Friday, September 28, 2012

The Soul of Leadership

Guest post from Essential Class of 2006 graduate Joe Barry.

Decision making for a civic or community leader can be daunting to say the least. He or she often juggles a multitude of perspectives in an effort to best serve the community. There are countless examples of what we call “bad decisions” that have led to bad outcomes. And when we look back to see what went wrong we often find indicators along the decision making path where communication went awry and important information fell through the cracks.

In her book Soul at Work, Margaret Benefiel states, “most leaders want to make good decisions for their organizations and their failed decisions are not for lack of trying.” She goes on to describe that the pressures of time, unrealistic expectations, and the speed of work provide the fodder for decisions turning bad.

Of particular focus for Benefiel is how leaders and organizations listen to each other and to themselves. She uses the word "discernment" to describe this type of listening. Discernment is the process of listening for an individual’s or group’s deeper wisdom. Just imagine if we took the time to do this in our work and personal lives! It is well documented that when people feel heard, included, and respected there is an increase in productivity and employee and customer satisfaction.

Listening for deep wisdom requires us to take extra time to reflect before we act. I know this may be contradictory to the speed of work we experience today, so I offer this: we tell ourselves we don’t have the time to take five minutes to reflect because of all the external pressures we experience, yet when things go bad, we seem to find all the time in the world to get them fixed. Which is the greater cost?

Even though I employ discernment practices in my daily life, I am still drawn to make the speedy decision. I feel the pressure to get things done sooner than later risking an outcome that may be less than satisfactory. In Soul at Work, Benefiel explains “maintaining a reflective inner disposition, patiently seeking underlying issues… and testing a decision by its fruits all keep a leader operating on all cylinders.”

If you want to hear more from Margaret Benefiel, CEO of Executive Soul, she will be in Austin on October 25-26. Click here for details.

Joe Barry, MA, is an educator and spiritual director at the Seton Cove in Austin, Texas. He enjoys working with individuals and groups facilitating leadership and team development.

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