Management, the Ultimate Spiritual Practice

Work isn’t a place we should cordon off from personal growth. The new mandate of management is to help people become more fully human.

Businessman meditating in a parkThe line between professional development and personal growth is dissolving rapidly. We’re seeing ideas, practices and techniques in the office like meditation, yoga, alternative communication models and more, that were traditionally off limits. But even if you agree that this is essentially positive development, are we going about it the right way?

The risk is that these tools will suffer the same fate as traditional tools that have lost their luster in recent years, things like value statements, vision documents and brand promises. Meaning, if we’re not careful, we’ll make the mistake of using these tools to cover up cultural and leadership dysfunction — yet again — rather than digging for the root cause.

The root cause of cultural stagnation is the same in every organization: Leaders who struggle with how to be vulnerable, employees who don’t feel valued as individuals, and managers who get caught in the middle trying to deliver results with a disengaged team.

As beautiful as these practices can be, top-down offerings of meditation, yoga or other forms of personal growth can’t solve those problems if they’re brought in with the wrong context. We need to focus our energy on the conversation between managers and employees. The quality of that conversation determines whether people thrive in their role, and whether they remain engaged or not.

If we get it right, we could change employee engagement data for good. Just imagine what it would be like if, instead of cordoning it off from personal growth dynamics, leaders learned how to integrate personal growth into our daily leadership lives.

Is there anyone in our life who sees how we show up in the world more than our manager? They see how we respond under pressure, how we lean into or avoid creative risk, how we relate with success and failure. It’s a tragedy of wasted human potential if this is the one person in our lives that we don’t ask for personal reflection to grow, and who doesn’t see it as their responsibility to tell us.

To start making the shift in your organization, begin by reminding yourself — and your fellow leaders — that personal growth happens in our relationships, especially when we feel stuck, or when we find ourselves getting defensive or making excuses. That’s our cue that there’s something to learn. It’s equally important to create quiet spaces to reflect and renew, but transformational learning happens when the stakes are high, and there’s no place more like that than where we work.

Here are three ways to move the personal growth conversation forward with your fellow leaders and managers:

Put personal growth on your leadership agenda. This is a brave new world of management. Your managers are being called to manage more personally, with more vulnerability and transparency than anyone is used to. Invite dialogue; role-play scenarios. By showing managers they don’t have to be an expert to begin, you’ll bring the tension down and the peer-support up.

Praise emotional transparency when it happens. Remind fellow leaders that the reason employees tune out isn’t because leaders make mistakes, or even because they get frustrated. They tune out when that leader doesn’t come back around and own what was off about their behavior, or how they contributed to a stuck dynamic without realizing it. When you see a fellow leader take the vulnerable step to do this, call it out.

Help managers focus on impacts rather than activities. The goal of bringing personal growth into the office should be to create better relationships, to help people collaborate more seamlessly, and in ways that lead to better work and happier humans. The fastest way to do that is to show them instances of how they impacted others, however unintentionally, in adverse ways. As long as you do it with kindness, you’ll be amazed how grateful your employees are to get a reflection of how they frustrated a teammate, confused a customer or alienated themselves from the team without realizing it.

The new mandate of management is to help people become better at being fully human. Work isn’t the place we should be cordoning off from personal growth. It’s the place where we should dive headlong into it.

Jonathan Raymond is the author of the new book, “Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For.” To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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