trust and strength, which manifests in being increasingly empowered and fulfilled.” The spiritually informed leader has learned that for most if not everyone, our careers and workplaces are the primary context in which our spiritual journey plays out. To separate one’s spirituality from one’s career and workplace is a primary source of internal dissonance, which leads to frustration if not failure. For this reason alone we need our work and the right organizations as much as our work and the right organizations need us.

Eventually, hopefully sooner than later, the spiritually informed leader courageously admits and begins to act on what he or she knows by experience and/or intuition. Namely, that he or she wants, is willing, and is always in the position to begin the process of becoming that elusive but transformative answer to what’s wrong and what’s missing and what is necessary for significant engagement in the workplace – spiritually informed leaders.

What would it look like for your organization to have spiritually informed leaders? We invite you to contact us to learn how we can help you instill a spiritually informed leadership and culture in your organization.

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