Spirit and meaning is a missing link in many lives, teams, and organizations. Many with material prosperity live in spiritual poverty. That’s what’s driving the growth of meaning-seekers in society. We want to go beyond more, more, more success to significance. We want to make a difference.
Our work and our lives become ever more meaningful the more they’re in harmony with who we are and touch the very core of why we exist. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. When we feel the most love, passion, or energy is when we are the most alive.
In Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit, organization consultants and professors, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (co-authors of the classic Corporate Cultures – the 1982 book that popularized the idea of organizational culture) conclude, “The signs point toward spirit and soul as the essence of leadership.”
Dead Leader Walking: Soulless, Loveless, and Meaningless
In his book, The Greatest Miracle in the World, Og Mandino spins a tale of his encounters with Simon Potter, a humble and learned wise man. In one conversation, Og and Simon discuss the miracle people can perform in their own lives by resurrecting their dead spirits. Simon explains the need for this miracle: “Most humans, in varying degrees, are already dead. In one way or another they have lost their dreams, their ambitions, their desire for a better life. They have surrendered their fight for self-esteem, and they have compromised their great potential. They have settled for a life of mediocrity, days of despair and nights of tears. They are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice.” We need to be less afraid of death and more frightened by an empty life.
The culture of a family, team, or organization is “the way we do things around here.“ A toxic culture is loveless, passionless, and meaningless. It has a weak heart and a sick soul. A healthy culture is engaged in meaningful doing through purposeful being. It has a high energy spirit.
Leaders make work, families, communities, or life in general purposeful. I can only do that if I am filled with purpose. Spirit and meaning starts inside the leader. It’s an inside job. They can only be developed from the inside out.
Meaningful Life or Meaningless Work
In taking care of busyness, organizations can lose their heart and soul. Without realizing it, or without ever intending to, they can lose their deeper sense of meaning. Goals, plans, reports, and numbers take over. In the harsh glare of hard-headed analysis, soft “touchy, feely” emotions like spirit and meaning evaporate as dew in the morning sun.
It’s like trying to understand what makes people laugh. The analysis may help us understand what’s funny, but as we see with an AI generated joke, the humor is now as dead as a dissected frog.
Regardless of our position in an organization, leadership means doing what we can to change that. We can be part of the solution, not the problem. But we need to ensure we’re not victims of a heartless organization with a hollowed-out soul.
It’s too easy to find ourselves being numbed by jobs that aren’t a joy but truly feel like work. Profit, wealth, or career success can become goals in themselves rather than the means to fulfilling our deeper, more meaningful destinies.
If we’re not in touch with our own heart and soul, we may not realize how our life energy is being slowly drained by work that doesn’t feed our spirit and give us richer meaning. We can become hollow victims with our lifeblood sucked out of us.
But I can’t blame “them.” I may not choose to be victimized by a toxic team, family, or organization, but I choose whether to be a victim.
Here’s a checklist to help in assessing your level of spirit and meaning. If you can’t answer each question with a passionate — or at least a warm — yes, it may be time for deeper soul searching.
- I have not “sold out” but have been true to my own soul.
- I feel my life has meaning and I am making a difference.
- I am helping to build a healthy culture at work.
- I am building a healthy culture at home.
- I am continually exploring my inner space to deepen my spirit.
- I love key people in my life by trying to help them grow and reach their dreams.
- My work expresses my life’s purpose.
- I have a deep sense of spiritual connection in my life.
- I am aware of now and recognize when I am living in the past or future.
- I catch myself worrying or feeling guilty and name the emotion before it’s overwhelming.
- I don’t believe everything I think.
- Quiet solitude and personal reflection time is a regular part of my life.
We might find Einstein’s conclusions too extreme, but he is getting to the heart of life and leadership, “What is the meaning of human life, or for that matter of the life of any creature? You ask: Does it make any sense to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”
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