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NEWS FEATURE: New breed of worker bringing new kind of spirituality to workplace

c. 1997 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ John Lackey, sitting in a circle with 18 other people in one of the two rooms of the year-old Center for Visionary Leadership, is beaming as he talks about the”spiritual transformation that is beginning to sweep through corporate America.” Lackey was a successful corporate manager before being downsized […]

c. 1997 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ John Lackey, sitting in a circle with 18 other people in one of the two rooms of the year-old Center for Visionary Leadership, is beaming as he talks about the”spiritual transformation that is beginning to sweep through corporate America.” Lackey was a successful corporate manager before being downsized a year ago from one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. But while at Haliburton Energy Services in Houston, Lackey was known for firing up his employees, preaching the virtues of customer service and rewards for those who”do what’s right and good”while boosting productivity and the bottom line.

He is now a student and a volunteer at the Center, trying to instill others with such notions as the”corporate soul.” Lackey and the others in the room represent a new breed of American worker who are bringing a new kind of spirituality to the workplace. But it’s not about tucking religion into their briefcases to unleash later on unsuspecting coworkers or chanting mantras at the watercooler.

Rather, the new workplace spirituality is an outgrowth of the self-help spiritual quests and renewal experiences many employees across the country have engaged in during their off-hours and are now trying to integrate into their work life.

And so they are asking:”How can I be kind, compassionate and corporate at the same time? Why do I feel so unfulfilled? How can I enhance my work based on my core beliefs and values?””People are turning inward, tapping into a deeper source of strength and looking for ways to be connected to something bigger than themselves while in the workplace,”said Krista Kurth, an expert on spirituality in the workplace and a professor of leadership at the graduate Management Program at the University of Maryland University College.

The quest to merge spirituality with work is part of a larger shift in global consciousness that’s taking place, Kurth said. People are hungry to talk about spirituality in the workplace, a subject that has long been taboo.

In 1996, Corrine McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson founded the Center for Visionary Leadership, to do just that while also trying to give professionals in the nation’s capital the tools to make their workplaces kinder and gentler.

But for nearly a decade before setting up the center, the pair were leading a quiet insurgency in the halls of government. They took meditation to the Pentagon, stress management techniques to the Environmental Protection Agency, consultation strategies to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and prescriptions for spiritual politics to the State Department.

Has it had any impact?

Stephan Sylvan, an EPA climate policy analyst who took part in a McLaughlin-Davidson workshop on”Ethics and Meaning”at the agency thinks so.”I would like to believe that we are forming a grassroots version of the spiritual politics and community that you have been building at the senior levels of American society,”he said in a note to McLaughlin after the workshop.

The husband-and-wife team invoke Mahatma Gandhi and his effort to change the world from the inside out to explain their goals.”A changed person can be a more effective change agent,”says McLaughlin.

Since opening up the center, the couple has discovered that”there are plenty of people who think like us.”The center has a mailing list of more than 8,000 names.

It has also become one of the stops on the lecture circuit for nationally-known spirituality gurus, forcing the center to turn to neighboring churches to accommodate the sell-out crowds.

Among the speakers featured by the center have been Marianne Williamson, best-selling author and interpreter of the self-study spiritual program”A Course in Miracles”; James Redfield, author of the blockbuster”The Celestine Prophecy”; Neale Donald Walsch, author of the bestseller,”Conversations With God”; and Richard Barrett, a lecturer and former World Bank executive who launched an in-house group called the Spiritual Unfoldment Society.

Barrett, a transportation engineer by profession, became well known for putting spirit on the agenda of what he called one of the”bastions of intellectual economic conservatism”_ the World Bank.

Since 1993, he led a weekly gathering for bank employees called the Spiritual Unfoldment Society. For an hour on Wednesdays, a group of about 50 began with a moment of silence and then launched into discussions on such topics as realigning ego and soul, reincarnation and personal development.

Barrett, a regular lecturer at the center, became the World Bank’s first”values coordinator”in 1996. The self-taught spirituality expert left the bank in June, to write a book,”Liberating the Corporate Soul”and to help executives develop value-driven organizations.

Says McLaughlin of the new movement: There is an urgent need for”visionary leaders who are deeply anchored in universal spiritual and ethical values _ leaders who can offer innovative and effective approaches to our problems and will unite rather than divide us.”

DEA END HAWKINS