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The Power of Giving Thanks

We all know what a difference giving thanks can make in our personal lives. Can giving thanks also make a difference in the workplace?

Giving thanks is a powerful fuel for energy, creativity, and engagement in the workplace.  How can an attitude of gratitude be fostered throughout an organization, so that thanking one another becomes an organization’s modus operandi and the power of gratitude can be harnessed for employees’ welfare and for organizational impact?

Tom Grant, former CEO of LabOne, a laboratory in Kansas City that analyzed specimens for the medical profession, knows the answers to these questions.

In his role as CEO, Tom naturally drew out people’s gifts, recognizing the strong people skills possessed by some and the strong technical skills possessed by others. The teams he created showcased that diversity of gifts.  While he clearly values business acumen and has been extremely successful financially, Tom focused first and foremost on personal relationships, regarding his people as the company’s strongest assets.  Even when LabOne grew to three thousand employees, employees at all levels commented on how comfortable they felt with Tom, how much they felt he valued them, and how approachable he was.

Tom pioneered practices of gratitude at LabOne.  Aware that much of the work done by frontline workers opening lab specimens was repetitive and tedious, for example, Tom looked for ways to recognize careful, accurate, efficient work.  “One of the biggest mistakes you can make, I think, is to give only a global award based on company earnings.  That’s hard for the person opening a specimen to relate to.”  Tom worked with the leadership team to institute monthly awards and bonuses for frontline workers, noticing and appreciating their careful work.

Over time, Tom and others worked to create a culture of gratitude.  They sowed seeds of gratitude throughout the company.  For example, in addition to the awards for frontline employees, the company gave generous bonuses to reward superior work at the management level.  The leadership team also expressed appreciation to managers by offering gifts such as a week at Tom’s vacation home in the Cayman Islands or a week in the company’s New York City apartment.

The company’s employees, from senior leadership to frontline workers, felt respected and valued in the culture the leadership team created.  VP Troy Hartman commented, “We had a very special relationship, no question about it.”

This culture of gratitude spilled over into giving back to others.  Seeing their work as gift, grateful for all they had, employees wanted to give to others.  The company sponsored opportunities for giving to charities each month, focusing on eyeglasses one month, winter coats another month, and Hurricane Katrina relief or animal shelters in other months.  The response from employees, many of whom themselves had relatively little, was phenomenal.

Because of the positive atmosphere that resulted from valuing one another and recognizing one another’s gifts, recruiting new employees became easy.  Employees referred their friends and relatives to LabOne, and whenever a job opening was advertised, qualified applicants flocked to the company.  Clients, too, left LabOne after a visit wanting to work there.  In VP Troy Hartman’s experience: “Many times I’ve walked a client out of the building and the person has said, ‘What a great culture you have here.  Do you have any job openings?’”

LabOne discovered a well-kept business secret: the power of appreciation for employee engagement and business productivity.

This article is drawn from The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Success and Fulfillment. Used with permission of the publisher.

(An earlier version of this post appeared in the November 2011 Executive Soul blog.)

All the Saints

All Saints Day, November 1, the day when all the saints who don’t have their own Feast Days are celebrated, has me reflecting on other saints.  Who are the saints who have not yet been recognized as such?  Who are saints who have had a particular impact on my life?

Three saints who spring to mind immediately for me as ones who have had an impact on my life are Sr. Rose Mary Dougherty, Desmond Tutu, and my cousin Gary, none of whom have been officially recognized.  While none of them are perfect, all of them have provided me with glimpses of God.  All of them have taught me about soulful leadership.

Sr. Rose Mary Dougherty served on the staff of the Spiritual Guidance Program at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation when I participated in the program in the mid-eighties.  Wise, witty, and funny, she lived and loved well.  Extremely insightful, she pierced through illusion quickly and had the habit of regularly raising the penetrating question that punctured any self-importance or self-righteousness I was carrying.  When she died recently, I felt a sharp sense of loss.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in the mid-nineties, suffered under apartheid.  Then, through prayer, he learned the power of forgiveness to transform suffering into compassion.  Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he helped South Africa avert a bloodbath and find its way into the future.

My cousin Gary had a rough start in life.  As he grew, I watched him turn to God and discover God’s healing power.  He wanted to pass on the compassion he had received, first by serving as a pastor and then by working with at-risk youth and young adults, training them with the skills they needed to find employment and succeed in life.

I experienced all three of these saints as not only giving deeply from their hearts, but also as having a light touch.  Laughing easily, helping others feel at home, and being down-to-earth are gifts shared by all three.  Saintliness does not preclude lightheartedness, indeed lightheartedness is often one sign of the Spirit’s work in a person.

Who are the saints who have had an impact on your life?  Whether recognized officially as saints or not yet recognized as saints, in whom do you see God? Who has been a spiritual leader for you? Who has invited you to follow a path of deeper engagement with Holy Mystery? If you’re like me, the unsung saints may be just as important, if not more so, than the official ones.  This All Saints Day, honor the saints who have inspired you and helped you along the way.

(This is a further development of the October 2017 blog.)

 

 

 

Music at Work

Lately I have been enjoying the soulful and poetic music of Carrie Newcomer.  Soon to be the recipient of Shalem Institute’s Contemplative Voices Award, this talented singer and poet writes beautifully about looking within, following the compass of one’s heart, learning to surrender, and other contemplative ways of living in this world. I’ve found that listening to her music helps me to feel more spiritually grounded in my work and day-to-day life.

Rarely do I listen to music while working (or, as in this case, interspersed with working) and I felt moved to ask, “Does music improve creativity at work?” While I have loved music for as long as I can remember, I have separated listening to music from my work. My musings led me to further experimentation and to Dr. Anneli B. Haake’s research concerning music at work.

Dr. Haake has discovered in her research that, despite much public opinion to the contrary, self-selected music improves work performance. One of her studies demonstrated how music helped employees enhance their concentration by “reducing both internal and external distractions (blocking out unwanted sounds, signaling to colleagues not to disturb, preventing daydreaming, and helping to block unwelcome thoughts).”

Not only does music enhance concentration, it also contributes to relaxation at work, Dr. Haake found. Through channeling stress and negative emotions, through reminding listeners of time and space outside of work, and through creating space for reflection, music calmed workers. Employees reported how relaxation helped them provide better customer service and work more effectively on their teams.

Of particular interest to me, Dr. Haake’s research established the value of listening to music not only for simple tasks, but also for complex tasks. While earlier studies had confirmed music’s ability to help workers more effectively perform routine tasks, Dr. Haake’s latest studies also demonstrated that music could enhance concentration and creativity in complex tasks. Self-selected music does indeed improve creativity at work.

Dr. Haake adds a few caveats to her findings about the value of listening to music at work. Above all, music must be self-selected. When management pipes in music or a co-worker’s music blares, employees report irritation and distraction. Furthermore, listening to music at work is not for everyone, and even those who listen to music with some tasks prefer a quiet atmosphere at other times. Music at work must be self-directed.

A new discovery for me (how could I be so far behind the times?), music at work will now add another dimension to my work environment. I will experiment with when to listen and what to listen to. No longer does music need to be separated from my work. I have discovered a powerful new tool for groundedness, reflection, and courageous creativity.

(If you are interested in learning more about the Contemplative Voices Award event honoring Carrie Newcomer, please see the Shalem website for more information).

(This blog is a further development of an April 2012 blog.)

 

Soulful Leadership in Education (Launch Day for New Book)

The colonists of Maryland and Virginia negotiated a treaty in 1774 with the Indians of the Six Nations, and then invited the tribal elders to send their boys to the College of William and Mary.  The elders declined that offer, stating:

We know that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you.  We are convinced that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal; and we thank you heartily.  But you who are wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will therefore not take it amiss if our ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours.  We have had some Experience of it.  Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces: they were instructed in all your Sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods. . . nether fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing.

We are, however, not the less oblig’d by your kind offer, tho’ we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.

This clash of cultures raises many questions:  What is education?  Who decides what is a good education?  What is the purpose of education?  What does soulful leadership look like in education?

Like the gentlemen of Maryland and Virginia, we live and move and have our being in a set of assumptions about the superiority of the dominant culture’s kind of education.  For centuries, the dominant culture in the West has fostered a “neck up” model of education.  In recent years, contemplative educators have challenged higher education’s dominant culture.  They have invited those in higher education to see with fresh eyes, to reflect upon their own cultural entrenchment and to consider an alternative view of education, with very different assumptions.

Contemplative educators ask: How do we educate the whole person?  How can head and heart be integrated?  How can we explore meaning and purpose in education?

From introducing a simple nonsectarian breathing meditation practice or inviting reflective reading or compassionate presence to using advanced techniques of meditation in teaching comparative mysticism, the possibilities for contemplative practices relevant to course content are endless.

Empirical studies validate these practices, demonstrating that learning is enhanced by the integration of appropriate contemplative practices in the classroom. For example, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (www.acmhe.org) provides resources on its website to help faculty choose contemplative practices to introduce to their students and to undergird the use of these practices with studies demonstrating their effectiveness.

Arthur Zajonc, a physicist and contemplative educator, believes that contemplative education rests on an “epistemology of love.” He enumerates the seven aspects of this epistemology: 1) respect, 2) gentleness, 3) intimacy, 4) vulnerability, 5) participation, 6) transformation, and 7) imaginative insight.  He argues that, while focusing on love is counter intuitive to the dominant epistemology, such an epistemology results in outstanding scholarship and teaching.  He cites Einstein, Goethe, and biologist Barbara McClintock as examples of those who practiced an epistemology of love.

Contemplative methods of education deserve to be explored and developed at all levels of education.  Like the gentleman of Maryland and Virginia in the eighteenth century, we need to move beyond our myopic view of education.  The dominant culture in education is not the only way. In the twenty-first century, it’s time to explore more holistic and effective approaches to education.

Excerpted from The Soul of Higher Education (Information Age Publishing, 2019).  Used with permission of the publisher.

If you are interested in reading more of The Soul of Higher Education, I invite you to consider buying it today, July 22, its launch day. If a number of people buy it on that same day, its visibility will increase on the major sites.

3 Leadership Lessons St. Francis Taught me from his Failures

Photo Credit: Virginia Hill via flickr

Last month, as I walked on pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, I wrote about six leadership lessons I learned from his success. Like all of us, Francis scored some wins and some losses when it came to leadership.  And like all of us, Francis didn’t always know in advance what approach to leadership would prove effective.

Francis’ failures can prove just as instructive as his successes.  As I reflect on Francis’ life, three lessons in leadership effectiveness that I can learn from his failures stand out to me.

1.  Clarity of mission. When Francis returned home to Italy from his journey to Egypt in 1220, he found his brothers divided and in conflict.  Brother John had decided to organize the lepers the brothers were serving into a religious order and requested approval for the order from the Holy See. Brother Phillip had sought special protections from the Pope for the Poor Clares (defying Francis’ instructions not to seek favors in high places). Brothers Matthew and Gregory had imposed stricter fasting guidelines on the brothers, more appropriate for monks than for active friars. All of these measures had stirred up turmoil in the order and revealed a lack of clarity about the purpose of the life of the brothers.  Conflict-averse himself, Francis had avoided clarifying the mission of the order, either personally or in concert with his brothers.  Without clarity of mission, brothers had different understandings of what direction their lives and ministries should go.  As the order had grown and with Francis away, the situation had spiraled out of control.

Clarity of mission can help a group stay focused through the stresses of growth and the temporary absence of the leader.

2.  Preparation for leadership.  In 1217, Francis had sent several groups of brothers out in ministry beyond Italy, to Germany, Hungary, England, and the Holy Land.  While the impulse was one of generous service, the missions failed.   Lacking preparation, the brothers couldn’t speak the language of the country they visited, didn’t understand the culture, and didn’t know how to translate their mendicant ways into a new setting.  Furthermore, many of these brothers had recently joined the order themselves and had no experience of leadership in their home context.

Adequate preparation can help lessen the shock of a new environment.  And gradual introduction to leadership responsibilities in one’s own setting can prepare the way for greater responsibility in a new setting.

3.  Leadership succession. Francis decided to go off on mission himself when other brothers left on mission in 1217.  He only got as far as Florence, where Cardinal Hugolino dissuaded him and he returned to Assisi, convinced by Hugolino of the order’s need for his leadership at home.  But the urge to travel in ministry returned, and he left for Egypt in 1219.  Though Francis did appoint leaders to be in charge in his absence, he hadn’t carefully considered what was required to lead a religious order, much less groomed others to take on those responsibilities.  The result, combined with the lack of clarity in mission mentioned above, was disastrous.  This episode served as a precursor to what happened when Francis died, when the fault lines in the order revealed themselves and caused more serious division and an eventual split in the order.

Careful attention to raising up leaders can help a group through the difficulties of transition and keep a group moving together toward its goal when a leader is away for an extended absence or when the leader retires or dies.

St. Francis, not always knowing what he was doing, succeeded in a number of ways as a leader and also failed in a number of ways. Both his successes and his failures can prove instructive.  By reflecting on both his successes and his failures, leaders today can learn how to become more effective.

(An earlier version of this post appeared in the June 2015 Executive Soul blog.)

6 Leadership Lessons of St. Francis

Photo Credit: Tony Basilio via flickr

As I walked on pilgrimage this month in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, I pondered what I could learn from him about leadership.  Like all of us, Francis scored some wins and some losses when it came to leadership.  And like all of us, Francis didn’t always know in advance what approach to leadership would prove effective.  As I reflect on Francis’ life, six lessons in leadership effectiveness stand out to me.

  1. Be true to yourself. Francis traveled a number of paths before he found the one that was right for him.  The son of a successful cloth merchant in thirteenth-century Italy, Francis seemed destined for business success.  From playboy to soldier to knight to cloth merchant, Francis experimented with paths he thought might suit him.  It was only when he heard God’s call to rebuild the church that he discovered his true path.  Yet when he abandoned his father’s business and embraced poverty and service, the townspeople called him crazy.  For years he wandered through his native city following a path that no one understood.  In time, as he persevered in pursuing the way that was his to pursue, a few people caught his vision and began to follow him.  Eventually, his followers numbered in the thousands.  By being true to himself and persevering in the face of misunderstanding and mockery, Francis forged a new way that attracted thousands.
  2. Love God passionately. Francis brought the passion of his former life to his love of God.  Not one for half measures, Francis fell utterly in love with God, and loved with abandon.  He roamed the countryside singing of his love, and he constantly sought ways to please God.
  3. Embrace all. Francis learned early on that rebuilding God’s church meant embracing everyone.  He embraced the leper who represented the lowest caste in society.  When people began to follow his way, he embraced brothers from the highest class to the lowest, inviting them to live together in simplicity and community.  When Clare ran away from home in order to follow him, he embraced her and helped her establish a women’s order.  Francis learned to see the gifts that each person brought and to embrace people with gratitude for their contributions.
  4. Live with joy. Francis lived with contagious joy.  His delight in the beauty of nature, in the uniqueness of each person, in the gifts of God, drew people to him.  Even in adversity, Francis lived with joy.  For example, when a hut in which he took refuge for a night proved to be infested with mice, after an initial expression of displeasure, Francis welcomed his “brother mice” with joy and hospitality.  His joy disarmed friends and detractors alike.
  5. Approach power courageously. Francis, the “little poor man of Assisi,” decided early in his ministry that he and his tiny band of brothers should approach the Pope to ask for his blessing on their way of life. Undaunted by Pope Innocent III’s wealth and power in contrast to their outcast status, the rag-tag band walked from Assisi to Rome.  Rebuffed by the cardinals when they arrived, they persevered in seeking an audience with the Pope.  After the Pope had a dream in which he saw a little poor man holding up a huge church, he realized he needed to talk to Francis.  Francis and the brothers, fearless before the Pope, described their way of life as living the gospel as Jesus intended.  The Pope, impressed by their sincerity and commitment, gave his provisional blessing.
  6. Reach across differences. The Crusades broke Francis’ heart. He hated seeing Christians fighting Muslims over the holy land.  In 1219, he traveled to Egypt where the battle was raging, and crossed enemy lines, unarmed, in order to speak with the Ottoman Sultan.  He hoped to find common ground, and risked his life to do so.  He boldly spoke to the Sultan and the Sultan listened attentively.  Though he didn’t achieve reconciliation, the two men left the encounter with mutual respect and admiration.

St. Francis, not always knowing what he was doing, discovered how to be an effective leader as he followed his calling.  Much of his success in leadership was a side effect of his faithfulness.

St. Francis displayed a great deal of love and courage during his lifetime, and he influenced many people through his example.  His life, teachings, and spiritual insights have attracted many followers through the years.  His teachings are timeless and continue to live on today.

(An earlier version of this post appeared in the May 2015 Executive Soul blog.)

Note: Francis also suffered a number of failures in leadership which can also prove instructive (to be explored in a subsequent reflection).

 

Good Friday, Scapegoating, and American Politics

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via flickr

Jesus, a victim of scapegoating, understood all too well its origin and its outcome.  From the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday to the “Crucify him!” of a few days later, Jesus witnessed the fears of the human heart and how easily those fears turn to blame.  Good Friday marks the ultimate scapegoating, the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

What is happening in the heart of the person who turns to scapegoating? It’s easy for us humans to believe that by hating a person we despise, we separate ourselves from evil and differentiate ourselves as good. Yet the opposite is actually true. When we give in to hate, we begin to become like what we are hating. When hatred and violence grow in our hearts, we move closer along the spectrum toward the object of our hate.  Jesus knew this on Good Friday, and he also knew how unconsciously this was occurring when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The battle between good and evil plays out not between individuals but within individuals. The battle between good and evil is fought within every human heart. Yet we naturally shun the fear and hatred within us, and so we seek shortcuts instead of doing the hard inner work we need to do.  When a leader arises who blames a person or group for our woes, whether in a family, an organization, or a nation, the appeal of that leader proves strong.  At this moment in American politics, Donald Trump’s scapegoating of various groups, including Mexicans and Muslims, is proving irresistible to many.  Why do the hard inner work, personally and as a nation, when it is so easy to blame others?

The trouble with scapegoating is threefold.  First, of course, it damages the individuals and groups who are its targets.  Second, it damages the ones who hate those individuals and groups by filling their hearts with fear and hatred.  Third, it doesn’t solve anything.  When, in the history of the world, has scapegoating resulted in a good outcome for those who scapegoat?  Never.  There is some relief for awhile, but the problems don’t go away because they haven’t been addressed at the root. So the cycle repeats itself: a new scapegoat gets identified, that person or group is crucified or chased out of town, some relief is felt for awhile, the problems resurface, and so on.

Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”  Who are the least of these today?  In America today, they are those we scapegoat.  Will we keep crucifying Jesus?  Will we keep participating in scapegoating or not standing up for those scapegoated? Who are you, this Good Friday?  Are you in the crowd, shouting “Crucify him!”  Are you Peter, not standing up for Jesus?  Or can you find it in your heart to stand with Jesus to the end, as the women at the foot of the cross did, and stand up for those scapegoated in our time and place?

(An earlier version of this blog appeared in March 2016.)