Can Work Be Spiritual? Q&A with Author / Seeker Alan Shelton
One of the topics I want to explore more on this blog is how spirituality fits in to our careers. So when I discovered Alan Shelton, former corporate exec turned spiritual seeker was launching a book on this very topic, I knew we had to connect. Below Alan shares his thoughts on the inner journey of leadership, why it matters, and what it takes to be a spirit-centered leader.
What inspired you to write Awakened Leadership?
The inspiration for my book lies directly in my own personal history. As a developed corporate executive at a fairly young age, I began to experience the desire to examine myself internally. At the time, there seemed to be no place in the corporate world that I loved, where such development could take place. So, I chose a path in another world to do that work. Upon returning to the corporate world I discovered that current leadership developmental theory and work were based on exactly the same internal work that I had gone to India to discover. At that point, I determined to make available to anyone that was in the same position I was, a resource and a story that could be the doorway to that kind of work. It turns out that in today’s global world this kind of developmental work is becoming more and more sought out.
Your book focuses a lot on the “inner journey” of leadership. Why do you feel this is important?
In the beginning of most people’s leadership careers, the focus is on understanding the content of business and leadership acumen. This is done by looking to the outside and accumulating the particulars of these disciplines, and this is exactly the way that it should be. But there comes a time when emerging leaders and executives understand that their own behavior often is the obstacle to initiatives that they are asked to lead. Upon that discovery, it becomes obvious that the inner journey of leadership is the one that has the possibility of shifting those internal unconscious and reactive behaviors that get in the way.
You talk about the importance of moving “beyond self-mastery.” What do you mean?
I often call the stage of learning that points itself to the outside – horizontal learning. That is to say the emerging leader absorbs the facts, figures, diagrams and particulars of knowledge. There comes a time when every leader recognizes that they are approaching the boundaries of obtaining this kind of knowledge. When this happens, one can say that they have achieved the level of self-mastery. But, as I said before, the intuitive can enter the landscape of most executives is such that they understand there is more yet to achieve. They can look around and see that truly seasoned executives are actually wise men that have encountered their inner demons. The result is, that for these wise leaders, those internal behaviors no longer color or influence the actions that they take as leaders on the corporate playing field. They have successfully entered into the world of vertical learning, or internal learning, and now lead with perfect transparency and vulnerability.
Do you find traditional leadership techniques employed by much of corporate America (i.e. assessments, graphs, etc.) effective in today’s leadership landscape?
Traditional leadership techniques as employed by corporate America are effective to a point. That point is the attainment of self-mastery. Beyond that, the only place leaders can go to continue their seasoning is the developmental path.
Is spirituality something leaders should have ‘on display’ at work?
Spirituality is something that lives on the inside of each leader. It is actually who they are. There is no need to display one’s presence, as all who come in contact with leaders of this kind sense it. In my experience, a seasoned leader whose authenticity is naturally born of the encounter with their unconscious and reactive characteristics cannot help but be seen as spiritual. Have you ever noticed that when you enter a company with leaders of this sort that everyone in the building knows who they are and can easily approach them as a resource? This is spirituality in action blossoming from the inside out as a result of the hard work of rooting out all obstacles that would stand in the way of their own awakened leadership. In my view, any company would be, and is fortunate when such a leader is on board.