It was 2018 and I was deep into integrating my executive coaching work in conscious leadership with past work in change management and strategy, having been inspired by Frederick Laloux’s work in Reinventing Organizations about shifting the consciousness of organizations. My colleague had recently interviewed me on her podcast about this very topic. She sent the recording to an executive she knew, who immediately asked for my contact information. We had coffee and soon after he hired me as his executive coach and also to conduct an organizational assessment.
Our collaboration has been profoundly transformative, and now, I feel it’s time to share this journey.
Charlie’s career had always followed a logical path. With a knack for technology, he steadily rose through the ranks, eventually becoming CIO of a company. He had always been a business-centric technologist and so when the call to become CEO took hold, Charlie stepped out of his comfort zone.
As he put it, “When I decided I wanted to get to CEO, the advice I got was: You need to know how to generate revenue.” So Charlie pivoted into sales at a cloud computing startup to round out his experience. Before long, he found himself in the interim CEO role at the startup. Though never having been a CEO before, Charlie felt ready. He also knew that he needed help to be effective in that role.
Hiring his first executive coach in 2016 marked the start of an unexpected journey of growth. Reflecting back, Charlie says this began his “first foray into something bigger.”
The First Steps: Our Journey Begins
Two years later, Charlie joined an artificial intelligence (AI) startup as COO that was in the pre-product research and development phase. This is when Charlie’s rational worldview began to expand. Extensive and diverse reading along with frequent conversations with the founder and another executive introduced ideas like meditation and spirituality and always somehow tied to the meaning and call to start the AI software company.
Though frustratingly illogical at first, Charlie kept an open mind. This was the precipice for beginning his work with me. The conversation we had at the coffee shop and the podcast he listened to had similarities to what he was hearing from the founder at the office.
Some of the early coaching inquiries I felt needed to take shape were around embodiment, sensing, and the energy around us. As Charlie put it, “My response was, what does that even mean, what the heck are you even talking about?” He was accustomed to goal-driven coaching, and these ambiguous explorations of inner life baffled Charlie’s rational mind.
Our sessions took us on several small field trips. Once we hired one of my yoga teachers, so we could experience what it means to be in our body. As Charlie recalled, “I wanted my rational brain to be able to make sense of all this, it’s my superpower and it’s my kryptonite, intellectualization, I wanted to understand it. And some things there isn’t an understanding until you experience it, there’s no rational way to get to that end. So I can remember you saying something in the effect of, try to breathe into your feet. At first, it was really frustrating because I couldn’t wrap my rational brain around what I was being asked to do.”
When I asked Charlie why he stuck with it, he said, “Well, certainly the content of the conversation was different from previous coaches that I had worked with because previous coaches were more centered on goals and targets and the orientation of the interaction that took place based on what I was doing with people around me.”
“This was relational and about understanding myself first and understanding how I was operating and how that impacted my interactions with others.”
“So, a combination of those things, the active coaching, the active exercises and conversations left me wanting more.”
“I was beginning to realize that there’s so much more that I don’t know and there’s so much more to this leadership thing than the way that I had been doing it. “
As we dive deeper into Charlie’s journey, it’s crucial to pause and define what we mean by ‘spirituality in business.’ This concept transcends traditional religious ideas, focusing instead on a deeper sense of purpose, interconnectedness, and awareness within the corporate environment. In the realm of business, spirituality is about fostering a workplace that values mindfulness, ethical behaviors, emotional intelligence, and a sense of community. It’s about leaders and teams connecting with their work on a level that goes beyond profit and productivity, encompassing personal fulfillment, workplace harmony, and a collective sense of contributing to a greater good. Everyone’s journey is different and also has a common thread of purpose and unity as we unveil below.
Unveiling Deeper Dimensions: The Evolution of the Journey
At some point in the midst of Charlie’s frustrating and curious coaching journey with me, we held a session with the executive team summarizing and discussing the results of the organizational assessment I had conducted utilizing the Reinventing Organizations Map.
The great revelation was that the product itself was one of expanded consciousness and that many of the processes and practices surrounding its realization must also become more conscious, including the way we lead.
He reflected, “It’s being expansive in thought, being intellectually humble in terms of what it is you think you know about what it is that’s in front of you.”
This insight struck a chord not only with Charlie but also with the founder, prompting an unusual request. The founder invited me to join him and another executive for an open conversation about our spiritual journeys, with Charlie as an observer. This was uncharted territory for me, a dream opportunity I hadn’t even realized I longed for. Our only preparation was to be fully present.
Curious about how this unique session came to be, I asked Charlie for his thoughts. He shared, “The founder recognized my rational mindset and my struggle with these concepts. He seemed to think that hearing similar, yet unique experiences from multiple sources might open my eyes to the possibility of something more profound. I was searching for the ‘there’ in all of this, eager to explore and understand.”
And so, we convened – three corporate executives and one executive coach – for an organic, intention-driven dialogue about our spiritual experiences.
With no agenda or predefined outcome, we simply engaged in a dialogue. As we spoke, I felt the room’s energy shift palpably. The stories were nothing alike and paradoxically, exactly the same. They shared a similar energy, a deep trust in the unknown, and a calling bigger than ourselves.
About 45 minutes in, Charlie was asked, “Do you feel it too?”
He recalled, “I was keen to connect with what others were feeling, driven by the trust I had in the three people sharing their experiences with me.”
He paused, “I began to sense that maybe, just maybe, there was something to all this.”
This session marked a turning point in Charlie’s journey as he began to trust the process and trust his inner knowing.
From this moment of subtle yet powerful realization, Charlie’s growth as a leader took a significant leap. I continued to guide him in the months that followed, and in 2021, he took on the role as the President of the organization, walking the path of embodied and awakened leadership to the best of his growing ability.
Why Does It All Matter?
As we look back on that journey, I asked Charlie how have you become a more embodied and spiritual human being and leader? Why is it important? Why does it matter?
He reflected, “As a leader, there’s so much that’s being left on the table. If those things are not being considered, both for you as a leader and the people in your organization, because our bodies and the universe and our rational minds have so much more to tell us and so much more wisdom to provide that positions us to better support the individuals in our organization and the outward reflection of our organization to the world.”
“Most organizations have myopic leaders, it’s rational, it’s numbers, it’s managing to numbers, and you run the risk of treating people like objects in that circumstance. And even if you’re treating them as people, you’re only scratching the surface of the depths of who the humans are that you’re working with in that environment.”
“So, you can only hope to get people that are going to meet the targets that you set for them when, what they can be and how they can contribute to the universe and to the success of the organization, can be so much richer. “
“You can talk about business as being important and what we’re trying to do, but it’s really about relationships. It’s really about the people and depth of relationship is always going to bring more value.”
This experience marked a shift in Charlie’s way of leading. He began to understand the importance of a more holistic approach, encompassing not just the mind but also the body and spirit.
Charlie’s story and his trust leaning into this unknown journey is a testament to the power of leadership that embraces the full spectrum of human experience.
It challenges us to consider: How can we, too, embark on such transformative journeys in our professional lives? How can we foster environments that not only acknowledge but also embrace the full human experience in our workplaces?
His evolution and growth are not just an isolated event; it’s an invitation to us all. It beckons us to rethink leadership, to dare to infuse our roles with deeper consciousness, and to witness the profound impact it can have not just on individuals but on entire organizations.
What could your journey of growth and transformation look like? The possibilities are boundless, and the path is waiting for you.