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Enlightened Leadership
Eight spiritual truths for becoming wise in actions and decisions
By STEPHEN L. SOKOLOW

Superintendents and other educational leaders rarely talk about what motivates us to do the difficult work that we do. Day in and day out we fight to create the schools that our children need and deserve, but rarely do we talk about the values, beliefs and principles that guide and inform our work and that sustain us in difficult times.

Stephen Sokolow

When people say they are glad they don’t have our jobs, they mean it. So why do we do the work we do?

The reasons, of course, are complex, but fundamentally it is an expression of who we are at the core of our being. We care about other people, especially children. We believe in education and its value to our society and to the children we serve. We thrive on helping others and unleashing the potential in our staffs so that they, in turn, can unleash the potential in our children.

Many of the values, beliefs and principles that guide and sustain us have underlying spiritual roots. The more in touch we are with those spiritual roots, the more enlightened our leadership becomes and the more effective we become in leading others to a better future.

A Concept Defined
What is enlightened leadership? Given the complexities of the issues we face as education leaders, it sometimes seems as though we need the wisdom of Solomon to determine the right course of action.

The best way to think about enlightened leadership is that it is based on wisdom. Where does this wisdom come from? It comes from within us. It is the divine spark that guides us as we live our own lives and lead others toward a brighter future. Enlightened leadership is grounded in spiritual principles and because of this, it brings out the best in us and in others. Enlightened leaders not only know the right things to do and how to do things right, but they do them for the right reasons.

We all have gifts, but enlightened leaders share a common gift—that of making things better. Improvement may not happen immediately, but it becomes apparent over time. When you look at a beautiful garden, you know that an enlightened gardener has been at work. When the plants are vibrant, healthy and beautiful, you know that good seeds have been planted and nurtured in a way that helps the plants manifest their inherent qualities.

That’s what enlightened leaders do for the people and the organizations they serve. They spend most of their time and energy trying to make life better for those around them. People naturally gravitate toward enlightened leaders because their energy field uplifts them and makes them feel better about themselves.

Enlightened leaders are not infallible. They make errors as we all do. But they are growing and continually learning from their experiences. Enlightened leaders are less likely to lose their way because they have an internal compass that helps them find the path that promotes the highest good for the greatest number of people. This internal compass is an expression of our spirituality.

Spirituality can be seen in countless ways, but perhaps it can best be expressed as each human being’s personal relationship with the divine. Spirituality connects us with divine energy—an energy that can help us grow and evolve into more enlightened versions of ourselves.

Enlightened leadership, as with many things, exists along a continuum from unenlightened to enlightened. Some people stand out at one end of the continuum as unenlightened leaders, such as Hitler and Stalin. At the other end are exemplary enlightened leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The rest of us are sprinkled somewhere along the path between.

One way to move further along the path of becoming a more enlightened leader is to be guided by and practice specific principles or spiritual truths. We know exercise contributes to physical strength, agility and good health. The same principle applies to our “spiritual muscles.” The more we strengthen these muscles, the stronger and more agile they become. As a result, the access we have to the divine source of wisdom that resides deep within us increases.

Eight Principles
The following principles of enlightened leadership or spiritual truths are available to all of us as leaders, and we can increase our effectiveness if we are attuned to them. These principles are not theoretical. They are real, and they are accessible to each and every one of us. Those described here are only a small sampling of the many principles that enlightened leaders follow.

* The Principle of Intention

We all affect eternity by our thought patterns, our words and our deeds. They emit energy fields that contribute to the fabric that is woven into the unfolding pattern of life. What we think, say and do always has a crucial underlying element, which is our intention or intended purpose. Our intention can be expressed in countless ways, but the better we know ourselves the more aware we can be of our own true intentions. The more our intentions are aligned with our inner being and our life’s purposes, the happier and more fulfilled we are.

Intention also serves as a powerful force in attracting people, material resources and other energies that can help us transform our intentions into reality. Enlightened leaders are aware of their intentions and naturally focus them on serving others rather than themselves.

* The Principle of Attention

We all have the same 24-hour day to fill. How do we choose to spend that time? We continually make choices about the amount of time we will spend thinking, doing and being as well as what we focus on. Some people or tasks demand our attention while other aspects of our attention are like discretionary income, to be spent as we wish.

Enlightened leaders have insights that guide them in deciding where best to turn their attention. They tend to pay attention to the right things and do so for the right reasons. Our attention is powerful because it serves as a magnet that attracts others and helps us collectively align our energies. What we attend to shapes what we create, and what we create helps shape our reality.

* The Principle of Our Unique Gifts

Each of us is blessed with unique gifts and talents. We are each a piece in a three-dimensional puzzle of life, striving to figure out where we fit. And just like a puzzle, life is incomplete without us. Each of us is important to the whole. Enlightened leaders help others see the contours of their lives so they can see how they can best contribute to the whole.

Enlightened leaders strive to help others identify their own gifts and talents and then cultivate them, helping them find their place in the puzzle. Some enlightened leaders may even see the gifts that others have before they themselves are aware of them. When we recognize our own unique gifts, we want to share them with the world. Enlightened leaders facilitate this process.

We are continually given the opportunity to learn and to grow and to manifest the gifts that we have been given. We also can gain insight into our unique gifts and talents by reflecting on our life experiences and connecting with our divine spark, our higher or true self. Enlightened leaders are aware of this process and are ever alert to the opportunity to shine light on the potential in others.

* The Principle of Gratitude

It has been said that you cannot be too rich or too thin. That’s certainly debatable, but I would argue that you cannot be too grateful. Enlightened leaders are grateful to the people around them and to life itself for the countless gifts they have been given. They have an “attitude of gratitude” and show it both internally and externally.

Gratitude isn’t just a feeling. It is a form of energy. Gratitude begets gratitude. The energy of gratitude has the power to attract and empower. We know that when we appreciate others, they are more likely to appreciate us and, similarly, when we appreciate the unique gifts of others, they are more likely to appreciate our unique gifts.

Gratitude and appreciation are among those special things that you can give away but still possess. Enlightened leaders abound with gratitude for the honor of serving others.

* The Principle of Our Unique Life Lessons

Life is a series of unfolding lessons that enable us to grow and become our best selves. Embedded in the challenges and vicissitudes of life are opportunities for growth and self-expression. Enlightened leaders look at the events around them and the challenges they are confronting not only with an eye toward meeting those challenges, but also searching within themselves for the life-lessons embedded in their experiences.

The universe almost demands that we pay attention to what can change our lives. If we understand and appreciate the lesson, our reward is usually another lesson, for each lesson becomes a stairway to the next. If we ignore the important lessons that come to us, they often escalate into a more difficult form.

Enlightened leaders not only contend with their own lessons but also help others identify and work through their lessons as well. Enlightened leaders try to look for the silver lining within every cloud and see life’s lessons as an opportunity for growth and self-expression for themselves and others.

* The Principle of a Holistic Perspective

A spiritual truth for people and organizations, indeed the universe, is that the parts affect the whole and the whole affects the parts. Since we are part of the whole, it is in our own enlightened self-interest to devote our vision, energy and gifts to shape the world that is unfolding.

We are complex beings comprised of mind, body and spirit. For our best selves to emerge, we must nurture and balance these three aspects. Enlightened leaders nurture and balance these characteristics in themselves and in others. They see the mysterious interconnectedness of everything in the universe and seek to understand how the parts of any system affect each other.

Enlightened leaders know that what we think, say, and do affects the universe and what affects the universe affects us. They know that for any system to operate effectively and efficiently, all of the parts must be able to work well and work well together.

Enlightened leaders help others recognize that they are part of something that is larger than themselves, but also that every part is vital and important to the success of the whole.

* The Principle of Openness

Enlightened leaders appreciate openness in themselves and others. They try to be open to all aspects of themselves, to their environment, to the divine aspects of other people and to the divine.

The universe is pulsating with limitless information. It comes to us at conscious and unconscious levels in direct and indirect ways. Information comes through our senses, through our dreams and intuition, through synchronicity and through divine sources. Are we receptive to this information? Do we take advantage of it? We must struggle with forces such as fear, illness and stress that push us to be closed rather than open.

Enlightened leaders work not only at hearing their own inner voice, but also hearing the voices of others. Through wisdom, enlightened leaders learn to discern which voices and which information carry the highest truths and which carry lesser truths or untruths. It’s not easy because sometimes the truth is unpleasant or painful or it means we have more work to do, but enlightened leaders continually work at being open to divine guidance to pursue the highest good.

* The Principle of Trust

Trust is an essential principle for enlightened leaders—a principle that must begin within us. First, we must learn to trust ourselves and to be trustworthy. Then we have to learn to trust others and to give trust to others as a gift. Last, we must learn to trust the universe and to trust the divine.

But trusting ourselves is not always easy. Trust must be tempered by wisdom to avoid trusting the wrong people or to protect against people betraying our trust. We trust leaders who are authentic, leaders whose walk is aligned with their talk. We trust people who do what they say and say what they really do.

Trust allows people to learn and grow although they may err along the way. Trust means living our integrity and respecting the integrity in others. Enlightened leaders tend to trust more so than not and, when in doubt, they are more likely to choose to trust rather than choose not to trust.

Shaping a Better Future
IThe principles of enlightened leadership are already a part of all of us. They are not something new that we must learn. Rather, we simply need to be reminded that they reside deep within us in the spiritual aspect of our being. These principles can help us manifest divine wisdom in fulfilling our sacred public trust as educational leaders.

Becoming more conscious of these principles and moving them to the forefront of our awareness will help us exercise sound judgment as we, as leaders, meet the challenges we face as we strive to shape a better and brighter future for our youth.

Stephen Sokolow, a former superintendent in New Jersey for 24 years, is co-authoring a series of books on enlightened leadership with AASA Executive Director Paul Houston. He can be reached at 9 Sandburg Drive, Allentown, NJ 08501. E-mail: SLsokolow@aol.com

Additional Reading

Stephen Sokolow recommends the following books related to this topic:

Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, Random House, New York, N.Y.

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, Fireside, New York, N.Y.

Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne W. Dyer, Avon Books, New York, N.Y.

Synchronicity by Joseph Jaworski, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, Calif.

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead Books, New York, N.Y.

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