Psyche was the youngest of the three daughters of some king, her beauty prompted the jealousy and envy of Venus (Aphrodite). In order to avenge herself, the goddess ordered Amor (Eros) to inspire Psyche with a love for the most contemptible of all men, but Amor was so stricken with her beauty that he fell in love with her. He accordingly conveyed her to some charming place, where, unseen and unknown, he visited her every night, and left her as soon as the day began to dawn. Psyche might have continued to enjoy this state of happiness, if she had attended to the advice of her beloved, never to give way to her curiosity, or to inquire who he was. But her jealous sisters made her believe that in the darkness of night she was embracing some hideous monster, and once, while Amor was asleep, she approached him with a lamp, and, to her amazement, she beheld the most handsome of the gods. In her excitement of joy and fear, a drop of hot oil fell from her lamp upon his shoulder. This awoke Amor, who censured her for her mistrust, and escaped. Psyche’s peace was now gone, and after attempting in vain to throw herself into a river, she wandered about from temple to temple, inquiring after her beloved, and at length came to the palace of Venus. There her real sufferings began, for Venus retained her, treated her as a slave, and imposed upon her the hardest and most humiliating labors. Psyche would have perished under the weight of her sufferings, had not Amor, who still loved her in secret, invisibly comforted and assisted her in her labors. With his aid she at last succeeded in overcoming the jealousy and hatred of Venus; she became immortal, and was united with him forever. It is not difficult to recognize in this lovely story the idea of which it is merely the mythical embodiment, for Psyche is evidently the human soul, which is purified by passions and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness.
Leaders whose souls are “purified by passions and misfortunes” really do have a much better chance to enjoy happiness in their work, with their colleagues and with the community at large. While the end goal of most leaders may not be mere happiness, it’s a fairly good barometer of the state of one’s spirit which is the accurate translation of the Greek word psyche .
Karl Menninger, the founder and director for many years of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, used to ask patients upon their discharge from the clinic, “How’s your spirit?” In fact 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.” This is why psyche is most often misunderstood as “mind” as opposed to “spirit” or “soul.”
I believe the “spirit” of the outstanding leaders I have known can be seen, heard and felt in at least the following ten ways. These are not in any order of priority.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Conscientious and intentional – Designing change requires a spirit that is transparent so that others may see how seriousness of purpose pervades the leader.
6. 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 “at home” easily and genuinely.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Creative and open – The leader exhibits a mind that seeks and welcomes new ideas. This is the mind that works like the proverbial parachute, best when open. However it is not change for the sake of something new.
10. 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 sets the stage, the tone and the process.
Many of these qualities of spirit 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 really make a big difference in the outcomes of so much that you want to accomplish and these make it easier to get a lot done without caring who gets the credit. Most importantly, these are qualities for good mental and physical well-being.