It is a painful truth that too many people today speak about the toxic environment of their workplaces where they experience their spirits, imagination, self-expression, self-authority and vision for a better world continuously squelched by the system.
Politics, domination, competitiveness, bullying and other similar situations drain inspiration.
People long for supportive and caring workplaces where they can make creative, meaningful and fulfilling contributions that resonate with who they are and that maximize their gifts.
Hearing these stories hurt my heart, and may hurt yours too.
If you are a leader in an organization and you catch these accounts of unhappiness and despair, it can be easy to dismiss them, to label people as unappreciative trouble-makers and to tell yourself that they don't understand the pressure you are under to please your executives, your shareholders or your family.
It is easy to list any number of reasons why you are colluding and complying with the status quo. But at what cost?
When you hear the complaints of those who feel diminished by the system and you speak similar concerns privately to your colleagues or loved ones, what does that do to your integrity and the energy in your heart, gut and soul?
Though it is rare to hear the words leader and soul together in workplaces, it doesn't mean that soul is any less present. To make soul an alien concept only drives people into hiding with their beliefs and authentic selves.
Soul, heart, essence - however you translate it - point to your uniqueness in the world and what makes your energy soar or shrink.
If you've found yourself in that position of having to hide your beliefs and authentic self for workplace realism, be assured that you are not alone.
You will find that there is a not-so-secret subculture of people who fill their souls with yoga classes, meditation retreats, art classes and other paths not considered corporate mainstream. You may be drawn to them intuitively as allies.
When your life is not resonant with your soul, you find yourself aching and unwell physically, emotionally and spiritually. Your body-mind becomes a barometer and doesn't lie. You may recognize it as the sinking feeling you get waking up on Mondays to another week.
If you once dreamed of meaningful work and accomplishment and now find that your visionary heartbeat has dimmed, the courage to shift from resignation to determination is only a mindset away.
The Leader's Courage
As a former corporate leader, I know how cynicism can extinguish and replace hope.
In the early eighties, when I was an internal staff consultant and disillusioned with the corporate culture, the inimitable Peter Block encouraged me to be the leader I wanted to see in that workplace. He told me to practice my values within my sphere of influence, no matter where I was in the organization's hierarchy. Those words saved me for my entire career.
Leaders don't wait for everything to be right to take action.
Recently, I witnessed two leaders and 22 participants in CTI's Co-Active Leadership Program demonstrating how leaders are responsible for their worlds and are at choice for what they create.
Through this lens, my old story of pessimism about change in organizations didn't stand a chance.
Misgivings and a dispirited perspective became unworthy of the privilege of freedom.
We who are able and free to choose how we think and what we do, do not get to leave passion and hope at the door.
We have freedom available to us where others have little or none. Reanimating that visionary heartbeat is possible because we have the freedom to choose and create.
The act of courage is to feel the pain in the soul, say yes to possibility, ask for help and watch what happens.
We all come to a point in our lives when an event knocks us out. But if we look, we'll find that there is always someone who can lift us into a new state of consciousness, optimism and hope - even when we can't. The lone wolf is an old model.
Someone has traversed these chasms before. No matter how dark the skies and landscape, you can reach out and get pulled, carried and supported forward to richer lands. That's why we have friends, partners, coaches, mentors, communities and elders.
Whether you are a seasoned or new leader with formal or informal power, you can invite your curiosity about what can be different.
You can inspire others with a commitment to gentleness. Leaders grow others. Being a stand for a gentle culture is a mighty vision.
You can intend to find answers with allies who can co-create with you. Once you find one person to brainstorm solutions, you are no longer alone and struggling. Ideas can then take flight and opportunities can begin to show themselves intuitively and synchronistically.
Within your sphere of influence, it takes willingness and one courageous act to dispel doubt and to bring connection, collaboration, humanity and heart into your workplace.
Let your soul's wisdom guide you and invite partners so you can lean into each other's talents and dreams, and weave an inspiring, new future.
For Caroline MacNeill Hall, L.A. Reding, Donald Dawson and the Vulture tribe. Your leadership presence inspires and graces us all.