Nourishing Our Spirit as Leaders
Six ways for leaders to amplify their joy, passion
for life and self-fulfillment
By STEPHEN L. SOKOLOW
We all need a reason to get up each morning, get dressed and go
out to engage the world. What is our reason for being alive or even
for being? Why do we all want to make a difference? Why do we want
our lives to matter? Where does that little inner voice that guides
us and calls to us reside? Who knows? The answer is our Spirit.
As a child I listened to a radio program called “The Shadow.”
The tagline for the show was “Who knows what evil lurks in
the hearts of men?” The answer: “The Shadow knows.”
The converse of that line would be “Who knows what goodness
lurks in the hearts of men?” The answer would be “The
Spirit knows.” For purposes here, let’s assume that
Spirit, Soul, Higher Self and True Self are different ways of expressing
the same idea and that we can use them interchangeably even though,
arguably, a case could be made for distinguishing among them.
Our Spirit is multifaceted and multidimensional. It has many functions,
which perhaps explains why it has so many names. At one level, our
Spirit is what connects us to the divine. We can think of it like
an Internet connection between our innate PC and the divine. It
is also the gateway with potential connections to all of humanity
and to life itself.
We have an interesting relationship with our Spirit. In a way it
is you, the real you. In a way it is part of you, the part of you
that is divine. In a way you are part of it, the part of you that
is eternal. Just as our DNA contains the blueprint for our physical
being, our Spirit contains the blueprint for our mental, emotional
and spiritual beings. It is a blueprint of what we can be, of what
it might look like if we could see the best version of ourselves.
But it is only a blueprint. What we do with the blueprint is up
Our Spirit is the source of our joy, our passion and our sense
of fulfillment. But here is the rub. While our Spirit has a mind
of its own, so to speak, it is as dependent on us as we are on it.
We have a symbiotic relationship with our own Spirit. We can nourish
our Spirit or starve it. We can cause it to thrive or shrivel. We
can contribute to its expansion or diminishment. It is the potential
source of our joy, passion and fulfillment, but only if we do our
Because our relationship with our Spirit is symbiotic, the more
we nourish it, the more it can nourish us. Just as we benefit when
we nourish our mind and nourish our body, we benefit when we nourish
While there are untold ways of nourishing our Spirit, here are six
that school system leaders might find useful.
• We nourish our Spirit through nature.
The natural world sustains us with its air, water, capacity to grow
food and countless natural resources. We are part of the natural
world and it is a part of us. Things thrive in their element. Our
element is the natural world. The natural world can do more than
nourish us physically and mentally, it can nourish our Spirit.
One of the ways we have of knowing that our Spirit is being nourished
is through our senses, our feelings and our energy level. When we
spend time in nature, we feel better, we feel more alive and our
energy levels increase. We feel renewed. This is not only happening
at the physical level and mental level, it is happening at the level
of Spirit because all the aspects of our being are interconnected.
As leaders, we can feed our Spirit by spending time in nature.
Go outside at lunchtime, take a brief walk and take in the fresh
air, sunlight or rain. Take a little time to go to a park, wooded
area or nearby lake or stream. When I was a superintendent, I often
took a brief walk in nature sometime during the day; sometimes other
staff members would accompany me. If you can’t make it part
of your daily routine, schedule 30 minutes for yourself once or
twice a week in a natural setting and see whether it renews your
Spirit. Before an evening meeting, take a brief walk in a natural
setting and again notice how it affects you.
An interplay operates between the energies of nature and our own
energy system. When we commingle our energy with the natural world,
our energy fields become cleansed and balanced. On weekends and
vacations, spend time in nature--the woods, the mountains, parks,
lakes, streams, deserts and oceans.
We also can bring nature in. Not only did I have plants in my office,
I had a real fig tree with its own grow light. We can bring nature
into our workspace. We can bring in moving water with a small desktop
cascading fountain. With skylights and windows we can bring in sunlight
and fresh air. We can bring in earth and plant life and beautiful
fish tanks. The more you use your creativity to take yourself out
into nature as well as bring nature into your workspace, the more
you will nourish your Spirit.
• We nourish our Spirit through the arts.
Again, we just need to look at the natural world to see how beautiful
it is. No artist can create anything as beautiful as the natural
world. Wherever we look, whether it is at the plant or animal kingdoms,
at natural rock formations, at the microcosm or the macrocosm, we
see intricate patterns and boundless color. We see beauty. God,
with no close second, is the universe’s most accomplished
artist. The Bible says we are made in God’s image, so doesn’t
it seem reasonable that a little bit of that talent rubbed off on
us, God’s children?
Throughout all of recorded history, humankind has expressed itself
in countless ways in music, dance, the visual arts and every imaginable
art form. We are inexorably connected to the arts; we are a part
of them, and they are a part of us. We are creative beings. An aspect
of our Spirit yearns to create. When we create, as we do through
the arts, it nourishes our Spirit. When we experience the creativity
of others, it also nourishes our Spirit.
This is an ongoing reinforcing and self-renewing process. When
we act in a creative manner, especially through the arts, our Spirit
is nourished. When our Spirit is nourished, in turn, it nourishes
us and contributes to our creative expression. When we experience
the arts created by ourselves and others, it too nourishes our Spirit.
Our nourished Spirit, in turn, then can nourish us in countless
ways. God gave us our talent, artistic and otherwise. When we express
our artistic talent and express appreciation for the talent of others,
our Spirit is nourished.
• We nourish our Spirit by acting in accord with our life’s
Earlier I suggested that our Spirit holds the blueprint for what
we can become if we manifest the best version of ourselves through
the process of growth. Our Spirit also serves as our inner guide
for that growth in the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual
dimensions of our lives. It is a little like having our own executive
assistant, personal trainer, life coach and events manager all rolled
into one and available to us all the time. Whether we are aware
of it or not, our Spirit is always trying to help us grow and evolve
in accord with our blueprint.
The phrase “life’s purpose” is a familiar one,
but it would be more accurate to say, “life’s purposes.”
Many people, especially in the service professions like ours, commonly
refer to their work or personal mission as a calling. Who’s
calling? What’s the nature of the call? It is our Spirit calling,
calling to remind us about our personal blueprint.
In its role as events manager, sometimes through the process of
synchronicity, external events are arranged to facilitate this process.
Again, because we have free will, how we respond to those events
is entirely our choice. Our Spirit simply tries to act as a facilitator
to give us the opportunities we need to express our unique gifts
and learn valuable lessons from our experiences.
When we make choices that are in accord with our blueprint, our
Spirit is nourished. When we make choices that show we are learning
life’s lessons, our Spirit is nourished. When we are on target
with our choices, we feel a greater sense of fulfillment and our
energy increases. When we grow in accord with our blueprint, our
wisdom and positive impact in the world increase.
• We nourish our Spirit by contributing to a better world.
Our world is a wondrous place, but it is in trouble. Everywhere
we look we can see that our world is ill. It not only needs to be
better, it needs to get better. So what does that have to do with
us? The answer is everything. It is our world, it was given to us,
and it is up to us to fix it. People say the world is too large
and the problems are too complex for individuals to make a difference.
The whole history of the world stands as a testament to the fact
that just the opposite is true. Lessons from The Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell and Chaos by James Gleick make
it abundantly clear that small changes in systems can, in fact,
trigger significant effects.
There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which roughly
translated means repair of the world or repair of the world’s
Spirit. According to this view, every human being, that is every
human spirit, has been given a divine gift to contribute to the
healing of the world in both a physical and spiritual way. Borrowing
a concept from the corporate world, we can think of it as stock
options in reverse. In the corporate world, you get stock options
to hold. When the company gets better, you can cash them in for
In the reverse scenario, we have all been given gifts like stock
options, but the only way for the company (the world) to get better
is if we exercise our stock options when the company (the world)
is weak. When we exercise our stock options up front, our personal
fortunes may not rise immediately, but the world’s stock soars,
and ultimately everyone benefits. Exercising our stock options for
making the world better nourishes our Spirit because our Spirit
is connected to the world’s Spirit and what affects the whole
affects its parts and vice versa.
• We nourish our Spirit by being good human beings.
Our Spirit seeks to express its true nature. And the true nature
of our Spirit is goodness, which includes goodness to ourselves
and goodness to others. Of course there is a difference between
being good to ourselves and being self-centered, self-serving and
self-absorbed. As with all things, even goodness requires balance
and appropriate boundaries.
We are part of the human family. When we express our goodness to
others, something interesting happens. That goodness returns to
us and nourishes our Spirit. We don’t dispense goodness so
that we will reap a benefit, it simply happens naturally. The world
will get better as the amount of goodness in the world increases.
We can contribute to that process by increasing our own acts of
goodness. The movie “Pay It Forward” and the
Random Acts of Kindness movement are examples of the way goodness
As leaders, we are role models for the expansion of goodness in
ourselves and in the world. We, the leaders in education, are in
high-leverage positions to dispense goodness by enhancing and empowering
the lives of those we touch, especially the lives of the children
we serve. In doing so, we not only nourish the Spirit in others,
we also nourish our own.
• We nourish our Spirit by operating within community for
Author John Donne, in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,
wrote “No man is an island … .” Today, with gender
sensitivity we might say, “No human being is an island.”
At the level of Spirit, we are all connected. That means we are
in community whether or not we are aware of this spiritual reality.
What we do, say and even think affects others, and what others do,
say and think affects us.
When our actions and thoughts are life enhancing, it not only nourishes
life, it also nourishes our Spirit. We are part of so many communities
that our impact is incalculable. Think of the work that we do like
the ripples of a stone skipping along the surface of a pond. Each
stone is the center of a series of ever-expanding concentric circles,
and each of these circles intersects and overlaps at some point
in the future. The pattern is like that which appears on the surface
of the pond, but because the medium is life and not water, the reverberations
travel like light and do not lose strength as they contribute to
the consciousness and overall well-being of the community of humankind.
Stephen Sokolow, who spent 26 years as a superintendent in New
Jersey, is executive director of the Center for Empowered Leadership,
9 Sandburg Drive, Allentown, NJ 08501. E-mail: SLsokolow@aol.com.
He is the co-author (with Paul Houston) of The
Spiritual Dimension of Leadership (Corwin Press).
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