Contemplative Leadership at Work

An excerpt on bringing contemplative leadership into the workplace, by Leah Rampy.

About 10 years ago, I was working as an executive coach in a large organization.  One of my clients was a senior executive; I’ll call him Don.  During one of our sessions, Don had just returned from a corporate training program that had had a significant impact on him and he was eager to share it with me.    He told me that during one part of the training program, participants were divided into pairs for role-plays that were to be video taped.  One of the pair was to role-play the boss, the other was to play an employee who was trying to influence the boss to buy into a new idea.

Don was given the role of the boss.  As his colleague tried to interest Don in a new idea, Don pretended to be distracted by his email.  He had to respond to “just this one message.”  A few minutes later, Don’s “phone rang” and he interrupted his colleague to “take this important call.”  As the camera rolled, Don’s colleague tried to get the attention of a very distracted, multi-tasking Don.

At the conclusion of the role-play, Don and his colleague watched the video together.  The intention of the training session was to consider how to influence those in authority, but Don told me that he saw something entirely different on the video.  He saw that his colleague – a smart, competent, normally poised individual – had come completely unraveled because of how Don had treated him.  And Don felt compassion for him.

Beyond that, Don knew that his behavior on the video, while maybe exaggerated, really wasn’t all that different from his day-to-day behavior.  And his compassion extended to those who worked with him, who he saw in that instance, must have all-too-often felt disrespected and demeaned.   As he watched the video play back, Don was seeing with the eyes of his heart.

In that moment, Don set an intention to be fully present in every conversation.  This wasn’t an easy commitment.  Especially in the beginning weeks, he felt the tug of “things to do” and the longing to try to “multitask.”  Yet as he practiced his intention, it became easier.

Don found that he genuinely cared about each individual.  And he no longer needed to assume all of the responsibility for problem solving and decision-making.  He was able to build on the knowledge and experience of the entire team as they built the trust and respect they needed to share more —–fully. Contemplative leadership is counter-cultural; it invites us to live with our hearts open.  Once he had experienced such compassionate leadership, Don could not imagine returning to the way he had led before.


This excerpt is a sneak preview from one of the presentations Leah Rampy will give during Shalem’s upcoming Contemplative Leadership Workshop: With Hearts Wide Open. The workshop takes place next weekend, October 9-11, and is flexible to be taken during those days on your schedule. Longing to learn to lead from the heart? There is still space if you would like to register.
To learn more, click here.

Leah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

Photo by Felicia Zwebner