Two weeks ago, at the 95th annual National Association of Student Personnel Administrators conference, I was invited with an inaugural group of presenters to launch NASPA SA Speaks. The format was similar to the popular TED talks (www.ted.com). Presenters had an opportunity to explore a topic of their choosing, and were asked to speak for 10-12 minutes about their chosen theme. When I arrived in the room, the crowd was milling around and it was hard to tell if it would be a full house. Within minutes of the program starting, all seats were full; folks lined the walls and sat on the floor. As every public speaker knows, this is when your mouth goes suddenly and completely dry.
I started the program showing this amazing YouTube video “The Human Spirit” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiZ-hF9d9Rw).
It has a powerful opening, and I knew that it would have a strong impact with the NASPA crowd. Oh, how I wish it had worked that way! The hotel Wi-Fi was so poor; the video immediately started buffering. After two failed attempts at a correction, it was show time, with NO audience hook! Life happens.
My 12 minute focus: Discovering spirituality in leadership and bringing our whole selves to work.
I cautioned listeners that the “spirit talk” wasn’t going to be the soft, feel good message. This wasn’t just about authenticity, but in large measure my message called for a deliberate dose of respect for one another. I do not believe that you can go to work and separate your mind, body, spirt. In other words, you don’t leave your spirit at home on your way to the office. Your spirit (however defined) comes with you regardless of what work you do. By definition, spirit is the inner quality or nature of a person. You can’t escape having spirit; you can decide how you want it defined.
Folks often define spirit in terms of a belief system, and in fact those who are agnostic or atheist actually have a non-exclusive belief system as well. In some ways, owning your belief system is the last “coming out” story. For a time it seemed if you mentioned that you were a person of faith in the academy, it had the connotation of being anti-intellectual. So, at NASPA I came out; "I am an unabashed fan of Jesus." As I said this, looking around the room, I could tell by the crowd’s reaction that they were already making assumptions about me.
So I took it a bit further and said, "I work at a Jesuit, Catholic university, was raised Episcopal, have an eclectic spirituality and a Muslim step-mother." I questioned the group; "hearing this how do you begin reframing your assumptions about my 'spirit'?” We need to be freer to bring our whole selves to the office. Practicing a leadership that is inclusive of mind, body and spirit only makes sense, especially in higher education. It doesn’t make sense that our moral thinking and ethical decision-making can be separate from our inward life, from spirit.
Leadership includes the qualities of power, influence and execution. It also, no doubt includes and offers opportunities for service and grace. In leadership roles, we should invite members of the Academy to share and live their spiritual truths without judgment. The Academy is stronger when interfaith dialogue enhances the mind, body, spirit connectedness among us.