The Soul of Leadership
I have a longstanding and some would say naïve notion that we should bring our souls into our leadership and that the soul represents the most beautiful and creative parts of ourselves.
By suppressing our souls as leaders, and systematically discouraging the soul’s expression in others, we greatly limit our potential as human beings (and organizations), and stifle the joy that can be found in meaningful work integrated with personal expression. How wonderful to consider the possibility that leadership could be a form of our soul’s creativity, no different from art or music.
Much of the historical view of leadership insists that we wear armor to hide any hint of uncertainty, keep a safe distance from the hearts of others and keep our emotions safely locked away. It is true that the soul does have a dark side and that in allowing the soul to be expressed we invite risk. But I believe the risk is well worth the reward. Will the soul not make its presence known one way or another? The soul’s story is best explored in healthy ways within the boundaries of an open, authentic and supportive community. Unfortunately the place where we spend a significant part of our lives rarely provides this kind of experience. When our souls are denied access to our work lives there will be consequences both internally and externally.
I know, easier said than done. Our desire to succeed, to please those who wield authority over our careers and to avoid the risk and potential pain that can be associated with revealing our souls, and being vulnerable, are formidable barriers. Bringing our souls into our work does not guarantee happiness or success and means feeling extensively more joy and sorrow than we might otherwise have known if we just stick to the program. It also means you could find yourself standing in the gap where your head says to run but instead you honor the fire in your soul, and despite the risk to your income and career, reveal your truth. Is it better to be alive and tapped into our soul’s true expression or to be safe and numb? What is the price of leaving our souls at home…or out of the picture altogether? Sadly, many of us are so well practiced at ignoring our inner voice, stuffing our emotions and going through the motions we no longer remember what we are missing.
Stop for a moment and consider the dialogue that has gone on in your mind as you read this. I have no idea what that might be, but there is a message there for you. Maybe your soul is trying to speak. Maybe there is a hint of realization that even as you are following your purpose, your passion…you have left something of your soul behind. Something you knew long ago but have turned away from or forgotten in all of your productivity and accomplishment.
For those of us who lead there is a special importance here, I think. For whether we know it or even sense it in ourselves, the people around us can tell whether we bring our soul into our work. We are either an empty object of authority or a human being, bringing our whole selves to work and inviting them to join in the struggle…to learn, laugh, cry, grow and hopefully succeed together. We can do both. We can lead with confidence, vision, courage and wisdom AND be vulnerable, compassionate, honest and connected. When we invite people to bring their souls into their work, we are giving them a chance to expand in every part of their lives.
As a leader there is no better or more important legacy we can leave than to have affected the lives of others in a positive way and, in so doing, to leave the world a better place.
In closing, I leave you with a few questions to consider:
• What does leading with soul mean to you?
• Are you going through the motions or do you bring your soul into your work and leadership?
• Is there a sense of pain where you know you have compromised your true self for a goal that no longer matters or has become less important?
• Do you know someone who will speak the truth to you? Have you asked them to tell you what they see in you as you lead?
• What might happen if you brought more of your soul into your work and invited others to do the same?