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
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
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.
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
* 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
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
* 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
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
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
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
Stephen Sokolow recommends the following books related to this
Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, Random House,
New York, N.Y.
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, Fireside, New York,
Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne W. Dyer, Avon Books, New York,
Synchronicity by Joseph Jaworski, Berrett-Koehler, San
My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead
Books, New York, N.Y.
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