September 9 , 2017 /


Karl Menninger, the founder and director of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, for many years, used to ask patients upon their discharge from the clinic, “How’s your spirit?”  The reason Dr. Menninger asked about the patient’s spirit was Menninger’s understanding of the psyche. The psychiatric definition of psyche is “ the mind functioning as the center of thought, emotion, and behavior and consciously or unconsciously adjusting or mediating the body’s responses to the social and physical environment.”  . Psyche is often translated as “mind” without knowing that the literal translation of the word from Greek is “spirit” or “soul.”

One of the stories in Greek mythology is about Psyche who, through her passions and misfortunes, finally arrives at a state of happiness and satisfaction. She achieves this with a lot of help from Amor and in spite of the jealousy of Venus.

The characteristics of “spirit” or “soul” listed here can enable a leader to create a positive and healthy environment where people like to work, where they have a higher level of commitment and where the overall productivity is greater than might otherwise be the case.

1 – Enthusiastic and energetic – There are many different ways of expressing one’s spirit of enthusiasm, whether overtly or more quietly, but we most often characterize this contagious quality as passion, thus strong feelings that are shared.

  1. Positive and optimistic – While best balanced with a heavy dose of realism, the expression of hope in the present and for the future is a quality of spirit that any good leader is well-advised to have in his or her repertoire of attitudes.
  2. Caring and compassionate – A spirit of genuine concern for others and their well-being goes a long way toward helping a community to develop an ethos of mutual support and collegiality.
  3. Inquiring and curious – The leader who asks thoughtful questions and demonstrates the spirit of an inquiring mind helps to further the conversations to a deeper level of understanding.
  4. Conscientious and intentional – Designing change requires a spirit that is transparent so that others may see how seriousness of purpose pervades the leader.
  5.  Pleasant, friendly and joyful – As one friend and colleague puts it, “be kind, tell the truth and say thank you.”   Good manners, social grace and comfort in a crowd contribute significantly to the perception of one who is easily and genuinely “at home”.
  6. Confident and courageous – Unafraid to make hard decisions, even unpopular at times, the leader is able to take a stand, express convictions and move forward, even in the face of opposition.  It helps to take others along on this often perilous journey.
  7. Humble and modest – Without any need to be boastful, arrogant or prideful, the leader allows his or her deeds to speak for themselves.  Such a spirit speaks volumes without having to say a word.
  8.  Creative and open – The leader exhibits a spirit that seeks and welcomes new ideas.  This is the mind that works like the proverbial parachute, best when open.   However it is not change merely for the sake of something new.
  9. Fair and firm –  These qualities speak of a balanced response, an attitude that knows how to assess and when to draw the line.   This works with both individuals and groups and the leader’s spirit and behavior set the stage, the tone and the process.

Many of these qualities of spirit/soul overlap and are part of a larger dimension of one’s personality, having to do with attitudes and behaviors, as defined earlier.  The point of all of this is that being aware of how these play in the environment in which one works can make a big difference in the outcomes of so much that a leader wants to accomplish. These attributes make it easier to get a lot done without caring who gets the credit.  And finally, these are qualities for good mental and physical well-being. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to inquire, “How’s your spirit?”

As a leader, you can give yourself a survey to see how you rank on the ten qualities/attitudes/behaviors. Try using a scale from 1-5 or 1-10 and rank yourself honestly on each one. Then you can play with the numbers, average all of them together, or give the list to one or more of your colleagues and see how they rank you compared to your own rankings.


Comments (7)

  1. Gary, This is a great question to ask, and the spirit/soul characteristics are a great self-check and more. We need to spend more time checking on our spirit/soul and then making adjustments to keep answering the question in renewed way. And then we need to encourage others in our circle to do the same. Thank you, Jon

    1. Thanks, Jon, for putting the label “essential question” on Menninger’s “How’s your spirit.” It is, in my mind and experience, one of those questions that can lead to further exploration and discoveries regarding one’s self growth and development. I used to think about inventing an emotional thermometer that would measure spiritual temperatures, not so much hot or cold, high or low but perhaps how deep or shallow. It might also be an indication of real vs superficial. More on all of that later.
      Really appreciate your comments and support.

  2. After working with a coaching client, on our final call, I ask, My body is? (to get them grounded in the moment) My mind is? (to help them be conscious about their thoughts about completion and what’s next) and, most importantly, My spirit is? Love how you break down the elements of spirit here. It’s a word we too often shy away from at work but it’s also a core part of leadership and org culture.

    Thanks, Gary!


    1. Terrific coaching technique to help put a client more in touch with body, mind and spirit, and how important each one is as well as their interaction. Better and deeper understanding can lead to more effective leadership. Kudos to you for your continuing good work. We need not shy away from the words, or find one that may be more comfortable that means the same thing. The point is what you have said, “to help thm be conscious about their thoughts about completion and what’s next” Thanks to you!

    2. Alli,
      I just re-read this comment and am struck again by your three questions. Absolutely brilliant! I hope you’re asking yourself the same 3 questions as you end one chapter and start another. So informative when one is self-reflective and great questions for any moment in time for a deeper level of self-awareness. I just did it this morning. Results were revealing. Thanks, again.

  3. Thank you for this post! Wherever the psyche goes, or wants to go, so very often does the ‘rest’ of us ~ it is the engine of Joy, fueled by a mixture of contentment and kindness, sparked by consecrated action 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing this observation, more likely your experience as it seems to describe an essential part of who you are, one who is content, kind, consecrated in his actions based on beliefs and values that you hold dear. Would that more would acknowledge this spiritual dimension that contributes to a meaningful life of love and service.

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