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How to lead with spirit

Helen Mayson

Victor Marino

Spiritual leadership is a gaining traction with leaders – and it has a strong grounding in science. Victor Marino is the man to demystify the idea of leading with your spirit.

What exactly is spiritual leadership?

For a lot of people the idea of spiritual leadership throws up many different thoughts and principles. I’d classify myself as a pragmatic spiritual leadership expert, or leadership in working with spirit. You can go into many areas of spiritual leadership ranging from the religious and the esoteric, to almost physics and metaphysics-related looking for answers.
I would define spiritual leadership as that spark of something that’s difficult to describe that sits within each of us – it has a specific quality and a specific application.

How did you get involved in spirituality?

I couldn’t find the answers I was looking for in my head, I couldn’t find them in management theory, I couldn’t find them in religiosity, or philosophy. What alerted me to spirit and spirituality was the process of meditation and the process of contemplation. For some people it’s the power of prayer – the process of praying – that brings about a certain balance within that individual. Focusing the mind means that what is within them has more chance to show itself and present itself.

So is spirituality purely an internally focused concept?

I think you have to feed forward and feed back. You have to take in what’s outside, but in all the great wisdom traditions and in neuroscience today it’s where you place your attention that matters. If you place attention in your heart area you get a different experience than if you just use rational thought. A lot of spiritual practices focus on breathing, using guided imagery around the heart. I personally like to use a little bit more than that, as while I have every respect for the heart and it’s power and wisdom, I think we’re not just necessarily heart based.

How do you introduce the concept of spirit – particularly to cynics?

You have to pace where your audience are. I don’t position myself as an esoteric teacher, though I have great respect for Buddhism and beyond Buddhism. I’m limited in what I say quite deliberately by what science tells me. I can prove facts – I can prove that humans have multiple brains. I can show people the information that proves this – in fact I have a 90 slide deck if you really need convincing! We know we have a brain in our head, which has billions of neurons and is a really powerful processor. But what makes up a brain, with sufficient complexity, ganglia, anthracites, the capacity to learn and grow, also appears in the heart and in the gut. We have statistics, evidence and research that says we all have these multiple brains. Once I’ve gone through that presentation and shown the facts, people then are generally open to the prospect that these brains work in different ways.

How do the different brains work?

A gut feel is not an intellectual process, compassion is not an intellectual process, and creativity within the head itself is not necessarily worked out analytically. In my experience the highest expression of the head is creativity, the highest expression of the heart is compassion, the gut is a visceral sense of who you are – it’s a motivating force, but it’s also where our identity lies. In an evolutionary context the gut started off as an amoeba and evolved into our gut –an amoeba can only float away from danger or towards safety. When we look at how we make decisions, that’s at the base of it. That flows up through the Vegas nerve through the heart into the heart where we rationalise it. Where spirit comes in for me is when we work with people and align their multiple brains, gut, heart and head, I think that’s where you contact your spirit because you’re working from your highest expression on those three core areas. I think there are actually more than three brains, but I’ve limited myself to science here!

How do you access these brains?

We teach people how to get in a balanced coherent state through a process of breathing and focus – very simple, very powerful. The first principle is to balance one’s autonomic nervous system. You’re either going to be running fast because you’re busy, agitated or stressed, or you’re going to be running slow which might be apathy or depression. You need to get into a balanced state where we’re neither of those things – we’re alive, alert but relaxed. In the process of meditation and prayer you find that’s what happens anyway – but I’m not going to introduce meditation and prayer to a corporate business group. It’s more likely that I’ll use the example of an Olympic rifleman, or runner – you see these guys breathing in a relaxed, focused manner, bringing about the resources at their disposal.
I also have technology that shows how you can bring about that balance and people can see for themselves how that actually works on a big screen, kind of like an ECG machine - it’s a very good convincer. How the heart beats depends upon how the brain behaves.

Why has spiritual leadership become more prominent?

It’s been a growth – we grew up in a Cartesian world where ‘I think, therefore I am’. Head and body were separate, and there are good, logical reasons for that. Then along the way we began to introduce Eastern concepts, like acupuncture and meditation, that challenged that model a little bit. One of the real breakthroughs came from Daniel Goleman in the 1980’s when he brought to the attention of the world emotional intelligence (EI). Harvard backed EI and it became a standard product taught all over the world. From that, another company came into the world called the Heart Map Institute and they’re the ones who developed the technology which shows you can control the nervous system and you can control stressful situations by breathing and by focusing your mind. What we have now is a realisation that we have multiple intelligences –in head, heart and gut, and that they do different things.

Do you ever come up against resistance to the concept of leading with the spirit?

When you’ve got examples from so many different sources – medical, psychological, the research papers – and then they try it themselves and they can see it on the monitor, it’s quite convincing. If people still want to object by then, they’re always going to object.

Do you find it’s a new concept for most people?

Lots of people are aware of it but not conscious of it – if you say someone is good-hearted, you know what it means, if someone has the guts to get somewhere, you know what it means. If someone says ‘this is doing my head in’, you know from which centre they’re talking from.
When I work with CEOs I find that an awful lot of the time they’re going with their gut instinct, then they’ll go to their head to create a business plan. But if they don’t have the passion for the plan, it won’t work. At the same time if you don’t have the courage to put the plan into action, which is the gut brain, it doesn’t work. Much like in mathematics, when these three higher expressions come together, something else opens up. That’s what spirit is. 

Learn how to lead with spirit

26th February, Central London

£30 for members, £40 for non-members

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