Your Inward Journey
Successful leaders understand the significance of the journey within to elevate their growth, as well as enhance their ability to support others.
In our October 2023 Servant Leadership Community of Practice, guest facilitator, Caitlin Mae Lyga Wilson led our conversation on “Servant Leadership & the Inward Journey.”
Caitlin, author of Cultivating a Servant Heart: Insights from Servant Leaders, shared her story of self-discovery and identified strategies for personal and professional growth.
Your Leadership Calling: Personal Reflection
“The truth is that we are all called to lead, wherever we are planted, in the family, the workplace, the community. But many of us fear the challenges that come with leadership and not without reason…It takes courage to lead and to lead well.” – Parker Palmer
- Take a minute to think of all the courageous leadership roles and tasks that you complete on any given day.
- Then ask yourself: Where am I in my inward journey? And where do I want to be?
Benefits of the inward journey
As part of the Masters in Servant Leadership at Viterbo University, each student must choose a theory of servant leadership to research and further explore. Caitlin selected the inward journey as the focus of her study.
At the time, she found that everything on the outside was crumbling…her personal life and relationships, and in the workplace.
Through her studies, Caitlin was introduced to servant leadership from learned teachers, authors, and scholars and saw this leadership approach as a way to help fix a broken workplace culture or mend relationships.
However at the core, she realized that the one who needed fixing was herself. She found awareness and personal transformation: “I found myself pointed inward, and I found my outward focus turning inward.”
The inward journey is a deeply personal journey, a time and space to be vulnerable with yourself.
Questions & findings to support your inward exploration
The purpose of Caitlin’s research was reading and inner exploration on these two questions.
- What is the inward journey and are there common elements?
- What is the connection between servant leadership and the inward journey?
Caitlin reviewed 30+ books, peer-reviewed articles and podcasts from personal and organizational psychology, theology and philosophy, and wisdom texts.
In her findings, she discovered a definition:
The change of our inner life over time, the growth of our consciousness / heart / soul.
“Continually evolving awareness” – Robert K. Greenleaf
Common core elements of leadership self-discovery and consciousness
This work is deeply personal
- There is no one way, map, or answer that applies to all of us. If anything it lies within us.
It follows a circular shape
- Life is not a linear journey, it’s circular or similar to a jungle gym. We flow through the phases repeatedly, even daily, until we learn what it is we are meant to learn.
Scratch the idea of a destination
- A general movement of self to service. Not a roadmap with a singular destination, more like mile markers along a continuous path.
After her inward journey and further reflection, Caitlin feels strongly:
“Only common elements and phases can truly be shared with others. The inward journey is personal, but the outward process of sharing and relating with others holds the greatest wisdom.”
Common inward leadership journey phases
- Largely focused on self-preservation, safety and success; our most basic instinctual needs. If we’re not careful, this will overpower us.
Yearning & epiphany
- We may feel that something is “off” in our life; worldly pursuits have not fulfilled us. We question our purpose and sense a call to evolve.
Commitment to the call
- Having acknowledged our yearning and questions, we can choose to pursue them, knowing we will have to make sacrifices and personal change.
Darkness & loss
- This phase may be intentional (leaving a job, relationship, belief) or unintentional (death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, our health). These painful losses often spin us into solitude and self-reflection.
Rebirth & service
- Having spent time in the darkness, we turn back outward with a new sense of self, our purpose and gifts. We seek ways to serve others over serving the ego.
- Feelings of deep kinship with other humans and the earth. We may experience spiritual transcendence or commit our lives fully to service or community.
Revisit again…Where are you in your inward journey? And wherever you are, it is exactly where you are meant to be.
A strengthened connection to servant leadership
Through her journey, Caitlin learned a lot about servant leadership and about herself. Below are three takeaways:
The journey leads to servant leadership.
Because the central journey moves from self to service, the destination is servant leadership.
Outer change starts with inner change.
To reach outward change, we must go through personal transformative processes. Lasting collective change is achieved through the transformation of individual human minds.
The servant-leader is an inward journey guide.
Servant leaders are uniquely equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively support others’ inward journeys. So how can we train and accompany others on this journey?
Leadership in action reflections
Expanding on the takeaways above, our attendees also contributed their own leadership lessons on the inward journey.
Who were your earliest examples of servant leadership and how did they shape you?
- Children pick up on authenticity, they can see through it so clearly (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.).
- Moms are very influential, it starts in the home.
- Leaders are true to themselves and they’re true to others.
What mission do you believe our era was uniquely called to carry out?
- A time for healing, connecting through the heart, and finding clarity in what is truly important.
- All of us stepping up to be leaders.
- We used to be communities and have to find our individuality, now we are individuals and have to find community.
What do you believe is the most important task of a servant leader?
- To work with people, you need to learn and listen.
- Ability to continually learn and work on yourself.
- Being vulnerable with others.
- Continue to take risks even when they feel uncomfortable or scary.
- Be a light in the world.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ― Rumi
We must speak of our inward journeys to restore wholeness in ourselves and the world. There’s a stigma in speaking of our inner experiences – but the servant leader understands.
The healing of our world depends upon the healing of individual human souls; it depends upon us shining a light on the inward journey.
We need cultures, communities, organizations, and servant leaders who will speak of and support the inward journey.
Watch below for a short video from our conversation!
To learn more about Caitlin Lyga Wilson and her new book, Cultivating a Servant Heart: Insights from Servant Leaders, go to Fulcrum Publishing.
Use promo code: SOPHIA30 for a 30% discount!
What have you learned from this blog? Contact us and let us know!
Don’t miss your opportunity to join our next conversation! Community Practice sessions are amazing opportunities for any and all leaders to gather and learn from one another in a supportive, comfortable environment, right from your computer. November’s Community of Practice topic is “A New Kind of Diversity.”
- Book: Cultivating a Servant Heart: Insights by Servant Leaders – Caitlyn Mae Lyga Wilson
- Robert Greenleaf – An Inward Journey
This blog post wraps up October’s 2023’s Community of Practice event. To join us during the live discussion for future months, register at https://www.sophiapartners.org/events/. Community of Practice occurs the fourth Tuesday of each month from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. CT.