Women Lead with Spirit to Challenge the Status Quo

“If we stay awake, the right people come into our lives at the right time. We’re surrounded by angels.”

Leaders shape the course of history by transforming followers into new leaders. But we can transform others only if first we know ourselves and connect with our interior knowing to use that power to move from where we are to where we want to be.

Dr. Darlyne Bailey wants us to know that leadership is more than a word. “It’s a live, highly interactive, interconnected relationship,” she said. “And now, more than ever, we need committed women who’ve tapped into their own DNA and recognize they need to stay awake if we’re ever to create a world where everyone knows they’re valued.”

Bailey is the dean of the new college of education and human development and the assistant to the president at the University of Minnesota. Earning a master’s in psychiatric social work and a doctorate in organizational behavior, she seems to have strayed far from her original goal of being an emergency room psychiatrist. Au contraire, some say: She has the perfect background for an academic career.

Believing strongly in the mind/body connection and its impact on happiness, Bailey applies it to the concept of leadership. She spoke at Mount Mary College WI in October at the 2007 Geneva Bolton Johnson Leadership Forum.

Basic leadership skills

What skills and attributes do we need to create a world where everyone knows they’re valued? The first thing is to develop a series of basic, yet critical, leadership skills, which Bailey pointed out are “over-talked but out-whispered.”

But another set of spiritual attributes can be found inside of us, which helps us to lead with spirit. “It’s the little voice we were all born with,” she said, encouraging us to “turn the ember that’s inside each one of us into a roaring fire.”

Part of today’s problems are related to the pursuit of money, she said, that creates systems supporting hierarchies of power and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. Some see affordable health care and housing as a privilege, not a right. Women must be poised to lead challenges to existing systems, to change the progress of human achievement.

She believes today’s leaders must have certain skills:

  • Using qualitative and quantitative measures, the skill of benchmarking reflects the leader’s values, establishes control and focuses on results.
  • Budgeting and resource development are tools to align plans and actions, while providing a framework for accountability. Collaborating, or as Bailey calls it, “co-laboring,” is both a skill and an art. It emphasizes the value of working together where both people listen deeply and clearly articulate their goals and objectives.
  • Creating fosters newness, a mindful understanding and an appreciation of paradox. “When we think and feel we can connect the dots even in paradox,” she said. “We can see the mind patterns and foster an ethical culture.” Leaders must learn to build and sustain mutual meaningful relationships.
  • Making effective decisions characterizes effective leaders. The process starts by first defining the issue. Only then can we determine whether we even need to make a decision. Perhaps there’s one that we just need to uncover.
  • Understanding the difference between problems and dilemmas requires deft leadership. “Problems are those that can be resolved,” said Bailey, “they have right and wrong solutions.” Dilemmas are more complicated, because they’re “a bundle of competing truths.” Because leaders have more dilemmas to manage than problems, there’s no linear process toward a solution.
  • The ability to develop and evaluate oneself and others is another key skill. You won’t be able to develop and evaluate yourself unless you’re engaged in helping others.
  • Leaders also need to know about managing time and balancing competing demands while still retaining their energy. If we don’t pay attention to the rhythms of those we lead as well as our own, everybody will get sick.
  • Recognizing and rewarding accomplishments is necessary since we are all “purposeful gifts in other people’s lives.” Strategic planning requires that we integrate new forms of structures and systems so that our schools remain nimble.

Today’s leaders must be technology savvy so that their organizations can stay ahead of the curve. From visioning, all else follows. Analyzing and synthesizing connects the dots, allowing leaders to see the connections that exist across boundaries and re-conceptualize relationships.

Recognize spiritual aspects

To add power to these skills, we must look deep within ourselves to a set of spiritual attributes. This “spiritual dialog” becomes an act of creation when two or more people come together to share and become open to the views of the other. It emphasizes a positive regard, an unconditional caring “for self and other and in self and other.”

An open-hearted and open-minded exchange of thoughts and feelings can come only from the integration of humility, faith, hope and love. Only when people recognized the power of a spiritual dialog were they able to engage in real dialog.

“In my own life, I was guided by the power of dialog to forge deep and sustainable connections outside of the school,” said Bailey. She went outside the school because just three months after being promoted to associate professor, she was offered the dean’s position. Those who were once friends suddenly became subordinates. “I got lonely,” she said. “I had no peers there.”

So Bailey and four other women began researching what sustains women as leaders. They sit and ponder the big questions in a retreat format. “If we stay awake, the right people come into our lives at the right time,” she said. “We will discover that we’re surrounded by angels.”

The women discovered that spirituality—the life-giving source that sustains us all—was their source of sustenance. “Spirit is the vital principle or animating force within living human beings,” she said. “It’s the essential nature of a person or group and it connects all living beings.”

Americans in particular are taught to value only individualism, to strive for personal and individual achievement. “Throughout our culture this omnipresent ranking and rating gives forth to domination and control,” Bailey said. In contrast, Eastern cultures view the earth as connected, a web-like circular order. They have a holistic perspective and understand interdependence. They understand spirit.

Spiritual attributes

Essential attributes for leading from the spirit actually can be taught and learned. We recognize them as “spirit” only when we internalize them. Studies show organizations that tap into spirit outperform all others.

There’s a saying that if you know others, you’re intelligent; if you know yourself, you’re wise. The wisdom of authenticity allows us to live with integrity and know what we believe, Bailey said.

The self-knowledge of empathy is best lived by those who are authentic. It provides us with grounding and space to hold the emotions of others. We stay true to ourselves but open our minds and hearts to know others.

The power of humility helps us become centered and grounded. It helps us transcend egos. “Positions of power are positions at a point in time,” Bailey reminded. “True leaders know that.”

Being grounded means being secure enough to appreciate that each of us is unique. True humility can see criticism as part of the collective search for truth. Both negativity and applause are fleeting and are best held lightly.

Leading from spirit requires a balance of courage and compassion to act strategically and decisively, while maintaining a reverence for life. Spiritual leaders see various types of resistance as possibilities. They recognize that most people are doing the best they can, so the leaders don’t get stuck in the moment of negativity.

The ability to be steadfast in attending to ourselves and others is a reflection of patience. We can engage in deep listening, knowing that timing is critical. We give up the urge to control and trust in the process. “These are seasons and even this season will lead to another,” she said.

The understanding of faith is another spiritual attribute. Faith is not religion or the opposite of reason. Faith of leadership means living with uncertainty. It’s a source for initial inspiration and sustenance, giving us the power to dare to embrace unknown possibilities. And, said Bailey, it’s one of the most difficult qualities to hold on to because fear gets in the way. Faith and fear have a very hard time co-existing. “We all know that we’re going to have some fear, but we have to not lead from that place,” she said.

Another spiritual attribute is the transcendence of love. This love is greater than that between partners or that of parents for a child. It’s been emulated by Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. “The type of love that leaders must cultivate and share is agape, a love for all simply because they exist,” said Bailey. It transcends all “isms.” This type of love always generates acts of freedom.

By invoking both leadership skills and spiritual attributes, we can help ourselves and others to reach their full potential.

Contact Dr. Bailey at dbailey@umn.edu
or 612.626.9252

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