Posts Tagged 'soulful leadership'

Soulful Leadership in Public Safety, Part I: Prison Fellowship

By Margaret Benefiel and co-author, Michelle Abbott

“Defund the police,” one of the rallying cries of the recent protests after the police killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, has gained traction.  Last week, for example, the Minneapolis city council voted unanimously to defund the police, recommending that the police department be replaced with other forms of public safety.

Tired of two decades of police reform efforts that haven’t reduced the number of police killings of black people, activists call for a more radical approach.  It’s not just a few bad apples in the police force, they argue; it’s the underlying system that’s rotten.  But if police are defunded, others object, won’t society be cast into chaos?

A new approach to public safety relies on many components: restorative justice, domestic violence prevention, school counseling, drug treatment programs, and more.  Advocates argue that their vision for public safety would cost less and prove more effective.

While it’s too soon to tell how this vision might play out in all its manifestations and how effective it could be in various settings, restorative justice is one component that has proven effective over time. International in scope, the restorative justice movement in the U.S. has seen good results in settings as diverse as schools and prisons.

For example, Charles Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, based on his Christian faith and his personal experience, as an ex-offender, of God’s transformative power. The prison fellowship brings classes and other resources to inmates throughout the U.S. to help them change their lives through Christianity and reintegrate into society.  According to a study about federal inmates participating in the Prison Fellowship Ministries program, recidivism rates decreased dramatically for those who were trained for religious leadership in a two-week seminar.

The Prison Fellowship focuses not only on the inmates themselves but also on the well-being of their children and on the ability of prison wardens to create a safer environment more conducive to rehabilitation. Summer camps and sports programs provide the children of inmates an opportunity to thrive and learn new skills even while their loved ones are away.  The Warden Exchange program gives wardens the tools to make changes to better support the rehabilitation of inmates.

It is clear that a lot of work is needed to re-envision the American systems that have been put in place for our collective public safety. From fighting for racial justice, eliminating police brutality, and ensuring police accountability to reducing the need for policing by improving our methods of rehabilitation, we need to deeply reflect on and restructure our responses to public safety.  The changes needed to re-create the structures that have been in place for so long are complex and perhaps daunting. They require new visions. They require strong leadership.  However, there are many voices proposing new solutions and alternative paths to creating an America that can be safer for all its citizens. Let us listen to those voices and together let us discern a way through the challenges we face to create a society where all members can feel safe.

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.)

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.

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).

 

3 Leadership Lessons St. Francis Taught me from his Failures

Photo Credit: Randy OHC via flickr

As St. Francis’ Feast Day approaches on October 4, I’ve been reflecting on what I can learn from his leadership failures.  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 be more effective leaders.

(An earlier version of this blog appeared in June 2015.)

3 Leadership Lessons of St. Clare

Photo credit: Chris Light

As St. Clare of Assisi’s (1194-1253) feast day approaches on August 11, I’ve been reflecting on her soulful leadership.  Best known as St. Francis’ “little plant,” Clare eventually emerged as a strong leader in her own right in thirteenth-century Italy and beyond.  While St. Francis took center stage with his extroverted charismatic leadership, St. Clare quietly built stronger structures behind the scenes.

As I muse on St. Clare and her contributions, three leadership lessons stand out for me.  Clare teaches me about prayer, community-building, and persistence.

First, Clare knew the power of prayer.  She knew that prayer provided the foundation for all of her leadership.  Without prayer, without her radical trust in God, she could do nothing.  She prayed for strength and guidance when she was called to lead her community of “Poor Ladies” as a young adult.  Later, when an invading army swarmed her vulnerable convent of San Damiano, outside the protection of the city walls, she prayed.  Upon praying, she felt led to stand at the window in front of the army, armed only with the host, the body of Christ, and her trust in God.  Faced with Clare’s shining strength, the army became confused and fled.  Thus, through prayer, Clare saved not only her convent but also the city of Assisi.  Finally, Clare’s prayer undergirded her day-to-day leadership in the convent.  When faced with lack of food, with illness, with cold, she prayed.  People brought turnips, medicine, and blankets, and year after year, all the Sisters’ needs were supplied.

Second, Clare knew how to build community.  Though she lived in an enclosed community at San Damiano her entire life as a Sister, she built community both at home and from afar.  She showed her 50 fellow Sisters how to live together in compassionate service in cramped quarters and difficult conditions.  Beyond San Damiano, she instructed Agnes of Prague, a princess who left behind wealth and status to found a religious community like Clare’s, in building a convent.  While Francis’ communities faced divisive conflicts, Clare taught her communities to work through conflicts in ways that built stronger relationships.  And she also built relationships near and far, with St. Francis and his brothers, with priests, with bishops, and with Popes.

Third, Clare lived perseverance.  Her entire life, she fought for a way of life like Francis’ in which she could be true to the gospel as she understood it.  For her, this meant living in poverty, in total reliance upon God.  She appealed to every Pope in her lifetime to approve the rule she had written to regulate life in her community.  When Pope after Pope said no, she didn’t give up.  Finally, on her deathbed, the Pope sent word that he had heard she was dying and he wondered if there was anything he could do for her.  When she said, “Approve my rule,” he relented, and she received papal approval two days before she died.

Leading with soul is never easy, whether one lives in thirteenth-century Europe or modern times.  The way is often fraught with stresses, discouragements, and obstacles that challenge our commitment to walk our path with faith.  However, we can turn to those who have come before us, those like St. Clare who embody the qualities of a good leader. They show us not only that it is possible to lead with soul but also that we are not alone in the journey.

 

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

5 Things You Can Do to Become a Soulful Leader for Peace

Photo credit: Margaret Benefiel

In these times of bellicose threats of nuclear war from world leaders, not to mention various wars around the world, how can one work for peace?  What impact can an ordinary person have?  What does soulful leadership for peace look like?

  1. Prayer and reflection. Soulful leadership for peace begins with prayer and reflection. Being spiritually grounded puts the problems of this world in perspective. Furthermore, prayer and reflection help with discernment, answering the question, “What is mine to do?”
  2. Remember. In the words of Gandhi, “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”
  3. Know what’s effective. Political scientist Erica Chenoweth used to believe that violence was more effective against violence than peaceful protests were. Extensive research convinced her otherwise.
  4. Know the facts about military spending. When people tell you that military spending creates jobs, or that the Pentagon needs more funding, know the truth. Did you know, for example, that military spending is less effective in creating jobs than spending on education, health care, or clean energy? Did you know that the Pentagon itself has identified overspending and misuse of funds within its agency? When it conducted an internal study, it identified $125 billion in potential savings over five years. Furthermore, the Pentagon is the only major federal agency that has not passed a full, clean financial audit. We already spend enough on the military.
  5. Take action. Discern what is yours to do and take action. Perhaps you, like Erica Chenoweth, are a researcher who can discover effective strategies for peace and make them known to the world. Perhaps you are a writer who can write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and speak truth to your community.  Perhaps you are an activist who can join local or national demonstrations.  Perhaps you are an ordinary citizen with little time, who can call your Senator or sign online petitions. Perhaps you can make a financial contribution.  Everyone’s contributions, in whatever form, make a difference.

In these times, the world desperately needs spiritually grounded peacemakers.  What is yours to do?