“Our responsibility as individuals is to be true to our own souls and NOT sell out to the System. If we cannot help heal the System we are in, then we must leave the System and find a better opportunity, even if we have to create our own system to do it.” — Dorothy E. Fischer, “The System Versus the Soul,” an essay in Rediscovering the Soul of Business: A Renaissance of Values

Spirit and meaning is a missing link in many lives, teams, and organizations. Many who have material prosperity live in spiritual poverty. That’s what’s driving the rapidly growing number of meaning-seekers in society. We want to know that our lives count for something. We want to make a difference. Our work and our lives become ever more meaningful the more they are in harmony with who we are and touch the very core of why we exist. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a hierarchy describing our progression from the most basic to the highest needs of self-actualization — the fulfillment of our full potential. He believed that “The unhappiness, unease, and unrest in the world today are caused by people living far below their capacity.”

In his book, The Greatest Miracle in the World, Og Mandino spins a tale of his encounters with Simon Potter, a humble and learned wise man. In one conversation, Og and Simon discuss the miracle people can perform in their own lives by resurrecting their dead spirits. Simon explains the need for this miracle, “Most humans, in varying degrees, are already dead. In one way or another they have lost their dreams, their ambitions, their desire for a better life. They have surrendered their fight for self-esteem and they have compromised their great potential. They have settled for a life of mediocrity, days of despair, and nights of tears. They are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice.” We need to be less afraid of death and more frightened by an empty life.

When we feel the most love, passion, or energy is when we are the most alive. That’s when our soul sings. In Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit, organization consultants and professors, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (co-author of the classic Corporate Cultures — the 1982 book that popularized the idea of organization culture) conclude, “The signs point toward spirit and soul as the essence of leadership.”

The culture of a family, team, or organization is “the way we do things around here.” A toxic culture is loveless, passionless, and meaningless. It has a weak heart and a sick soul. A healthy culture is engaged in meaningful doing through purposeful being. It has a high-energy spirit. Leaders make work, families, communities, or life in general, purposeful. I can only do that if I am filled with purpose. Spirit and meaning starts inside the leader. They can only be developed from the inside out.

In their big busyness, organizations can easily lose their heart and soul. Without realizing it, or ever intending to, they can lose their deeper sense of meaning. Goals, plans, reports, and numbers take over. In the harsh glare of hard-headed analysis, soft “touchy, feely” emotions like spirit and meaning evaporate as dew in the morning sun. It’s like an academic study of a deeply moving story. The dissection may help us understand the technical pieces, but misses the feelings that touched us so deeply.

Regardless of our position in an organization, we need to do whatever we can to help change that. We need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But we need to ensure we’re not feeling like victims of a heartless team or organization with a hollowed out soul. It’s too easy to find ourselves being numbed by jobs that aren’t a passionate joy, but really feel like work. Profit, wealth, or careers can become goals in themselves rather than the means to fulfilling our deeper, more meaningful destinies.

If we’re not in touch with our own heart and soul, we may not realize how our life energy is being slowly drained by work that doesn’t feed our spirit and give us richer meaning. If we’re not careful, we can become hollow victims with our lifeblood sucked out of us. But I can’t blame “them.” I may not choose to be victimized by a toxic team, family, or organization, but I choose whether to be a victim. The choice is mine.