Saturday, March 17, 2018

HR in SL: guidelines

Jesus: “…I am among you as one who serves” - Luke 22:27

"My life is my message” - Mahatma Gandhi

In servant leader organizations a dedicated Human Resource department or presence can contribute to its success or failure in a big way.  


Shifting the metanarrative is the area where meaningful, transformative leadership operates.  Humanity’s recent narrative (relatively speaking) has contained elements of material abundance; simple, linear, direct cause and effect; dualistic logic; the religious overriding the spiritual; the scientific overriding the spiritual, (patriarchal) order and control; and all that is non-paradoxical.  A struggle for survival of the fittest pervades every area of our existence. Based on her biological observations, Elisabet Sahtouris paints a picture of beliefs informed and shaped by this scientific worldview.  Societies and most businesses are “conceived, organized and run as hierarchical mechanics”.  Even so-called ‘free’ markets are regulated to serve narrow interests.  (Sahtouris, 2005)
Our cosmological, theological and sociological belief systems seem to be well out of line with recent findings (ironically, mainly scientific) that indicate a slowly emerging new, overarching metanarrative. A different narrative that contains elements of the holistic, of mutually dependent, interconnected and continuously evolving ecosystems. (All life) sustainable systems characterised by complexity and the ability to self-organise, by non-dualism, freedom and belonging.  A story where science and spirituality no longer collide.  Hence more voices are being raised to herald a ‘new consciousness’.

At a more micro level, Ross et al give a good account of how in recent times leadership and management behaviours are beginning to shift, how servant leader organizations are an antidote to traditional, mechanistic organizations. (Ross et al, 2014).  A narrative that is being    reframed. But toxic, old-style organizations still exist and are in the majority. Toxic leadership is a multidimensional construct that includes elements of abusive supervision along with narcissism, authoritarianism, self-promotion, and unpredictability” (Ross et al, 2014 citing Dobbs, 2014, p. 15).   We can clearly see these elements in politics, business and other societal institutions – at every level.

It is in this context that we have issued articles on mature agent-based ethics, spiritual governance and leadership, higher purpose and meaning, love at work, the influencing power of compassion, sources of true happiness, sustainability, and various models and branches of spiritual leadership and virtuous organizations. It is in this context that we have witnessed the resurgence of servant leadership in new guises. A response to a world in turmoil. A shift from the conventional, traditional, what needs to change – to the spiritual.


The servant leadership approach is not doormat leadership. It is founded on sound psychological, spiritual, practical principles.  Putting on a larger mind (metanoia) the servant leader is not self-serving, but self-emptying (kenosis) and other-serving. Forming and building relationships in order to equip others to meet the organization’s and its member’s needs, goals and purpose.  “Honest and caring concern for others leads to empowerment and emotional support which inspires the members to embrace the needs of the organization and creates a learning environment that is conducive to producing optimal performance from their employees”. (Ross et al, 2014)

Essential differences in philosophy and operation between the traditional and the spiritual, are:


Machine age operations contain the potential for toxic workplaces. “…. Certain organizations with rigid hierarchical structures like the military had characteristics of subordination and abusive control”.  (Ross et al, 2014 citing Schmidt, 2014)

By contrast the serving, stewarding leader, “more than any style of leadership …. addresses the psychological needs of people within an organisation”. (van Dierendonck, 2011) Indeed, addresses the whole person: physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual. And a large body of research points to the success of pioneering servant leader organizations, both large and small.


It can be argued that the leader at the top, supported by those in the line, are what makes it all happen. Having said that, in medium to larger organisations, next to the CEO, the Head of HR is the most important appointment in any organisation wanting to establish, maintain and enhance a servant leader culture.

Wisdom from Holly Culhane, CEO and Founder of Presence Point, Inc.: “Having spent 30 years in strategic HR, I have a deep belief that when the executive leadership team of an organization is on board with supporting a servant leadership culture, it is HR's role is to help develop and coach people around what that looks like, how to live it, and how to hold folks accountable to it.  At the very least, it is HR's role to demonstrate servant leadership throughout the organization”.
In support of this contention:

  •        Shirley Bullard (Chief Administrative Officer, Ken Blanchard Companies) mantra was “putting the other person first while exercising leadership”. Non-self-serving actions but rather other-serving actions (role-modelled in HR) means putting employees first, taking care of them, making them the stars (heroes of the story) – and always thinking, feeling and acting congruently. Ken’s new book on servant leadership appears in the bibliography. (Blanchard & Broadwell (Eds), 2018)

·   It is being recognized that “…the needs in the work environment, and therefore the appropriate  set of strategies for successful HR management, are rapidly changing” (Marques, 2005) and “There is a heightening expectation … that HR will shift its role from simply providing the delivery mechanism to become a new business driver of change” and “Understanding the spiritual will become an important part of workplace human development”. (Marques, 2005 citing Anonymous, 2001)

The HR function, in service of and following line policies, play a major role in, amongst other things:

  •          Helping to heal hurting workplaces. “Father Tredget, a former businessman, translates this responsibility as follows ‘There are far too many damaged people in workplaces up and down this country’” and “A spiritually-friendly workplace will have greater staff-retention rates, so lowering recruitment costs. It will see an increase in creativity and innovation, improved morale, better cooperation and teamwork and a superior interface between the organization and its customers”. (Marques, 2005 citing Anonymous, 2001)   HR can show the way to establishing safe, empowering workplaces, to orchestrating spaces and places as incubators of individual spirituality. They can display warmth, role-model serving as part of a spiritual culture (“…there are positive and meaningful correlations between spiritual leadership indices and human resource development” – Saeedi et al, 2013), broaden thinking around environmental, social and economic sustainability, act as custodians of the organization’s virtues development, help members reach a solid home/society/work balance (with compartmentalizing) and a healthy lifestyle integration, offer a counselling and coaching resource. HR can contribute to healthy or toxic organizations (Ross et al, 2014)

  •          Assisting leaders, aspiring leaders and others to discover themselves – a primary need (For example the programme of purpose, leading, and mastery that we offer in response to a desire for a purpose and meaning package by leaders.

Our programme aligns with leadership learning to “… avoid the toxic side of leadership by gaining a sense of self, build on strengths and weaknesses through feedback and reflection, and look for trust within their organization”. (Ross et al, 2014, citing Bolman & Deal, 2009). It is a learning programme that goes far beyond “education”.  

  •          Embracing diversity as diversity increases in workplaces in all its forms (to facilitate tolerance, acceptance and appreciation. And to improve the organization’s capacity to solve problems, make decisions, master sense-making, build true community, and to respond more nimbly and quickly to threats, changes and innovation needs)

  •          Recruiting, on-boarding and developing people characteristics and potential, above and as well as their skills, knowledge, experience

  •          Proactively developing employees’ higher purpose and related virtues (in line with those of the organization)

Indeed, What part of the organization is more involved in the human factor and, hence, in human connection, work-life balance, personal growth, and meaning at work, than the Human Resource department?”  (Marques, 2005)
In performing these functions, HR contribute importantly to providing:

  •          A secure, safe, relational and engaged workplace
  •          An overall atmosphere and activities that support a servant leadership culture
  •          An enviable reputation
  •          A longer term triple bottom line to be proud of


·         In carrying out their functions in a servant leader context, HR should take every effort to set up collaborative, across-department projects, because projects are fertile ground for fostering spirituality.  Adapt, utilizing and spreading the esprit de corps that is so often present in small project teams (and which may include spiritual elements such as purpose and meaning, authentic relationships, belonging and bonding, responsibility and trust, adventure and discovery, intrinsic satisfaction, meaningful cultural and social interactions…..) (Sense & Fernando, 2010; Aronson et al, 2001; Ashmos & Duchon, 2000)

·         Orchestrate conversations that allow for the addressing of key topics in a safe, inclusive and empowering environment (See and )

·         Network with like-minded organizations in your vicinity to share ways of overcoming resistances and blockages, lip service, new findings, things that work

·         Appreciate the value and potential contribution to all aspects of the business of deeper mindfulness and the deft application of story, imagery and metaphor       

So, in your organization which narrative will you feed?

The practice of SLHRM is challenging in both the servant leader and greater leadership world. We will face great moral temptations to adopt instrumental standards to achieve success. It requires great character strength to resist the powerful incentives to compromise our values. The human heart is deceptive, and we fail to see the traps, snares, and value compromises that on the surface appear righteous. It is important for SLHRM organizations to work collaboratively to create a culture of virtuous motives, means, and ends in all aspects of HR practice. These enclaves demonstrate the love and power of servant leadership as a viable alternative to instrumental leadership worldviews. However, regrettably, even some SLHRM-espousing organizations practice SLHRM principles and the Golden Rule with less passion and faithfulness than non-adherents do”. (Roberts, 2014)


Aronson, Zvi H.; Lechler, Thomas; Reilly, Richard R.; Shenhar, Aaron J. (Stevens Institute of Technology) (2001) Project Spirit - A Strategic Concept Published in Management of Engineering and Technology (Publisher: IEEE)

Ashmos, Donde P & Duchon, Dennis (University of Texas at San Antonio) (2000)  Spirituality at Work: a conceptualization and measure Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol 9 No. 2 June 2000 134-145 © Sage Publications, Inc.

Blanchard, Ken & Broadwell, Renee (2018) Servant Leadership in Action: how you can achieve great relationships and results Berrett-Koehler Publishers Oakland, California

Culhane, Holly J. (2018) Private email correspondence with the author

Marques, Joan (2005) HR’s Crucial Role in the Establishment of Spirituality in the Workplace The Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge  Vol 7  Num  2  September, 2005
Citing Anonymous (2001) HR specialists “will lead e-business” Human resource Management International Digest, 9 (1) 29

Roberts, Gary (Regent University, Virginia) (2014) Servant Leader Human Resource Management Organizational Integrity. A chapter in Servant Leader Human Resource Management: a moral and spiritual perspective  Palgrave MacMillan NY
Ross, David B; Matteson, Rande & Exposito, Julie (2014) Servant Leadership to Toxic Leadership: power of influence over power of control Nova Southeastern University, Abraham S. Fischler college of Education
Citing Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2009). Battles and beliefs: Rethinking the roles of today’s leaders. Leadership in Action, 29(5), 14-18.
Citing Dobbs, J. M. (2014). The relationship between perceived toxic leadership styles, leader effectiveness, and organizational cynicism. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3575052)
Citing Schmidt, A. A. (2014). An examination of toxic leadership, job outcomes, and the impact of military deployment. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3627674)

Saeedi, Nima; Amidzadeh, Mozhgan; Nadoushan, Mohammed Ebrahim Sabbaghi and Hosseini, Ali Asghar (2013) Studying the Influence of Spiritual Leadership on Human Resource Development (Case Study: An Iranian Company)  Elixir International Journal, Human Resource Management 56 (2013) 13467-13470

Sahtouris, Elisabet, PhD (2005) The Biology of Business; new laws of nature reveal a better way for business An expanded version of an article that originally appeared in VIA Journal, Vol three, Number One, Summer 2005

Sense, Andrew & Fernando, Mario (School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, 2522, Australia) (2010) The spiritual identity of projects International Journal of Project Management 29 (2011) 504–513 © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. and IPMA. All rights reserved.

Van Dierendonck, Dirk (2011) (Professor of Human Resource Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University)   6 Key Servant Leader Attributes  IEDP

Saturday, March 10, 2018

CULTURESCAN : changing culture using conversation circles offers a large number of  business topics that may be used in a unique process:

Some idea of the sorts of topics covered by 


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Being Positive

First appeared in Leadership & Change Magazine

The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view”. That is what Rosamund Stone & Benjamin Zander explain in their book The Art of Possibility. Thus, not blind optimism nor despairing pessimism, but realistic reasoning and choosing – recognizing that life consists of ups and downs, happiness and suffering, and deliberately searching for the stars through the bars – so that we mindfully transform our suffering.

Zen Koan: Disciple: “Tell me teacher – when times of great trouble, trial, and tribulation arrive, what should we do?” Teacher: “Welcome them”.

The critical default settings

Neuroscientists point out that our default setting is to be critical, negative. Research shows that self-criticism is associated with lower resilience. Conversely, positive self-compassion is associated with higher resilience, and neuroscientists also point out that because of our brain’s plasticity, we are able to rewire and establish positivity.
Barbara Frederickson has shown that positive emotions introduce us to possibility, that is – our minds are opened, broadened. Being more positive makes us more skillful and adept at seeing opportunities, solving problems. And when combined with the characteristic of empathy the result is often a snowball effect resulting in a virtuous cycle of positive behaviors throughout an organization.

“The thief left it behind: the moon at my window” – Ryōkan

Adopting a positive attitude is, in the first instance, a choice. We can choose to have an attitude of entitlement, being deserving of more – or an attitude of being grateful for the gifts we have received (physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual). A choice that we then constantly reinforce by letting go what we cling to and control, being grateful, embracing our suffering as best we can, reframing in order to reveal what is positive. Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter Professor, said: “It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities”.

“All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” – Proverbs 15:15

The Work

Byron Katie teaches a method of self-inquiry known as ‘The Work’. “The Work is a way of identifying and questioning any stressful thought. It consists of four questions and a turnaround. This is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The four questions are:

1) Is it true?
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?

The turnaround involves considering the thought in a reversed form–changing subject and object, changing yes and no, or changing it to be self-referential. For example, for the thought ‘My husband should treat me better’, turnarounds could include ‘I should treat my husband better’, ‘I should treat myself better’ or “My husband shouldn’t treat me better’”.

Choose your attitude

A friend told me about an incident in a restaurant. One of the guests knocked her plate off the table. As it crashed to the floor and smashed, there was a stunned silence. A moment of acute embarrassment? No – in Greek party tradition, someone at a nearby table shouted “Opa!” and the entire mood shifted. We always have a choice: to dampen the fires of hope, aspiration, and enthusiasm (our own and others) or to ignite them.

Be grateful for what you give and receive Click To Tweet
Frankl’s experiences in Oświęcim in Poland (German: Auschwitz, Yiddish Oshpitsin) are well chronicled. One of his observations was: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

Naikan is a Japanese way of practicing self-reflection that combines meditating and journaling. Naikan means “looking inside” so that we learn to develop and express our gratitude, discard our “you owe me” attitudes, improve our well-being and contentedness, become more positive as we realize that all that we have to be grateful for is unmerited, and engage and act to uplift, support, and care for others. It’s a way of counting our blessings (Gregg Krech’s downloadable work-booklet elaborates on this in a very practical way), contemplating the impact of our actions and omissions, and examining our shadow side based on three questions:

“What have I received from …..? (It may be his/her time, a nod of appreciation, a correction, support, and care …. A friend occasionally sends me an SMS along these lines, ‘I was thinking about you today and wanted to encourage you to keep on ….”
“What have I given to … ? (Our self-centred, disconnected way of life often means that our giving is minimal …. )
“What troubles, difficulties, ‘suffering’ have I caused to ……? (Ignored a phone call, failed to include, been abrupt or – as we often excuse ourselves – been unaware (thus ‘inadvertently, unwittingly or by mistake’ hurt this someone)

These questions, honestly and fully answered, provide much food for soul – thought. They also foster the development of a route to compassion for self and others. Now that’s positive!