The best leaders in business, politics, education, community life or any human endeavour usually possess a mix of talents. They understand the field they’re working in and its relation to the larger world; they have a sense of purpose and priorities. And they also have a good understanding of people, including themselves. Of all the life skills, that final one may be the most important and the most difficult to attain. There are accountants to keep track of a company’s cash flow, but who else can read the profit-&-loss statement when a close personal relationship goes sour? Electricians can install an Uninterruptable Power Source in a plant or office, but who can help when your own life feels like it’s lost its charge? A manager can hire people to open and close a store, but “what opens and closes you?”
That question is one of hundreds among the scores of exercises in “This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness”. It is a book that aims to make its readers more self-assured, purposeful and simply happy by clearing away the detrius of negativity that can conceal their positive virtues. The author is C. Clinton Sidle, who guides aspiring business leaders and others as director of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program in the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Sidle is a graduate of Cornell and was director of strategic planning at the university for ten years. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, is a consultant on leadership to many companies including Corning, Inc. and Kellogg’s and also writes a blog for the Huffington Post.
Most of his MBA students enjoy the experience of putting aside their spreadsheets to examine their own life stories and ideas, says Mr. Sidle, but it can also lead to disturbing insights. Sidle believes that most people’s thinking is constricted by mental models “formed and reinforced by your mental chatter”. That chatter is mostly about personal wishes or shortcomings. “My bet is that like most of us, you are always concerned with your self-image, and obsessed with ‘looking good and not looking stupid.'” “This Hungry Spirit” seeks to get people out of “boxes” and turn them toward hearing and understanding their mental chatter, cultivating awareness, making reflection a habit and finding work they love. To accomplish this Sidle devised more than thirty exercises and activities:
Exercise 10: Who am I?
1. Ask yourself, “Who am I?” You can’t do that with a lot of people around. So go to your room, shut your door, turn off your cell phone, and ask the question.
2. Ask it at least ten to twenty times and write down your answers. Don’t verthink it — just let the first thought be your best thought each time you ask.
3. As you proceed, see if you notice something about yourself that’s contrary to what you have thought, or reveals a deeper longing.
Clint Sidle also speaks in personal terms about who he is, his striving for personal freedom, a failed marriage built on false expectations, the value of kereping a journal to explore his inner world, the misdirections in his career and discovering his true calling. In beckoning people to where they can accomplish satisfying work, Sidle cites such diverse but interconnected thinkers as theologian Martin Buber, mythologist Joseph Campbell (“follow your bliss”) and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, whose concept of “Flow” describes the condition wherein a person is more in touch with the activity he or she is performing than with the self carrying it out.
In addition to chapters on interpersonal relationships, standing up to fears and having a light-hearted attitude (“People are never so trivial as when they take themselves so seriously”), Sidle adds an appendix about assessing personal strengths as detailed in his 2005 book “The Leadership Wheel”.
C. Clinton Sidle joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to speak about how people can apply their highest nature to their life and work.