Action Wheel Leadership

Authenticity Should Be at the Core of Search

by Tim McGuire

Tim McGuire
United Features Syndicate
Monday, December 2, 2002
used with permission

I first met Bob Terry in the mid-90's when he was presiding over a leadership seminar.

Bob was a bear of a man -- a dancing bear. He moved across the front of the seminar room with boundless energy and just a touch of mischievous devil in his voice. He loved to pick at people's reality and force them to rethink things. He hated the smug. He would not tolerate complacency. His passion became your passion. Bob had changed his life view several times when I met him. He had a Divinity degree and was an ordained minister. Then he got a doctorate in ethics and public policy. He says he was first a religious humanist and then a secular humanist. He admits he really didn't believe in much.

Reflections about leadership and life opened the door for Bob to become one of the early gurus of spirituality and work. As he tried to make sense of events that make no sense, he concluded, "religion was not the issue, spirituality was." He says, "Religions set too many boundaries; spirituality opens boundaries and challenges us to ask the hardest questions and search for trust and hope."

By the time I encountered Bob his leadership studies had led him to connect ethics, values and spirituality to the workplace. He knew work had to be connected to something bigger than work and bigger than individuals, but he struggled to figure out what that connection was.

Bob came to believe the issue was meaning and significance, and he began doing seminars for companies, creating safe places for deep inquiry into meaning. He joined a company called Zobius Leadership International, and he reveled in the new popularity of spirituality in the workplace. He was convinced there "has been real progress in probing the deeper question in a safe and open context." But Bob was disturbed that the term spirituality was becoming so pervasive, yet so vague.

The former minister had struggled with faith and religion all his life. Like so many people, he couldn't comprehend God. A few months ago, Bob said, "I had no God language, then I had a breakthrough: God was Authenticity."

Bob's conclusions disturb some of his friends who believe that a more traditional view of God is required in the pursuit of spirituality in the workplace. Yet, Bob's pursuit of what is real and genuine would make any workplace better.

If we, as workers, could be true to who we really are and not constantly react to somebody else's expectations, or if we could stop chasing false dreams, we would all be better workers, leaders and citizens. If we could figure out a way to be true to our values, we would treat peers, customers and bosses better than we do.

Bob's reflections are remarkable in their content and in their delivery. (in what became his book, On Being A Secular Theologian -ed.) You see, Bob, the dancing bear with the devilish, mischievous voice, did not speak these comments to me. He wrote them on his computer because Bob had shriveled to a rail-thin bear, and he could not speak. He was afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease.

In an e-mail, Bob told me HE did not have ALS, his body did. He told me his theological challenge was figuring out what to do with the thorns when you hope for roses. He wrote that he was more than his body and he was still dealing with life's deepest questions.

On Sept. 20 Bob's pursuit of those questions came to an end when ALS claimed his body.

Bob's search for authenticity should live with all of us as we search for ways we can make work a richer, more meaningful experience.

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