Flirting with Leadership

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley (originally published in Shalem News, Fall 2004)

We were 25 women standing in a large circle, arms outstretched, only touching one another by our fingertips. In the center of the circle stood Flirt, a 1200 pound horse. It was our job to keep Flirt inside the circle. It was Flirt’s job to get out.

Guess who won.

Flirt gave one little flick of her eye, glanced around the circle and simply walked out underneath one pair of outstretched arms.

This was part of an exercise that uses horses to give feedback on leadership qualities. The setting was a large exercise barn at a horse farm in the Pennsylvania countryside. The horses were teaching us which behaviors encouraged their trust and what led them to bolt and run, which actions engendered confidence and what confused them. In other words, how to lead.

Horses are the perfect animal for this kind of experiment. Since they are herd animals, they will follow a leader. They also express their feelings directly, giving immediate feedback through their actions. They run when threatened. They go their own way if a direction is not clear. They can kick, bite or shove if one hasn’t established a trusting relationship with them. They are big, powerful, beautiful and sometimes scary in their unpredictability.

We tried again. We were still in a circle, only touching by fingertips, but this time we strategized that if Flirt moved towards any one of us, those on either side would lean closer. We imagined we could close any gap quickly enough to keep Flirt in.

Wrong.

Flirt was out of there even more quickly than before.

We regrouped. What had just happened? Why did Flirt choose a particular point in our circle to make her escape and not some other place? We learned that horses are exquisitely attuned to the dynamics of a group and the emotions of individuals. They easily recognize messages of doubt and unease. How had we been appearing to Flirt and to one another? Anxious or centered? Threatening or reassuring? Focused or unfocused? After considering these questions, we decided on yet another approach.

Once more Flirt came back into the center of the circle. This time we each concentrated on staying grounded, breathing deeply, being clear about our intent, non-anxious, soft-eyed. Our arms were still outstretched, fingertips still touching, and…. Flirt didn’t move. We looked around, secretly not trusting, waiting for her to bolt.

No movement.
We waited some more.
No movement.
We slowly lowered our arms.
Still no movement.

We stood there, with wide open gaps between each of us, and still no movement. Flirt was as steady and immov-able as a candle in the center of one of our prayer groups.

Eventually we realized that we could have stood just like that from the very beginning, relaxed, open, no outstretched arms, no touching of fingertips, no strategy, no anxiety. Just grounded, centered, present, soft-eyed and Flirt would have stayed inside our circle forever. As long as we were communicating that all was well, that there was no threat, no need to go somewhere else, Flirt was content. Evidently horses also recognize messages of peace and well-being.

Now, months later, there seem to be endless occasions to remember Flirt. When confronted with situations where there is hurt or anger, when fear, disappointment or anxiety fill the circle of life, there is an invitation to gaze softly at the situation and to remember that, in God, all is well and all shall be well. Having others in the circle, a spiritual director or other soul friends, who share a similar prayerful intent helps. Together we can remind one another of God’s faithfulness, collectively soften our gaze and turn to the larger Love that animates all of living.

When I am offering leadership and tempted to try to figure things out or make things happen, then just relaxing my stance can open my awareness in a new way. Being centered can shift my attention from my own agenda and willful striving to a prayer of surrender and a willingness for God to lead.

It is this kind of surrender that the 13th century mystical poet Rumi said gives grace a chance to “gather us up” and gives “miraculous beings” an opportunity to come “running to help.” It is also this total surrender to the beauty of God’s leadership, Rumi, says, that guides us towards becoming “a mighty compassion.” (“A Zero Circle” translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks)

I yearn for that kind of compassionate leadership in the world and pray for its realization in my life. Then perhaps one day all humanity, along with Flirt and all creation, can stand together in a circle of friendship, at peace and unafraid.


TPC_CaroleCrumley_bioCarole Crumley is Director of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership, Class of 2016, an Episcopal priest, a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences, and a seasoned pilgrimage guide to sacred sites throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Interested in expanding your leadership with compassion and contemplation? This May Shalem is offering With Hearts Wide Open: an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar with Leah Rampy. The seminar is available May 4-25 and can be accessed according to your schedule. Sign up today!

“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!


Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

Soul Assignment

Today’s post is by Susan Rowland. This is a transcript of her audio testimony highlighting her experience in Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program. You may also listen to her tell her story by clicking on the video above. Listen to stories of other graduates here.

My experience with the Shalem program, Leading Contemplative Prayer groups and Retreats, was unique in so many ways.  At the residencies, we were among a circle of talented people, gathered with the intention of deepening their life and leadership in contemplative practice. The breadth and expression of faith was so rich.   Small groups provided a safe opportunity to try out different prayer practices in an open, experiential, supportive space. I will be forever grateful for the emphasis on simple explanations of prayer practices so that the Spirit is “free to move about the cabin” of the gathering.

What made that possible was the Shalem program leadership, modeling something so beautiful and authentic in all that they offered.  I have been to programs where they teach by telling you what to do.  At Shalem, the leaders revealed their personal passion to us through each teaching. Their words and presence were alive – resonating and bouncing off all of our hearts– together, we laughed, we walked, we played with art, we talked a lot over meals.  They truly entered into the community with us.

In the past two years since I graduated from Shalem’s program, those experiences still nourish me. My Shalem book shelf, formed by the rich reading list, is consulted weekly and continues to encourage and inspire me.  I am just finishing my third contemplative group for the year, and I lead a monthly day of silence called Soul Space, I am also on the Board of a rich ministry through The Contemplative Center of Silicon Valley. The mark of Shalem is on each of those endeavors that I am involved in.

Each year, I spend a week of solitude on the coast of Maine.  So many years have been spent there wondering about my “soul assignment.” With such joy, this year was different.  I am amazed to see a dormant dream in my heart for 20 years alive in action and expression.  The balance of clinical life and contemplative ministry is now gratefully present in my daily experience.  Having just finished my group preparation for tomorrow night, the time seemed right to say “Thank You, Shalem” for all you have shared with me that I daily delight in passing on.


susan rowlandSusan Rowland is committed to creating spaces of stillness and quiet for deep listening, and delights in encouraging those interested in developing personal contemplative practices. She has a private practice in Marriage and Family Therapy in San Jose and serves on the board of The Contemplative Center in Silicon Valley.

Is the Spirit drawing you into deeper personal prayer and meditation? Does your experience of this inward deepening enliven your desire for authentic spiritual community? If your answers are yes, then the Spirit may be calling you to create contemplative community by leading groups and retreats. To learn more about Shalem’s 18-month program: Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats, click here.

Photo by Heidi Sandvik

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