Tag Archives: Spirituality

First Nation Beliefs- Personal, Organizational Relevance

(Disclaimer! This is long as it covers a lot of ground, all related. I’ll venture a guess that you’re either going to like it all, or not like it at all. Let me know what’s on your mind either way!)

But ya doesn’t has ta call me “Chief”! Even though I’m well over 6ft (OK, used to be) with green eyes and blond hair (again, used to be), I am allegedly part Native American. My last generation that would know first-hand chose not to talk about it. Back then there was a stigma assigned to those who associated with godless savages, but in spite of the silence there are early, early photos of a family reunion on the prairie, with familiar ancestor surnames written on the back. Several in attendance sported suspiciously Native-looking dress and had distinctly Native features.

Right….if they were pictures from a Halloween party, kudos to the props and makeup team.

Something about the Native American—the First Nation—beliefs system and simple but sophisticated spirituality has always gripped me. My real awakening came in the early seventies at the University of Iowa and I had a chance to study Native American Literature through the Writers’ Workshop. The professor wore buckskin-fringed desert knee boots and shortly most of the students did too. We sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle for classes. We learned the finer points of story-telling. We listened to long recordings of Native music in the pitch-black orchestra room.

We read and discussed several classics, Black Elk Speaks and Seven Arrows among them. And we explored the First Nation’s beliefs system in great depth, total immersion mode. That one-semester experience kicked my Vision Quest off in earnest.

Personal Perspective. I had twelve years of Catholic education. Result: I cannot buy into any formal, dogma-laden religion, Catholic or otherwise. Man-made interpretations and human-authored rules are behind too many wars and petty disagreements haunting us—people killing people in the name of my religion? Please. But I am highly spiritual; I live by a very strong personal beliefs system that I’ve later learned quite accidentally borrowed elements from the mainstream religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… and Native American. To me, deep down the core values and beliefs are all compatible. Human-created dogma is the trouble-making differentiator.

BUSINESS and ME, INC. IMPACTS! For my day job I study and practice human behavior as it relates to organizational and individual development. I’ve had two major “aha” moments along the way, both are substantiated by tons of studies and data:
1. We all want to leave a legacy. We need a purpose in our life, we need real and relevant meaning, a feeling that we are somehow earning our way. We need to know we are making a meaningful contribution toward the greater good. All of this just oozes higher-order spirituality. Impact and Legacy have become essentials in my vision statement.
2. Humans are social creatures (we’re pack animals!) and we are driven to connect with not only our world but with others around us. We need a sense of community, of belonging. We must be part of something important and “bigger” than me alone. The alternative: gang membership and, even worse, radicalization becomes extremely appealing to both young and older disenfranchised people who have been given nothing better to belong to or believe in. A true, full-time Lone Wolf human animal is a little bit sociopath…or a lot. Again, a higher-order level of spirituality is in play.

Both of those ‘ahas’ have sky-high relevance for organizations. Companies that tap into these two spiritual motivators are rewarded with (1) a more highly engaged workforce (major bottom-line payback!); (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice (candidates stand in line to get in) and (4) barring major marketplace meltdowns, nearly guaranteed long-term sustainability because their culture is on an absolutely solid foundation.

These two ‘ahas’ are also wildly important for individuals. They ensure longer, healthier, less stressful and more productive lives. Google Blue Zones and check out the research, studies and findings—it’s not just my opinion, it’s well-researched and well-documented.

Two-level challenge, I seriously hope you take this personally and professionally:
(1) companies and their leaders have a moral obligation to promote those two ‘aha’ points among their employees in the spirit of true servant leadership, corporate social responsibility and impacting the greater good. Those long-view organizations that do so will be rewarded with insanely better bottom line results and that other good 1-4 stuff mentioned earlier;
(2) Each of us has the potential to have a real influence on others…see “The Ripple Effect–One Pond, One Pebble”. Talk about impacting the greater good!

Back to the First People.

Bet you’re wondering how this is all connected, aren’t you? Following is a sampler of key Native American beliefs. I’ll leave it to you to establish organizational and personal relevance. It’s there. Self-discovery is the most effective learning experience there is!

Vision Quest. People on a spiritual path—their Vision Quest—know they are here for a reason but may not yet know what it is. The journey is all about finding that purpose and understanding their intimate connection with the Medicine Wheel. “We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world….The most important thing is being clear in your heart as to what you are seeking for yourself and the people of the world.”

Circle of Life, Medicine Wheel  The Native American beliefs system and spirituality is based on inter-connectedness of all forms of life and the relationship of all living things with Mother Earth in a circular / cyclical / systemic relationship. An early precursor to systems thinking: to understand the parts one must examine the whole.

The Circle of Life (from Black Elk Speaks)
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves…. “

So the circle holds a place of special importance. Human beings live, breathe and move, in a continuous cyclical pattern. Every seeker’s journey is to find their own harmonious way of traveling through and interacting with that cycle.

This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life / Medicine Wheel are based on the four directions: North, East, West and South with each having special attributes, a way of perceiving things. Those on their Vision Quest explore all four, seeking to thoroughly understand their place in the world and make their own deep connection to The Four Great Ways:

NORTH: wisdom and truth, strength and endurance.
EAST: illumination, the new dawning sky, enlightenment.
WEST: introspection, looking within. Rest, recharge, renew.
SOUTH: warmth and growth after winter is over, a new beginning.

Religion “vs” Spirituality

I’ve been part of a highly engaging online conversation on whether we would be better off without religion and had spirituality in its place. Interesting thoughts, a couple of mine follow.

I have faith, very strong faith. But I do not trust that any religion has “the” direct line to God. And I especially do not have faith that the words of the prophets, whether Jesus or Mohammed or any other you can label as such, were accurately captured, preserved in their original wording and meaning. Humans have mucked that all up by reinterpreting interpretations, sometimes twisting words and meaning for personal / political gain.

One discussion participant issued a challenge to name one good culture that did not have an organized religion governing its norms and values / beliefs system. I offered up the Native North Americans, the First Nation, as an example of a rock-solid and highly spiritual beliefs system that governed a very good people. The First Nation ran headlong into the “white man’s” greed, their need for elbow room and an arrogant, dogma-fueled obsession to tame the godless, savage beasts, saving their souls by giving them “real” religion to replace the pagan rituals.

The level of spirituality and depth of the beliefs system of the early native North and Latin Americans was incredible and flourished prior to conquistadors, colonization and attempts at conversion to Catholicism and other models of human dogma. It was an undeniable way of life, not based on any book. It was shared by an entire people regardless of tribe or location. There were wise old shamans but no prophet mouthpieces serving as middle men with the inside track on communicating with an all-powerful. No one “owned” the Word, it was commonly shared. Everyone told the stories and legends around the campfire with little difference in interpretation. Even my American Indian Lit class was blessed to share in that tradition.

They / we managed to do that because Native beliefs were / are so strong and they were / are a way of daily life, not just dogma or memorized and repeatedly recited words.

(Right turn, Clyde…) Permaculture and Reconnecting. I am an Iowan. We’re blessed with a large piece of land for being in town, living in what was once the farm house whose original family once owned all the surrounding land that was finally sub-divided into mini-suburbia. Our garden plot is where the hog lot was over 100 years ago, still very fertile ground (pig poop is powerful medicine). The past two weeks the green beans have needed picking every other day and now homegrown tomaters are coming in too. Gourmet dining, and it’s all natural. Not quite enough to get me off meat altogether, but close.

The actual growing and consumption of natural, wildly healthier fresh produce is just a small part of the permaculture system and a very small piece of the personal health and psychological benefits in doing so. The systemic / social benefits are incredible too! The greatest benefit to me is what this stands for. My Native blood drives me to fully buy into this notion of reconnecting with Mother Earth and becoming somewhat responsible stewards again.

Right now Mother Earth is crying from the pain we’ve inflicted on her soul, both physical and social. You have to wonder when she will finally give up on her children.

Two Questions for Later…
(ONE) Was the First Nation Gnostic?
Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia by Bette Stockbauer

(TWO) Where Do We Go From Here?
Decolonizing Humanity by Reconnecting with the Earth



Why Stuff Fails

There’s a recurring theme on several of the various discussion boards I frequent. ISO, Baldrige, six sigma, lean, performance management…all can be valuable operational process enhancers. Still, too many well-intentioned and much-needed initiatives fail badly. They never get the traction needed to climb the long hill toward sustainability.

Then along comes someone hawking culture, values, engagement, mindfulness, well-being, spirituality. Sensible leaders’ eyes glaze over if they haven’t already. Why?

To think about for starters: when you chase two rabbits both will escape.

Experience Shapes Perspective
Most of my career has been in Operations either directly or in a close supporting role, wandering through the maze of JIT, SPC, LeanSigma, 5-S, 6-S, RCCA and a host of others I’ve mercifully forgotten. Last, I’ve designed various control systems and have been a lead assessor for the ISO9001 and Baldrige models. Detailed because it needs to be clear: I’m not all about the soft stuff only.

On the “people” side I am a practitioner of engagement, change theory, the spiritual side of well-being and other human dynamics practices. I’ve been in the trenches for two major culture change initiatives and several lesser skirmishes, and am a regular facilitator of strategy development, alignment and execution, performance / project management, and other processes that impact performance excellence.

This broad experience shaped my perspective. The people background drives my commitment to engagement and leadership, my process lineage compels me to deliver hard results. There is no conflict when you understand you’re chasing only One Rabbit!

Proposed: doing stuff and producing results is less important than how you act while you’re doing it because the how is crucial to long-term sustainability. People and the soft fuzzies they crave are a vital part of the equation and cannot be ignored.

Performance excellence applies to people and process. You cannot improve one without the other. People fix broken processes, no production process in the world is capable of fixing broken people. People are the one differentiator. Technology can be bought but people and culture cannot be replicated. So which takes precedence?

I’ve turned it over, around and upside down again and it still looks the same: people issues, culture, values—soft stuff—are the key enablers of sustainable success for any initiative and for the organization itself. Still, people issues draw the short straw after the obligatory lip service is out of the way. The mantra:
“xyz initiative requires a cultural transformation, winning peoples’ hearts and minds, commitment and visible, genuine support from top leaders”.

It’s not so bad hearing the chant over and over because it’s absolutely true. What is hard to fathom is why ignoring this truth is so common, so predictable. Put simply: you cannot achieve optimal bottom line results without focusing on “people” issues!

Let’s Demystify and Downgrade the Voodoo
I was addicted to science fiction growing up. Now I enjoy studying really ‘out there’ business and social theory. But personal enjoyment has little bearing on what must be done. My mission: take the right approach to integrating the right soft stuff into the mainstream of running a business, by focusing on maximizing performance excellence and producing hard results. It’s a covert operation, which means killing the spotlight shining on engagement and culture, downplaying their significance. Do the right things the right way by leveraging repeatedly validated enablers of engagement. That does not mean preaching the gospel of engagement. If you don’t even utter the “e” word, engagement will come of its own accord and the right culture will grow, if you enable it.

(Part two, Sustainability in Initiatives outlines a process of integrating rather than alienating)

Engagement is not the high-performance motor that will win the race. Engagement is simply an additive for the fuel that makes the vehicle go down the road faster and longer. Essential, yes: without the right additives the motor will gunk up, bog down and eventually seize up altogether. And you’ll get terrible mileage along the way.

It makes such sound business sense and it’s been validated so many times over the past twenty years that it should be impossible to ignore. But the engagement industry’s approach isn’t conducive to earning mainstream acceptance; we’re guilty of making engagement inaccessible. It shouldn’t be surprising that leaders are paralyzed—we’re sticking pins into their dolls.

Physician, Heal Thyself!
I can say this because I was one of the guilty ones hawking my brand of silver bullet, expecting clients to learn a new language, new tools, new techniques even if the client was already doing basically the same thing by a different name and process and achieving similar outcomes. Demanding that clients become something they’re not.

I was introducing noise into the system, and resistance should have been expected. That’s OK, while we’re at it let’s learn about change management….ka-CHING!

Integrate, don’t alienate! Unless things are really beyond repair, why re-create wheels? Simply check the pressure, re-balance, align, rotate. Don’t buy a whole new set of tires. Lean and six sigma tools and techniques can be seamlessly integrated into nearly any operation. ISO and Baldrige are both highly adaptable and they do not require full implementation. They can be a supplement to counter a specific vitamin deficiency, an exercise regimen to address a specific weakness or train for a specific event.

Still, we’re too often guilty of jumping straight to a heart transplant and we risk losing the patient on the table. Or they elect not to have that scariest of all surgeries and grab onto whatever quality of life they may have left without any intervention.

A Lesson to Learn From Spirituality. I read a beautiful article by a bonafide swami who insisted that yoga was the One True Path to spirituality. I’m not a scholar, but I am an avid student. I feel we collectively need a higher level of spirituality, in some form.

One discussion responder stated that yoga has been linked to demon worship. Not that he believed it, he was just making a valid observation. Perception is reality.

When spirituality or a derivative is linked to a formal practice and especially to religious doctrine, it’s bound to take potshots from purists of another belief system. Intolerance is our heritage dating back to the Inquisition and beyond. The really “out there” fringe cries “demon worship, heresy, eternal damnation!” Look at the current situation—at the fanatics who are terrifying disruptors of global peace and social well being.

I highly respect devoted practitioners of any religion, of any discipline like yoga until they try to drag me down the “my way or the highway” path. What level of “spirituality”? What form of “enlightenment”? What’s wrong with my beliefs? If you don’t like them can’t you just stick to yours? Whatever works for you is great by me, we can co-exist.

Numerous best practices can help individuals discover their own path to spirituality and enlightenment. It’s too individual to assign specifics and labels or prescribe a cookie cutter course of action. Best practices are not exclusive to one discipline or belief system.

The reason for this spirituality sidetrack: any initiative can suffer from the same issues. Think about it, and read the Spirituality section again with that perspective.

(It’s dangerous for me to take this position, because I’m leaving myself wide open to attack by a whole lot of fringe purists from several religions at once. But maybe we can talk about it before we blow each other up)

Wellbeing, Stress and Engagement

I just got done slogging through an abstract on stress research that originated in Psychological Science that led me down a bone-jarring rutted path to even more studies and white papers.  Conclusion: academic abstracts stress me out! Why do I keep doing this to myself?

Academia aside, when the same topic is also explored by…
1. The “For Dummies” organization;
2. A proliferation of grant-funded research teams; and even
3. The Mayo Clinic staff
…there must be something to it. A brief section on stress is part of the Supercharger series of engagement and values-based leadership workshops. Values and personal purpose are powerful antidotes for the destructive effects of stress, and stress is an ideal universal door-opener. It establishes personal relevance for a curriculum that could be very scary foreign territory for some.

It has been repeatedly validated that well-being is enhanced by being connected to your own as well as your employer’s values and purpose. Those same connections are key ingredients of high engagement. Stress, engagement and values-based leadership make perfect sense together.

Stress is silently and subtly at work whether or not we care to admit it or are even aware of it. Stress robs precious time from our quality years and diminishes overall satisfaction with our lives. If you are more aware and have prepared yourself by understanding the origins of your stressors you can set your sights on a happier, healthier, more productive, and longer life.

Leaders, it makes good business sense to arm employees against stress: the social and business cost of stress is staggering. It negatively impacts productivity and sucks money away from the bottom line. And the social impacts of stress are even more staggering.

In the work environment, stress is often triggered by conflict. There are two broad categories of workplace conflict and therefore stressors, and I don’t recall ever having a workshop participant admit they are not impacted by these:
• Relationship: clashes due to behavioral, values-based differences; and
• Task-based conflicts including lack of clarity, dueling priorities, process differences (my-way-is-better). The leading cause of task-based stress: work overload.

Things and people can both drive us nutty. So it serves us well to take a look at conflict and stress a little more closely. What are the origins and impacts of my conflict and stress generally? What are my stressors? Analysis allows us to proactively identify and minimize the opportunity for conflict, therefore minimize stress.

Better lives, better results…win-win and then some. And you thought Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts sketches on Saturday Night Live were comedy?