Twenty years ago, in the course of a discussion on death and near-death experiences with a class of 15 and 16 year-old pupils, I read them a newspaper account, credited to the Daily Mail, about the last person to be executed in this country. Numerous witnesses were present at the execution but over the course of the next 5 – 6 weeks, several hundred people all claimed to have seen or spoken with him. “Wow,” said one, “It really makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” I agreed, “Especially since what I’ve just told you is how the Daily Mail might well have covered the Resurrection stories of Jesus in the Christian Bible. Stunned silence. Then, after a few moments, a hand went up. “Oh! So you mean it’s not true after all?”
That dichotomy of thinking, that overwriting with preconceptions – or prejudice – often lies at the heart of any discussion about both ‘leadership’ AND ‘value’. And there are as many definitions and assumptions of both leadership AND value as there are people putting them forward. My starting-point is a FiLE paper from 2008 entitled “Shared Faiths’ Response to the credit crunch” and especially its argument that wealth (or value) is far more than just the monetary. My brief is to cover this from my own work and experience and from my own faith perspective. Carte-blanche to share my personal prejudices!
So how have I come to formulate those prejudices – or opinions? Over the course of the last 20 years, in various guises I’ve been working in leadership development as consultant and trainer. I’ve seen, heard and been told of leadership that has ranged from the sublime to the frankly outrageous, immoral and illegal. When I first started, ‘value’ meant ‘cash’ – the role of the leader was purely and simply to make the organisation more efficient and hence more profitable. In some ways ‘plus ca change”!
But amongst some organisations, it had a deeper meaning – the one we’re perhaps more concerned with tonight. And the interesting thing is that the more profile those organisations gave to this wider meaning of value – as a behaviour rather than a commodity – the more successful that organisation was. Why?
At this point, permit me to ask you a question:
Who are the leaders that you most admire? Not necessarily leaders of religion but of politics, of business, of sport, of community. They can be alive or dead, real or imaginary, famous or completely unknown. What it is that makes them stand out? Why exactly do they add value?
, Cindy Wigglesworth has researched several thousand business leaders’ responses to that question. These usually included … US
6. Faithful, committed (esp to their ideals)
8. Calm, centred
10. Inspire others
13. See & develop others’ gifts
Wigglesworth is one of a growing band of researchers & authors talking about ‘spirituality’ as an essential component of outstanding leadership and value.
SO - WHAT IS ‘SPIRITUALITY’? (NOT religion, please!!!)
Zohar & Marshall define spirituality as “our need to place our enterprises in a wider frame of meaning and purpose”. Wigglesworth says, “spirituality is an innate need to connect to something larger than ourselves – something you feel is divine or sacred”.
In 1652, a group of men sat down over coffee in a Coffee Shop in St Michael's Alley, just a few hundred metres from here. Inevitably their thoughts soon turned to business. Deals were done, hands were shaken – and Lloyd’s of London had been born. The City’s financial houses were founded on trust, when individuals looked each other in the eye and shook hands. Their word was their bond. Their coinage of transaction was TRUST. Yet as the 2008 financial crisis unfurled, one of the key components was that those same institutions no longer trusted each other and hence refused to lend to each other!
Given that list of leadership qualities AND the origins of City financial institutions, I want to argue that any discussion of successful leadership and of value (however you define value) must involve spirituality. After all, business success requires outstanding leaders. And for most of use the leaders we most admire exhibit strong presence of those spiritual values Wigglesworth unearthed. So why, especially in times of recession and economic struggle is the silence so deafening?
I think there are two endemic problems:
1. An unchallenged assumption that spirituality and work are like oil and water – never to be mixed.
2. Even where there may be willingness, there is often a lack of a commonly understood and shared vocabulary.
The 2003 Roffey Park Management Report found that nearly three-quarters of workers are interested in “learning to live the spiritual side of their values”; that 40% of UK managers would value the opportunity to discuss workplace spirituality with their colleagues; that 53% are already experiencing tensions between “the spiritual side of their values and their work” - but that 90% of UK managers believe their organisations have not attempted to discuss the issue of spirituality with their employees.
Even more specifically, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda concluded quite unequivocally: “Business ethics is disorientated where workplaces deny spirituality. It becomes a tick-box exercise in compliance rather than fuel to drive the soul of the organisation.” The FiLE paper that I mentioned earlier makes a similar point, alongside some practical suggestions.
For my part, my vision is to see a specially-designed and designated physical space in the centre of The City – a Foundation for Business Ethics and spirituality providing a sanctuary and a crucible where leaders can take time out from the pressures of their work to reflect. It might include sculptures and art specially commissioned to reflect the theme of business ethics and spirituality. Most importantly, it would be accessible to all from any faith tradition or none since it will be about Spirituality.
But I digress. There are, I think, four areas where the qualities of leaders, the adding of value and the contribution of spirituality coincide:
1. An uncommon awareness of TIME & SPACE: One of the characteristics of leaders with a highly developed SQ seems to be a different perception of “time”: not that they have more or less of it but that they have a particular way of spending it. Typically, they will spend more in focussed reflection, stillness and being. Indeed research by Californian Professor Andre Delbecq suggests they deliberately “enter the workplace mindfully” - frequently pausing in the car or before an important meeting or decision to “reflect on their calling as a leader”. Delbecq says his research indicates that, as well as a heightened awareness of “time”, they also have a heightened sense of “space”, often shifting their gaze slightly to take in a favourite icon or symbol, a painting or even visiting a quiet space such as a fountain; they make use of “in-between” moments and thus arrive more focused and empowered. A core competence is contemplation - since this is what enables people to extract wisdom from experience.
2 TOLERANCE OF IMPERFECTION – which is not the same as acceptance of second-best! It is a recognition that none are perfect, that few come to work intending to do a bad job, but that nothing less than a striving for excellence in self and others can fulfil potential. Then people feel valued for themselves and not just as a component in a mechanistic process.
3. A commitment to SERVANT LEADERSHIP - perhaps been too easily dismissed as a recipe for avoiding taking responsibility, as door-mat rather than door-keeper. But as Greenleaf describes it, leaders who desire to serve others will be considering value in terms of:
- Will my influence enable all the people to grow and develop as people, healthier, wiser, freer, more likely themselves to become servants?
- What will be the effect on the least privileged in society?
- What will be the wider impact?
In other words, they have a gardening role as growers of rounded human beings AND a recognition that organisations are part of the communities and societies in which they’re located.
4 RADIATORS OF PEACE, or equanimity. They have their own inner sense of peace and meaning, of their place in the grand order of things and their mission to make things different and better for others in response to what they themselves have received. This is obvious to those around them and is, generally, independent of immediate circumstances – they remain in equilibrium even under pressure or crisis, their behaviours remain consistent and their vision and passion remain focussed. They have a deep sense of spirit or spirituality.
Part of OUR challenge is to not only identify those characteristics of leadership, value and spirituality but also to provide the opportunity, the greenhouse, where they can be nurtured. That truly is a mission that “boldly seeks to go …”!!! THANK YOU!
 Howard, Sue & Welbourn, David: 2004 The spirit at work phenomenon London Azure
 Moe-Lobeda, Cynthia D (2002) Healing a Broken World Minneapolis Fortress Press
 Delbecq, A.L. How A Core Spiritual Discipline is expressed in the Life of Contemporary Organizational Leaders in Spirit at Work Issue 6 March 2006.
 Quoted in Howard & Welbourn, p121