If you want to grow as a leader, where do you start? Should you take on a new leadership role at work? Get a coach? Read leadership books? Sign up for formal leadership training?
I'm increasingly of the view that the best way to grow as a leader is to grow spiritually. If there's just one thing you do to improve your leadership, start there.
It feels funny to be advocating this. I left the Mormon church as a teenager, don't consider myself religious, and typically shy away from discussing these topics in a professional context. Yet here I am, rediscovering my spirituality through executive coach training of all things... and now evangelizing about it. The joke's definitely on me!
Coaching, it turns out, feels like ministry. It's the way you show up with open ears and no judgement, the orientation toward service, the forced awareness of others as spiritual beings in addition to physical and emotional ones. In a word, it's discipleship. I jokingly refer to my pro bono coaching — sessions with strangers who otherwise couldn't afford it — as the Mormon mission I never took.
I've come to realize that the more I grow spiritually, the better I can serve others. Spirituality is the equivalent of core strength for leaders. It's the wellspring of all the traits we associate with leaders: conviction, inner strength, humility, compassion, and my favorite, fearlessness. Spirituality is what connects us to our higher selves, the spark that animates and inspires as we relate to others. It's the source of "why" in life and work, drawn from within or from a higher power.
If there were such a thing as Spiritual Intelligence, and some good books make a case for it, our greatest historical leaders would score off the charts. But maybe that logic is circular: Isn't spiritual strength partly what makes a leader great in the first place? Think about Gandhi or MLK or Mandela.
Even Steve Jobs was fundamentally animated by his spirituality. He carried around Paramahansa Yogananda's book, "Autobiography of a Yogi," since he was a teenager. Copies of it were handed out to guests at his funeral, a detail he no doubt specified in advance. His Stanford Commencement speech was as much a sermon as anything. My favorite line: Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.
So how do you grow spiritually? Where do you start with that? Spiritual growth comes from four sources:
- Faith - belief in a higher power, spiritual dimension, or guiding doctrine;
- Mindfulness - consciousness, inner-connection, and present-moment awareness;
- Service - service to others, compassion and kindness in thoughts or action; or
- Fellowship - interaction with others, spiritual exchange, community
I believe spiritual growth starts with action, with regular practices that connect you to faith, mindfulness, service, and/or fellowship. For me, it started with praying to God every night, practicing yoga 3x/week, and reorienting myself around being helpful towards others. It's a start.
If you're not sure where to begin, try one of these steps:
- pray or meditate for two minutes a day for two weeks
- do one act of kindness per day for two weeks
- do four hours of service per week, interacting with other people
- take a weekly hike up a mountain, alone, and say a prayer at the top
- reconnect with your religion or faith community, go to church (or equivalent)
Follow me @jeffgiesea
Pic: Travels in Tibet and Nepal, 2010