The Spiritual Executive

Spirituality is the essence of leadership and without it a leader, executive, or manager will never lead an organization to reach its potential.  We generally do not associate spirituality with the business world, or often the charitable world.   When we do talk about spirituality and business it is usually in the context of organizations run by religious people.   While religious people can be spiritual, being religious does not make you spiritual.  Similarly, not being religious does not preclude being spiritual.

A great rabbi, Rabbi Noah Weinberg of blessed memory, once asked what is the opposite of “spiritual.”    He received a number of expected answers focused on lack of belief and faith.   The rabbi dismissed all of these.   He said the opposite of spirituality is pessimism and cynicism and the core of a spiritual life is optimism.   If you are not optimistic about what you are trying to accomplish and its ultimate success, you lack faith.

More importantly, this optimism has to be based in something more than your belief in yourself. It must be “bigger than you.”  Leadership must ultimately tie to something beyond the egoic success of the leader.  When it does not it, the result is often disillusionment and tragedy.   This does not mean that every great leader must have faith in an infinite deity (although I personally recommend it).   The belief in something beyond you (whether it is your employees, your community, your collective mission, the ability of your product or service to improve the world, or God) when combined with a genuinely optimistic perspective allows the leader to connect with others.   Optimism coupled with the realization that is not all about you results in true humility:  the capacity to recognize your abilities and the potential of the future, while remaining in awe of how you got where you are and all the help you will need to take the next step.

Whether we are running a high tech company in Silicon Valley, leading a yoga class, starting a small business, teaching a kindergarten class, or engaging in religious outreach, our effectiveness is ultimately tied to our optimism (our faith in the future) and our humility.    Optimism here is defined as faith in the future.   In our society, we often associate faith as a belief without basis.  The phrase “leap of faith” assumes that we are taking a step with no rational reason.   “Faith” traditionally has a deeper meaning.   Faith is based on years of deep analysis and learning.  It is taking the step into the unknown with a high probability of a positive outcome because you have thought through the situation and have accepted that you have the ability to deal with whatever actually comes at you in the future.   This is not an optimism based on hope.   The optimism that moves mountains and defines an organization’s future is the optimism of the athlete who has trained and prepared completely for the contest.

In a country filled with cynicism, where tearing people and institutions down has replaced baseball as the national pastime and where many worry that their children have a bleaker future than their parents, we need a realistic optimism and humility from every person in a position to define the future for themselves and for others.  As Rabbi Weinberg said cynicism and pessimism are just fear clothing themselves as realism.   Your business, your organization, and your family and friends need you to be a “Spiritual Executive.”