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Spiritual Leadership

Abide by your self!

16 February 2016

Source: Pixbay/geralt

The realization

I walked into a meeting room that had the vibe of a funeral. Seven Scrum team members, a ScrumMaster, and a manager sat quietly, giving occasional fake smiles. It had been the end of the sprint planning meeting. You could tell it hadn't gone well.

They were ready to vote using the Fist of Five technique to reach a consensus. Everyone gave three votes, except for the development manager. He gave five fingers and started cheering others on. "Come on people, don't you want to be the very best? We can do it!" he said. Some gradually opened their fourth fingers and others remained undecided.

I spoke with the manager later and caught myself beating around the bush. I could have said, "Hey, I noticed you trolled the poll," or perhaps I could have posed my misgivings as a question: "What did you notice about your presence in the sprint planning today?" I kept telling him that I thought the team felt pushed but never brought up his coerciveness. It ended up with him becoming frustrated with me. My euphemisms didn't help save the relationship. In the end, he became confused and lost trust in me.

Later, I worked with my Co-Active coach, who helped me realize that my internal saboteur was running the show. He called this saboteur "the Pleaser." I have since worked with many of my internal saboteurs who were impeding my self-development.

Why "spiritual" leadership?

It may seem vague, somewhat religious, or even an audacious marketing gimmick to attract people to this article. But my point is that spirituality in this context means to fully connect with oneself and realize one's deepest expression of being.

We all have our internal saboteurs — that inner voice telling us that we are not good enough. Sometimes we get into the rat race of chasing our next task, moving from one shiny goal to another. Then we find ourselves stuck and confused, not sure which path to take in life, as if a committee of saboteurs were collaborating and battling with each other. Over time we develop an identity, a perspective about who we are and what our limits are. These deeply ingrained perspectives, the shortsightedness, the lack of clarity, and our internal saboteurs run our lives.

In the airline industry they say, "Put your oxygen mask on before you help others." To be great leaders, we must realize ourselves fully.

The following are some practical tips that can help us connect and abide with our true selves.

Life purpose and vision

Close your eyes and imagine being on your deathbed. What are your regrets? Can you think about two good deeds you've done in your life? Contemplating about the inevitability of death is a great way to know what's important to us. If death is too grim for you, imagine that you got everything you ever wanted. No limit on money and time. How would your work and life look like?

Dr. Dan Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard and one of my influencers, did a lot of work in this field. [1] His findings suggest that we are myopic in our thinking.

We make decisions for our current selves. We change over time. We get stuck with our decisions made for our obsolete selves.

Tip: Think about your life purpose, about the impact that you want to make on yourself and on the people around you, including your family, friends, and strangers. Then come up with a vision, and don't be attached to it.

In future articles, I will share a few exercises that have helped me gain clarity about my life purpose and vision.


"Should I move closer to my hometown?" one of my clients asked. Was he really looking for me to answer that question?

What is the benchmark against which you have made decisions? Our values serve as a compass, pointing out what it means to be true to ourselves. They are the lenses through which we view ourselves and the world around us. Any incongruence between our values and how we express our lives leads to suffering.

Getting clarity on our values is not a matter of luxury. It's paramount to living a resonant life. I caution you that it won't be easy. It took me six months to really understand my true values.

Tip: Try this exercise to mine your values:
  1. Make a list of your top 20 goals (e.g., work out regularly, play with kids regularly, take your spouse out on a date regularly, vacation, and so on).
  2. For each goal, ask yourself what's important about it. The goals are all means to an end. Take the shell off each of these goals, and let the values underneath reveal themselves.
  3. Take note of the top four to five values that come up frequently.
Once you identify your values, don't let anyone step on them. But be sure not to overexpress them either.


As I mentioned earlier, we all have internal saboteurs that limit us: Pleaser, Hyperachiever, Avoider, Restlessness, to name a few. Shirzad Chamine, chairman of the board at Coaches Training Institute, developed a Saboteur Assessment test.

Tip: Take a free Saboteur Assessment to identify your internal saboteurs at Beware! Some of your saboteurs could be disguised as your values.


Our minds are all we have. And they are all we can offer others. This might not be obvious, especially when there are aspects of your life that seem in need of improvement — when your goals are unrealized, or you are struggling to find a career, or you have relationships that need repairing. But it's the truth. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind. Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved. If you are perpetually angry, depressed, confused, and unloving, or your attention is elsewhere, it won't matter how successful you become or who is in your life — you won't enjoy any of it. Given this it makes sense to train the mind. — Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
Dr. Richard Davidson did multiple functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans [2] and found improved self-awareness, better ability to learn, memorize, introspect, be compassionate, and a declined ability to hold anxiety and stress as a result of meditation. (Increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala just after eight weeks of meditation of 27 minutes per day.)

Tip: Take 25 minutes out of your day to meditate. Practice mindfulness while walking from the parking lot to work. Eat mindfully, fully experiencing each flavor of the food.

I have been to multiple weeklong and ten-day silent meditation retreats and vouch for the significant impact they can have on your life.

Tip: Instead of going to Hawaii or the Caribbean for your next vacation, treat yourself and your family with a weeklong meditation retreat.

Emotional awareness

What happens when you are angry, frustrated, afraid, or sad? Do you usually act on your emotions, or do you suppress them? Whether you are suppressing or acting on emotions, either one equally hampers our emotional learning. Experiencing them fully and completely is the only way to grow. Being aware of your emotions is imperative to being able to manage them.

Tips: In your next "toxic" meeting, take a notepad and write each emotion that you are feeling, every 15 seconds. Be very attentive to the subtleties of its nature. Anger may turn into frustration, fear, pain, or sadness.

It will initially be tough, but over time your emotions will become an entourage. You will notice that some emotions usually come together. For example, anger is almost always preceded by fear or pain.

Pay attention to your body's feedback to understand your emotions. You probably clench your teeth when you are frustrated, stoop your shoulders when you are afraid, or just feel hot around the neck when you are angry. You can go even further and try to observe the exact sensations: twitching, tingling, vibrating, feeling cold, etc.

You will notice that these emotions start dampening as you observe them. (The neural basis to this is the engagement of prefrontal cortex, which is usually hijacked by the amygdala during emotionally charged situations. Over time you build new neural pathways, enhancing your ability to manage your emotions.) In ancient Buddhism, it was called knowing your feeling-tones or Vedana. [3]

Relationship and reflections

Relationship and reflections help people grow. You need to have at least one person with whom you can share everything in your life, so that you can reflect on your actions. Dr. Dan Siegel's research revealed the neural basis that backs this up. [4]

This person can be one of your friends, parents, or siblings. Someone who won't judge you for your actions. Someone who is bold enough not to collude with you and merely reinforce your self-righteousness.

I have a Co-Active coach who has helped me tremendously to become who I am. Fortunately, I also have some close friends and an approachable brother. (Coaches can additionally help you become aware of your existing perspectives and help you step into perspectives that may help you. They can also help create your life purpose and vision, identify saboteurs and inner strengths.)

Tip: Find a Co-Active coach, if you don't have one already. Invest in developing close relationships, help a friend, show gratitude, and connect with your family members more often.


[1] "Dan Gilbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self," Ted Summaries. June 8, 2014.

[2] Richard J. Davidson. Buddha's brain: Neuroplasticity and meditation. National Center for Biotechnology Information. January 1, 2008.; Sue McGreevey, Eight weeks to a better brain, Harvard Gazette. January 21, 2011.

[3] Feeling-Tone (Vedana).

[4] Dan Siegel. Relationship science and being human. Dr. Dan Siegel's Inspire to Rewire Blog. December 17, 2013,

For more information on neuroscience-based leadership and training, see Raghu Challapilla's blogs at!blog/c23b8.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 3 (4 ratings)


Niroshan Madampitige, CSP,CSM, 2/18/2016 7:06:29 AM
Thanks much for your article - People have lost their qualities and most of people go after financial success,loosing out on spirituality. Yes, we need true leaders, I have been researching on 'leadership' and what I found is that it's the environment that allows the people to develop and show courage to 'do the right thing'. So, if we expect 'true leaders', we must get the the environment fixed first which will create trust and corporation among our people- Secondly, we all must have a 'right intention' all the time in what ever do. you can shout at people with the right intention, still you do the right thisng. Third, 'courage' - It's very fundamental that this is a must for a leader- leaders who stand up for their people will sacrify their blood and sweat for their people. You may listed to Oprah Winfrey's Life class on YouTube and Simon Sinek's TED talk too..Cheers...

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