Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

Matthew Fox

The failures of leadership are everywhere to be seen in the globe today.  Whether one speaks of the failure of Wall Street tycoons or its awol government regulators, or the failure of BP and its awol government regulators, or the failure of Catholic hierarchy (including the Vatican) in the pedophile priest scandal, or the failure of legislators to free themselves of ideologies and marriages to uncritical power brokers, it seems that we are living through a colossal failure of leadership in these early years of the twenty-first century.

Perhaps one underlying reason for all these failures is that we have secularized, that is to say, de-sacralized, the very meaning of leadership.  We seem to be living through the shadow side of leadership just as, with the Gulf oil disaster, we lived through months of gushing of oil twenty-four hours a day seven days per week.  The darkness of this excessive yang energy (isn’t oil all about powering our industries and transportation, thus yang and fire energy) has damaged our yin resource (the Gulf waters and their teeming hatcheries and living systems and countless species of once living beings).  Bad leadership despoils Mother Earth and her creatures.  Bad leadership kills life.  Bad leadership enhances necrophilia.  Good leadership enhances life or biophilia.

In this essay I intend to explore the spiritual or sacred side of leadership.  In my book, The Reinvention of Work, I put forth the argument that all work worthy of the name, that is to say all authentically human work, work that brings joy, healing, justice or celebration to others, is priestly work.  I talk of the priesthood of all workers, how when we do our work (as opposed to just our jobs), we are midwives of grace, therefore we are all priests.  Work is sacred.  I draw on spiritual teachings East and West, North and South, to make my point for in speaking of the sacredness of work I am speaking in universal or archetypal language.[i] All healthy societies celebrate the sacredness of work.

They often do this through the emphasizing of vocation. Work as a sacred calling (“vocare” is the Latin word for call).  Call and Response.  That is work.  That is leadership.  Leadership is one’s own response to a call and it always includes making possible to call and response of other workers.  No one is called alone.  A vocation is not an ego thing; it is the opposite of an ego thing.  It is a call from history, the ancestors and those not yet born, to be thoughtful, just, caring, courageous, imaginative, creative, that is, alive.  Work and leadership are our radical response to life itself, therefore, as I argue in my book on the nature of prayer, work is our very prayer.[ii] It is the best of ourselves that we invest so much time preparing for (we call that education), recovering from (we usually call that weekends and holidays) and struggling at (these are our 40 to 60 hour work weeks).

In this essay I will first consider the role of Vocation and leadership; then how archetypes of the healthy masculine can infuse our work as leader/workers; and lastly how

leadership as a spiritual journey follows the pattern of the four paths of creation spiritual journeying.  In defining leadership I find myself agreeing with Deidre Combs, author of the Way of Conflict and Worst Enemy, Best Teacher and a consultant to many profit and non-profit organizations, that, as Margaret Wheatley puts it, “leadership is anyone who wants to help at this time” and with John Quincy Adams that “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”[iii] There may be a leader in all of us.  Watch out!

Leadership and Vocation

The late poet, essayist and teacher Bill Everson (also known as “Brother Antoninus” for his years as a Dominican friar), was so taken with the archetype of vocation that he taught a course on it at the University of Santa Cruz for years that proved to be one of the most popular courses on campus.  He had much to say about the archetype of vocation that is highly relevant to a discussion of spirituality and leadership.  Thanks to interviews conducted with him by a former student in his class, Steven Herrmann, we have access to his deep thoughts in a book called William Everson: The Shaman’s Call: Interviews, Introduction, and Commentaries. Following are some of Everson’s thoughts about vocation.

Everson notes that “Every vocation is controlled by a symbol, and that symbol comes not from the individual but from the race.  The human race cannot go forward unless vocations arise to constellate the collective energies into true realization.  It is the race which creates the vocation. All an individual can do is answer the call.”[iv] The answer we give to the invitation to be a leader is everything.  But the Call comes from some deep place.  We might call it Destiny; or the Collective; or the Future; or God; or Source.  A call implies a Caller.  We are merely the responder.  So a leader is essentially humble—Moses said to God, Don’t send me; I stutter.  No prophet wants to play so visible a role.  Humility is key to leadership because the Responder knows he or she is not also the Caller.

Everson also teaches that the vocational symbols are both personal and collective in nature, pointing to the conscious and unconscious motivations inhering in the life span of the unique individual.  The Call bridges at least two worlds, that of the conscious and that of the unconscious.  This is what makes it deep.  This is what makes it worth heeding.  This is what makes it daring and an adventure.  All leadership (as opposed to bureaucratic top-of-the-ladder hegemony) is an adventure, an exploration of the deep.

Everson defines vocation as a ‘disposition,’ a ‘calling,’ which holds the key to a person’s identity.  The vocational summons may come from a book, an outer situation, a relationship, or the laying on of hands by a master figure.  Its primary means for summoning us, he believes, is via a dream.   For himself, his calling was encountering Jeffers’ poetry that “ruptured” his psyche with a Divine impulsion that in turn led him to accept his vocation as a nature poet of the San Joaquin valley. (41)  I have a habit of asking scientists whom I meet when they first knew they wanted to be a scientist.  Invariably I hear stories such as, “I fell in love with the stars when I was five years old” or, “I fell in love with this bush when I was four years old,” or, “I fell in love with a worm when I was six years old.”  Their vocations are old (they germinate in childhood) and they are about falling in love.  One feels called; one feels the need to respond; one feels joyful.

In an Interview, Everson is asked “What is it that makes the discovery of vocation through the dream life a certainty?”  He replies: “The splitting of a veil, defloration, the splitting of a maidenhead, a hymen, gratitude, joy, complete joy to end the having to discover oneself, or make oneself worthy.  You see it in the religious life, in the form of conversion.  In Christianity, it’s the Christ.  In Buddhistic belief, it’s the Buddha.  I think that these models indicate that, in the arts, it should be the Master that’s there….You see it in marriage too, where the beloved becomes a symbol of vocation; the anima, for instance. Or sometimes the anima becomes a symbol for the poetic vocation, as in the case of Dante.” (52)  Notice how Everson is equating one’s vocation as a leader and worker with the religious experience of conversion (“metanoia” in the Gospels, a change of life).  Indeed, for him it is Christ doing the calling or Buddha doing the calling.  Or the “Master” doing the calling in one’s calling as an artist—one is reminded of how, on his deathbed, Gustav Mahler’s last words were “Mozart.”  Mozart, his master, came to him when he died.  Notice too the role that joy plays in this call.  What the mystics call the Via Positiva is not to be denied.

Another word that Everson equates with our true call as workers and leaders is violence.  For Everson, “specificity or individuation is attained only at the cost violence…individuation can proceed only in a situation of rupture.”  The experience of awe that the child underwent that led him or her to become a scientist is an experience of violence.  The vocational archetype is the rupture point of identity as in. Jung’s model of the Self as a creative-destructive God-image and a self-abnegation of the ego in order for consciousness to evolve.  “Without exposure to violence, in Everson’s understanding, there can be no transformation of consciousness, no creative breakthrough, no ‘divinization’ of the human ego.”  No doubt this is one reason that rites of passage were so important and so effective among indigenous peoples.  Vocation was being elicited through fasting and demanding practices.  Today’s rites of passage that we witness among gangs and in prisons where young people congregate with no invitation to vocation is a sorry imitation of leaderless (and elderless) rites of passage.  They are the shadow side of the vocational archetype that is so missing in our culture.  Herrmann observes that “by ‘violence’ Everson means the creative ‘life force’ that is inborn within the individual. If this force of vitality is lacking in the individual, in Everson’s view, one cannot be truly alive.”[v]

Perhaps a synonym for “violence” would be “wild” as in Thomas Berry’s use of that term or Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ use of that term. Berry writes: “Wildness….is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea.  This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist and the power of the shaman.”  Estes writes: “The Wild Woman is patroness to all painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, thinkers, prayermakers, seekers, finders—for they are all busy with the work of inventions and that is the Wild Woman’s main occupation.  As in all art, she resides in the guts, not in the head….She is the one who thunders after injustice.”[vi]

In the mystical tradition, this violence or rupture or wildness is experienced both in the Via Positiva—falling in love, tasting awe and gratitude and joy—and in the Via Negativa—crashing, falling, breaking, grieving.  In each case, the traveler is taken deep, or as Meister Eckhart put it, “if you want the kernel you must break the shell.”  A breakthrough happens.  In Everson’s language, a surrender occurs.  “There has to be ‘surrender’ to ‘violence’ in order for a true experience of vocation—individuation of the Self—to take place.”  A sacrifice follows.  Generosity follows.  As D. H. Lawrence put it: “In New Mexico the heart is sacrificed to the sun and the human being is left stark, heartless but undauntedly religious.”  For Everson “this experience of being burned pure, with the brilliant shaft of the sun, was equivalent to an experience of being struck internally by lightning.”  (43)  Everson cites from Jesus in the Gospels that “heaven is taken by violence, and the violent will carry it away” (76) and observes that “for the Christian, Christ mounted the Cross, accepted violence into Himself, to place the crucial point precisely where it obtains, the point of convergence between the higher and lower octaves of existence, solving its problem once and for all…” (73)  But this is what every leader does—incorporates the violence of opposition into herself or himself and transforms it into something useful.  Indeed, it is the power of vocation itself that sees us through such times of trial.  We must see “Vocation as an archetypal force.  Vocation as a power.  It creates wholeness because it effects a focal point of both mental and physical energies.  It gives you the channel through which your drives and energies can pour.  It gives you the sustaining symbol of your wholeness, which enables you to survive the conflict of forces around you.”  (47)

Another element to vocation is synchronicity.  Vocation is too sacred to occur just in linear time.  Nor is it about chance alone.  Says Everson: “whatever occurs in the unfoldment of vocation is based on synchronicity.  Chance could never account for it. Life is too coherent for it to be chance.” (50)  Nor is leadership primarily about career.  It cannot be, for vocation and career are not synonymous. One can occur without the other or long after the other.  Says Everson: “I distinguish between vocation and career. Vocation is the disposition, where your faculties are ordered.  It has to do with your sense of identity; career is the impact of your vocation on your life, and on the world around you.  A person may have a supreme vocation and no career at all.  For some people, their careers don’t occur until after they are dead.  Gerard Manley Hopkins is an example of that.  Emily Dickinson is another.  Neither one published in their own lifetime; yet their work is as good as any.  Neither Gerard nor Emily struggled with career; they ignored it; Emily more than Gerard.” (52f)

Everson greatly admires the indigenous cultures’ commitment to vocation as evidenced in the ceremony of the Vision Quest.  Indeed, he sees the Vision Quest as the basis of all vocational callings.  “The dawning of vocation is the end to the confines of the ego….In the vision quest the seeker goes out into the wilderness, disconnecting his ego supports from the tribe, and this is what makes him vulnerable.  This vulnerability exposes him to the unconscious, the collective unconscious and there the great Animal Presences make themselves known….We evolved from the previous Animal forms.  It’s by maintaining contact with those Animal Powers, I believe, that the psyche activates its wholeness, because the human ego is formed by repression of the Animal Powers.”  (85)  Thus a true leader is not afraid to take retreats away from the crowd, to go into the wilderness and to face vulnerability and with it the great Animal Powers.  Everson recognizes how Jesus did exactly that.  According to Mark’s gospel, after his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness alone and wrestled with wild beasts and angels.  Everson believes that Christ followed the archetype of the vision quest which is patterned by shamanism.  In aboriginal culture, initiations often entailed some kind of a sacrifice “but the greatest paradigm for initiation in the West, in Everson’s view, is the image of Christ carrying His Cross.”  (74f)

There is a kind of violence in the separation of a leader from the crowd as there is for the vision seeker in a vision quest.  Everson shows how the underlying pattern of vocation in America is the vision quest.  The vision quest, in his view, is structured by the principle of ‘violence.’  Everson sees violence as a primal force in the Universe out of which all life evolves (after all, the original fireball was violent as was the supernova explosion that birthed so many atoms in our bodies).  “Like love, it is a force that thrusts all beings into activity and transcends all individual and collective values.  It is the prime mover of vocations.”  The word violence derives from vis, which means force, pure and simple.  (73)

There is pain involved in being a leader.  The pain of loneliness and the pain of projection and being misunderstood and playing the role of others’ projections, especially in a culture that has few authentic leaders or fathers and thus produces many people wounded by negative leadership.  After writing his first fully realized poem, tears flowed for Everson, as Herrmann puts it, “because you had found your master.  What is it that makes the bond with the Master so deep, so emotional; so deeply painful?”  Everson replies: “It’s like the ache of expansion: the expansion of consciousness   The best analogy is in love.  When we fall in love, we surrender to it—to the mystery of it—the mystery of the unconscious, the mystery of the shadow.  The pain is the shadow side of the archetype….I think it’s the pain that’s the confirming factor in the finding of your vocation.  As long as there is no pain, there is no real progression.  It’s the pain that accompanies the realization that lets you know the breakthrough is true.”  (68f)  This is a testimony to the role of the Via Negativa in the leader’s living out of his or her vocation.

Everson compares East and West around the subject of vocation and he feels that the archetype of vocation hold greater primacy in the West than in the East.  The West he sees as more activist and the East as more contemplative.  Here is how he puts it.  “The finding of vocation is more important in the West than it is in the East, because the controlling symbol in the East, which is essentially a contemplative society, is the mandala; while the controlling symbol in the West, which lays its accent on action, is vocation.  I think vocation is to us what the mandala is to them.  It’s vocation that integrates us, gives us our wholeness, and takes our acts from the linear world to the cyclical, collective world.”  (51)  How important is that, to take our acts of leadership beyond the linear world to the cyclical world?   Herrmann observes that “in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade developed the idea that only those acts that are patterned after an archetype can be viewed as sacred and therefore real, occurring in cyclical time.”  (88)

In reflecting with Steven Herrmann and William Everson on the archetype of vocation we can summarize our findings in this way:  A true vocation is always a call from the Sacred (a secular culture destroys vocation and crushes the young because it has no authentic rites of passage calling them into their vocation).  A leader is called to humility because he or she knows that they did not invent their position of power but are called to employ it for the common good.  The call is a deep call, bridging the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious but also of the deep personal identity and the needs of the entire species.  This call evokes joy and it evokes pain. It brings about breakthrough or conversion or metanoia.  Thus it includes violence or wildness.  It is not for sissies.  It requires surrender and with it courage, maturity, magnanimity and generous individuation.  It also requires sacrifice and solitude and leaving the masses at times.

Leadership is not ego-driven but is about service and helping those yet to be born as well as one’s co-workers.  It calls on the strength and wisdom of the ancestors as well for it operates as a cyclical, not a linear, process.  It requires spiritual practices of course and among these vision quests and associations with animal powers are among the most ancient rites of passage to invoke.  Leadership is itself a school, a deep way of learning the most important lessons of life including wisdom which always means embracing the feminine aspects of life.  It means balancing the yin and yang, the feminine and the masculine.  It announces and proclaims therefore the Sacred Marriage of the two in practice as well as theory.[vii]

Leadership and the Archetypes of the Sacred Masculine

Another way to consider the sacred dimension of the leadership archetype is to hold it up to healthy archetypes of the Sacred masculine.  There is a kind of masculine energy to leadership whether we be male or female—but we must clean up our understanding of masculine if we are to become healthy and useful leaders.  I have gathered ten  archetypes of the Sacred Masculine in a recent study called The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine and I would like to apply those archetypes to the issue of leadership here in a basic and brief manner.

Leadership invokes the archetype of the Blue Man who is about expansion (the blue sky is expansive) and also about compassion, healing and creativity.  The Blue Man, who emerges from a blue pearl, also represents the violent aspect of becoming a leader.  Just as the currents and sands of the ocean transform a defect in an oyster into a gem that we call a pearl, so too the stridency of leadership can morph us into authentic Blue Men.  Leadership invokes the archetype of the spiritual warrior and in our day in particular of the Green Man who is the spiritual warrior working to defend Mother Earth from all that harms her.  The warrior, unlike the soldier, has taken time to do inner work on one’s heart and one’s inheritance.  Fear (the future) and sorrow (the past) do not deter the leader from standing fully in the present.

A leader learns from the Icarus/Daedellus archetype by emphasizing communication between generations (also a necessary ingredient of the Elder or grandfather archetype).  In many ways, the leader, whether female or male, is playing out the healthy father archetype whose task is to guide, protect, and instruct but also to artfully construct wings of adventure and challenge for the young.  The leader is also a hunter/gatherer, hunting not just for brilliant talent and arranging potential for co-workers but also setting values of what it is we invest our hunting/gathering instincts for.  Why are we doing what we are doing?  Where are we going?  Whom does it serve?  How does our work bring joy to others?

A leader is deeply creative and values imagination for how else can we anticipate or honor the future?  The archetype of Father Sky is also deeply imaginative and generative (as is the Green Man whose fifth chakra is constantly birthing new and living branches) since the Sky, we now know from today’s science, could hardly be more alive and generative—a star is being born every 15 seconds and the fourteen billion years of the universe have been years of constant birthing, dying and resurrecting.  A leader is bodily aware, takes care of his or her bodily health knowing that the hard work demanded of leaders requires a healthy body.  A leader is sexually vital, not stuck in dualisms that pit spirit against sexuality, but one who integrates sexual passion and passion for life itself.

The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality and Leadership

Another way to name Leadership as a Spiritual Practice is to recognize how authentic leadership follows the in-depth naming of our spiritual journeys that the creation spiritual tradition lays out for us.  We see that this in-depth journey is quite opposed to what Everson identifies as the current “cultural climate [which] is not hospitable to charismatic vocation of any depth—the world wants entertainment.  The linear time of performers and athletes are the folk heroes of the day.”[viii] Of course embedded in this linear time/entertainment obsession of our current culture is a strike-it-rich-immediately compulsion of many so-called business “leaders” (who are the shadow side of leadership) who do not care about tomorrow but only about pleasing their stockholders and their own fat prerogatives today.  Such practices are the opposite of spirituality.  They are the shadow of authentic leadership.  They exercise profane careers, not sacred vocations.

The first of the paths of creation spirituality is the Via Positiva, the way of delight, awe, wonder and joy.[ix] As a leader, what makes us happy?  What calls us from joy to joy?  How do we assist others in their journey to wonder, awe and joy?  How is our work affecting that result?  Thomas Aquinas taught that “joy is the human’s noblest act.”  Are we and our work and our leadership style engaged in humankind’s noblest act?  Does our leadership reflect the truth of joy as a bottom line?  If not, why not?  Aquinas also taught that people are changed more by delight than by argument.  Is our leadership that kind of leadership?  What joy do we derive from our role as leaders?  Can we nourish more deeply?  Give it more time and space?

Ultimately, leadership is a joy because it is a tremendous opportunity to serve, to bring truth and compassion into the world.  Aquinas says the proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.  Our work, our service, is to bring truth and justice into others’ hearts.  What is more joyful a vocation than that?

The second path on our spiritual journeys is named the Via Negativa.  This is the path of darkness and silence, of letting go and letting be, of grief and bottoming out.   As Everson insisted pain is a necessary part of the archetype of vocation.  Pain carries us deep.  Grief does that too if we allow it to.  Grief can open us up, stir things up, and bring the best out of us.  If we fail to grieve we become bottled up and our creativity cannot flow properly.

Because the Via Negativa is also about silence, it is about letting go of all input and all projections.  It is what we do when we meditate, however we choose to do so. It is calming the reptilian brain—a leader who cannot calm his or her reptilian brain and assist those around them to do the same is no leader at all but a carrier of an action/reaction virus that can kill us all and is killing the planet at this time.  A leader must find practices for letting go and letting be, for finding stillness and courting solitude.  This is how one develops one’s mammal brain from which we derive the powerful force so underutilized that we call Compassion.  By being in touch with one’s own pain one can share solidarity with others in pain—but only if one has learned to let go and let be.

An emptying occurs in the Via Negativa.  A deep power of listening emerges therefore.  A leader who cannot listen is a crippled leader indeed.  Deep listening is required of authentic leadership.  A listening that encompasses both heart and head.

The third path on the spiritual journey is the Via Creativa.  This is the path of imagination and creativity.  Creativity flows ever so easily and organically from the first two paths: Those “ruptures” (Everson’s word) that awe and love trigger and that silence and pain trigger give way to new birth.  We are made for creativity.  This is, after all, what distinguishes us as a species.  Anthropologists define our species as distinct from our near relatives as bi-peds that make things.  We are makers.  Authors. Creators. That is where the word “authority” comes from: Our powers of authorship or creativity.  Only a leader who is creative and respectful of creativity, a hunter-gatherer of creativity so to speak—can truly lead.  This is especially true today when so much in the world is new and requires new solutions.  New networks.  New alliances.  New ideas.  New directions for energy needs and for global interaction.  New work.  New healing.  Newly understood connections with our ancestors and past efforts to live fully and peacefully on the earth.

Part of creativity is honoring the child, the puer or puella in oneself, being able to see the world newly, with freshness.  There is no creativity without fantasy and play, as Jung observed.  Playfulness, youthfulness, are essential modes for survival and surely for leadership today.  To honor the child within.  To heal the child within.  To unleash the child within.  To welcome the child within.  Play.  Work “without a why” Meister Eckhart advised.  Then and only then do we enter the world of regeneration and renewal.

The fourth path on the spiritual journey is the Via Transformativa, the way of transformation and therefore the way of compassion, celebrating, healing and justice.  Every leader worthy of the name strives for compassion.  To teach it, to live it, to bring it alive.  Compassion is, after all, as we hinted at above, the way of the mammal.  There is a reason why both the Hebraic word for compassion and the Arabic word for compassion come from the word for “womb.”  The mammals, the womb people, bring compassion to the planet in a special way.  There is a reason why all deep spiritual leaders—Buddha and Isaiah, Jesus and Mohammad, Black Elk and Martin Luther King, jr, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, call us to Compassion.  The Dali Lama confesses that compassion is his religion and we can do away with all religion but not with compassion.  Jesus said: “Be you compassionate like your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”  In Islam, “The Compassionate One” is by far the most used name for Allah in the Koran.  Compassion is the “secret name for God” in Judaism.

Compassion is about solidarity, “passion-with.”  It is about our shared joy and our shared sorrow.  It is all about our interdependence.  Living it out as celebration (our shared joy) and as healing (our shared pain).  All true leaders work on their powers of compassion and their decision-making is to derive from that place deep inside oneself.  In my book, A Spirituality Named Compassion, written a number of years ago, I point out that authentic leadership today is more about “Dancing Sara’s Circle” than about “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”  Ladder climbing is rarely joyful, it is elitest and vertical, it separates one from earth and others.  Circle dancing on the other hand is eye-to-eye, curved, embracing of others, close to the earth and joy-filled, playful.  We did it as children. Which path of leadership is compassionate?  Which is elitest?  Which do we strive for?[x] Eckhart warns that “compassion begins at home with one’s own body and one’s own soul.”  The leader must be compassionate toward oneself.  Must find time and space for one’s own inner life and one’s physical well being.  A leader is not superman or superwoman.  A leader needs co-workers, co-helpers, colleagues.  Friendships.  Mentors.

Knowing that leadership itself carries one through the four paths of creation spirituality is to know that the call and work of leadership is itself a spiritual practice, a yoga, a discipline for one’s inner work and one’s outer work, for oneself and for the collective, a work that taps into conscious and unconscious, personal and communal.  To be a leader is to journey through these four paths on a regular basis.  The challenges of leadership, whether positive or negative, break us open and we are reminded of Eckhart’s promise, “the outward work can never be small if the inward work is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth.  The inward work always includes in itself all size, all breadth and all length.”[xi] Psyche and cosmos marry.  The personal journey becomes the community’s journey and all is part of the cosmic journey.  We are on a true and deep journey.

What a noble journey we are on.  What a noble calling.  What generosity is called for.  What an opportunity.  To inspire others to the greatness of their work, both inner and outer.  And to show the way.  Such a vocation tastes like milk and honey.  It ushers us to the promised land.   We are grateful.  The leader in us is grateful.  Perhaps it is in this context that Meister Eckhart exclaims, “if the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude reigns.  This is evidence that our work is sacred, not profane. Spiritual, not secular.  Meaningful, not meaningless.

Chip Conley, an Exemplar of Spiritual Leadership

The day after I finished writing this essay there was a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle about Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, California’s largest boutique hotel company.  This business leader is author of The Rebel Rules, Marketing That Matters and Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow.[xii] I contacted him and we had a healthy sit-down together.  I find in his story and in his writings considerable confirmation of the themes of this essay—the role that vocation plays, the role that humility plays, the role that joy plays (thus the name of his company), the role that darkness plays (he wrote his “Peak” book at the time of the dot.com bust that was so severe on his business in the Bay Area), the role that meditation plays, the role that creativity and transformation play (he points out that 94% of business leaders believe the “intangibles” are important but only 5% know how to measure them.)  He summarizes Maslow’s work: “The characteristics of these self-actualized people included creativity, flexibility, courage, willingness to make mistakes openness, collegiality, and humility.”[xiii]

Conley visited Bhuton to learn more about a Gross National Happiness measurement because it makes so much more sense than a Gross National Product index.  How do we measure what makes life worthwhile?  Why did we not include these kinds of questions in our recent national census?  Value the intangible.  Measure meaning.  Make joy count and relationships.

It was moving and hopeful and more than mere synchronicity to discover a leader who is practicing what I am writing about in this essay and who has found and practiced many of these principles of leadership in the rough and tumble world of his business milieu.  I am sure there are many other leaders out there (and in all of us) who share the same values.  These are the elders and father (and mother) figures that our young people need to see in action.  Here lies authentic leadership, a true walking of a spiritual path.

[i] Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

[ii] Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam), 2001.

[iii] Deidre Combs, “Defining Leadership” in

[iv] Steven Herrmann, William Everson: The Shaman’s Call (New York: Eloquent Books, 2009), 40.

[v] Ibid., 42, note 63.

[vi] See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002), 42, 152.

[vii] See Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine (Novato, California: New World Library, 2008), 221-276.

[viii] Herrmann, op. cit., 53.

[ix] The Four Paths are laid out in fuller detail in Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 2000).

[x] Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1999), chapter Two.

[xi] Fox, The Reinvention of Work, 58.

[xii] See Chip Conley, Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).

[xiii] Ibid., 10.