Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Journey to Establish The Center for Enlightened Organizations

Developing Individuals AND Organizations to Achieve Success

David B. Ross   M.B.A; M.Ed.
Center for Enlightened Organizations
8836 Woodland Drive
Silver Spring, Maryland   20910
(301) 565-7878

Looking back on my career as an organizational consultant, trainer, facilitator, and coach, I can see that an “unseen hand” has been guiding me to the place I am today as the founder and President of the Center for Enlightened Organizations (CEO).  There is a purpose or “jewel” that the Divine has placed in my heart that I have been longing to bring out in my professional work for a very long time.  And as I develop and implement the offerings of CEO, I believe that the work I do can make a very profound contribution to leaders and organizations.  

The Beginning of My Awareness

In 1972, as an officer in the U.S. Navy assigned to the Human Resource Development Center in Washington, D.C. (HRDC, Washington), I discovered the field of Organization Development (OD) – a field that became my career.  It was truly a “Eureka!” experience for me.

I had been a psychology major in college, but was not particularly interested in becoming a clinical psychologist or becoming an academic researcher in the field of psychology.  However, I did know that I cared about people and their welfare (especially their welfare at work).  This realization had been with me since I was a 14 year-old boy, delivering newspapers in Tonawanda, New York.  I still clearly remember the moment, on Simson Street in Tonawanda, when it occurred to me that most of the people I was meeting on my paper route were telling me about some problems or unhappiness they experienced in their work; and I was aware that most of my relatives also complained regularly about their jobs.  I had the thought at the time, “It shouldn’t be that way; people should be happy and fulfilled in their work.  Maybe this is something I can help address in my future career.” 

When I graduated from college, I was commissioned as an officer in the Navy and served at sea in a variety of leadership positions aboard several ships.  I was successful as a leader/manager in these roles, but was not set on a career in a line management leadership position (within or outside of the Navy) either.  So when I learned about a new effort within the Navy to address a number of “people” issues, I was able to get orders to the HRDC, Washington.  There I had the opportunity to interview with several Program Managers to determine the best fit for me within that organization.  One of the programs was called Command Development, the Navy’s version of Organization Development.  I had not known about this discipline or any of the applied behavioral sciences before, and yet here it was, a perfect blending of my two main interests in psychology and leadership.  In other words, “Eureka!” (I found it.)  Here was a way to help individuals at work and to help organizations to be BOTH more effective and better, more fulfilling places for people to work.  It seemed possible, through this field, to make the kind of contribution I had envisioned on Simson Street many years before.

Something’s Missing in the Fields of Organizational Behavior and OD

Over many years as an OD consultant, management trainer, executive coach, and group facilitator, I was often frustrated by my inability to influence leaders to create the truly exemplary organizations that we would envision together.  Even when leaders and other organization members had a very clear picture of the type of workplace they wanted to have – a workplace that served their customers/clients well and also provided themselves with a rewarding and fulfilling work experience – they often just couldn’t make it happen.  They could make progress and have some success, but rarely would their efforts lead to achievement of the full vision.  Often there would be various types of blame assessed at all levels for this “failure.”

It was during my graduate studies at UCLA Graduate School of Management, and later at Harvard Graduate School of Education, that a deeper level of awareness emerged for me.  During those years, I was personally embarked on a spiritual path and engaged in regular spiritual practices to develop my own consciousness and expand my own awareness in the direction of the state of “enlightenment” (as understood from the perspective of an Eastern spiritual tradition).  While I was able to find a few psychologists and organizational theorists (e.g. Robert Kegan and Chris Argyris at Harvard Graduate School of Education) whose work and theories seemed to me to be consistent with the notion that expanded individual awareness was important, overwhelmingly the literature of Organizational Theory, Organizational Behavior, and Organization Development seemed to me to be unaware of and therefore to ignore the development (or even the possibility of development) of the awareness or consciousness of the individual leader and organizational member.  A lot of attention was paid to training and development of “knowledge, skills and abilities” of individual employees and managers, but hardly anything about the broadening or expansion of their consciousness, which to my mind was essential to addressing the organizational challenges and creating the kind of effective and fulfilling organizations that the literature envisioned.  In my work as a consultant, coach, facilitator and trainer, I consistently encountered organizational leaders and members who simply did not have the psychological capacity to see the “bigger picture” or to see how their “espoused theory” and intended organizational behavior was inconsistent with their “theory in use” or actual behavior in their organizations (to use terms from Argyris’ work).   It was during those graduate school years that I first was able to conceptualize that “there is an intimate and reciprocal relationship between the development of the individual (awareness/consciousness) and the development of the organization.”  If you are able to develop (expand the psychological, emotional, even spiritual capacity) of the individual, you will be able to create more enlightened organizations – organizations that are effective in serving their clients/customers and achieving their mission as well as organizations that are good and fulfilling places for people to work.  And one of the key characteristics of more enlightened organizations is that their organizational cultures will then nurture and foster the continuing development of the full potential and capacity of their members.  The few truly outstanding organizations I have had the privilege to experience (e.g. Hewlett-Packard Company under the leadership of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard into the 1980s, and W.L. Gore Associates under the leadership of Bill Gore in the 1980s) all have had leaders with very broad, expanded awareness who created organizational cultures that attracted and/or created employees who were also exhibiting and developing broader awareness.  And so, in those years of graduate study, the seeds were planted for the consulting organization I wanted to eventually create – The Center for Enlightened Organizations (CEO) – which would have as its foundational principle the development of BOTH the individual and the organization.

The unfortunate situation in most organizations today, as a result of this missing knowledge and practice, is illustrated by the following description by The Newfield Network in an announcement for one of their Executive Coaching programs:

“Let’s look at some of the challenges in organizations today:
    80% of people leave their companies due to their negative experiences with their manager. (Gallop survey)
    The level of “unengagement” in the workplace is between 50% and 80% of the American workforce. (Human Performance Institute)
    Retention rates have become a regular concern of HR departments nationwide. This is a proven corporate trend.
We have arrived at a human moment in business.
In most corporations, leaders don’t get it. Workers want work that is engaging and supports professional growth. They want bosses that connect, listen, and negotiate real agreements for their work. They want to feel the game is one of winning, not draining their vitality for a company that has to squeeze their employees for more and more. They establish a culture in which you can’t take time for exercise, family, or renewal.  People want to care about their work, have their results appreciated, get honest feedback, and work in teams where teamwork is positive, issues are resolved, and learning is a core value. 

Why don’t we do it? Because many times, leaders don’t know how to have real conversations, connect at the human level, and pursue excellence as an opportunity for each employee. The strategy of “more” pushes out real thinking, real innovation, and real value creation.”

In my view, the lack of capacity of leaders expressed in this description is caused by the inadequate development of consciousness or expanded awareness of these leaders.

Developing Individual Consciousness and Capacity – Three Perspectives on Organizational Leadership Seeking the Same Objective

In almost 40 years of involvement in the field of Organization Development (OD) I have encountered seemingly countless theories/approaches/methodologies developed by both researchers/theorists and practitioners to help create more effective and fulfilling organizations.  On the one hand, it is very difficult to find much agreement on a precise definition of OD, and even harder to find consensus about what approaches and methodologies actually fall under the OD “umbrella” and which are actually something else.  What are the boundaries and parameters of the field?  Is OD a subset of Organizational Psychology or Organizational Behavior, or is it the other way around?  Is an organizational function such as strategic planning or training and development a part of OD or is it a separate discipline?  Many, many other questions like this have been discussed ad nauseum over the years.  As a graduate student at UCLA I did an independent research project on the “Future of OD” that gave me an opportunity to meet and talk with a number of wonderful individuals who actually were pioneers in the field, dating back to the 1960s.  What was striking to me in this work was how much difference of opinion there was, even among these acknowledged pioneers who had contributed so much to the field.  On the other hand, what all of these individuals, theories, approaches, and methodologies that are considered organization development by someone DO have in common is their focus on improving organizational effectiveness, leadership practice, and/or improving the quality of working life for those who spend their careers in organizations.

Over the years, three specific approaches have resonated very strongly with me, in light of my previously described insight regarding the relationship between the development of the individual and the development of the organization.  While seemingly very different from one another in many ways, in my view what they share is a concern for the expansion of awareness of the individual leader or organizational member that will lead to greater capacity to lead and perform in an organizational setting and the creation of more enlightened organizations.  CEO consultants have been trained in each of these approaches, and continue to use all of them (as most appropriate) in our organizational consulting work.

The Developmental Psychology Perspective – The Work of Robert Kegan and Minds at Work 

In the mid-1980s I was a student of Robert Kegan at Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Later I was trained as a facilitator of his “Overcoming Immunities to Change” workshop and approach.  Kegan’s theory regarding the life-long development of meaning-making is fundamentally about how humans become able to take a broader and broader perspective on their world as they mature psychologically.  It is about expansion of their awareness or consciousness.  With each step of development (through the 5 stages of his theory), new capacities emerge and individuals literally see the world anew – opening up new opportunities for effectiveness that were not present in the previous stage.  The practical methodologies that Kegan and his colleagues at his Minds at Work consulting and training company have developed allow individuals and organizations to find a way to “overcome their immunity to change” that has been keeping them from achieving the success that they desire.  At the same time, these methodologies themselves support the growth of the individuals to higher stages of development (according to his theory).

The Philosophical/Emotional/Linguistic Perspective – The Work of Julio Olalla and the Newfield Network

In 2000 I was trained as an Executive Coach in the Newfield Network Coaching for Personal and Professional Mastery Program.  Newfield Network approaches and coaching methods are designed to “create a different observer” who is able to take a new and more expanded perspective on whatever the situation is that is causing a “breakdown.”  The individuals or groups are encouraged to go beyond the “story” that is being told about the current breakdown situation and look at other possibilities.  Becoming a different observer allows new possibilities to emerge.  Language distinctions and the way we communicate are very important in this work.  In addition, the way we mentally construct the emotions that we are living is also important.  Language and emotions as well as other aspects of our life such as the way we hold and use our bodies become important levers to facilitate the expanded awareness that leads to “breakthroughs” in dealing with whatever the situation is.

The Spiritual Perspective -- Insight and Practice from the Transcendental Meditation and the Shadhiliyya Sufi Traditions Bringing Divine Guidance from the Most High Through the (Spiritual) Heart

Since 1974, I have been on a spiritual path, at first, practicing Transcendental Meditation, a form of meditation that comes from the ancient Vedic tradition of India.  Everything about this approach has to do with developing higher states of consciousness, expanded awareness, and the state of “enlightenment.”  The teaching of this path, and my experience with the practices, is that with this broader awareness and regular experience of the Transcendent (Pure Consciousness, Pure Being, Home of All the Laws of Nature), all aspects of life are enriched – mental potential, health, social relationships, and even greater peace in society and the world.  The benefits that I actually did experience in my own life, and that I saw in those who were also practicing these techniques, kept me on this path for many years – and inspired me to become a teacher of the meditation technique.  What I was learning and experiencing here was what inspired my first insights about the relationship between the development of the individual consciousness and the development of the organization, and my first vision of a Center for Enlightened Organizations.  For a variety of reasons, related to my perception that my employers and my clients would not be open to this spiritual approach to individual development, I was not able to fully implement my vision into my work as a consultant, coach, trainer and facilitator for many years.  But the vision remained with me and influenced the way I worked with clients in many ways.  And I believe that my own spiritual development and expanded awareness helped to make me personally more effective in my professional work and greatly benefitted me in all other aspects of my life.  Occasionally I did find a client who was open to a more spiritual approach, and in those situations I was able to greatly enrich the coaching and support I provided.  Nonetheless, over the years I felt an increasing frustration about not being able to fully bring out and use what was truly in my heart to give to my clients.

In the early 2000s I began to be influenced by another spiritual path -- the Shadhiliyya Sufi tradition.  This is a path of energetic and spiritual healing (with “healing” defined in the broadest way to include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing).  It involves healing for virtually anything that is of concern to you in life.  The healing is from the Divine, experienced through your (spiritual) heart.  Over the past 10+ years, I can honestly say that this approach/path has even more profoundly influenced almost every aspect of my life than anything I had experienced before.  The bottom line of this for my career as an organizational consultant, is that opening my heart to the Divine and learning to listen to and act on the guidance that is always available in this way has (positively) changed everything – and has given me an even deeper understanding and an even more practical approach for the vision of more enlightened leaders and organizations that I had been holding for many years.

This new chapter of the journey started when the woman I was dating at the time (now my beloved wife of 8+ years) was given an opportunity to receive a series of healings in the Sufi way from a friend of hers for a physical health issue she had been suffering with for many years.  She gladly accepted the offer.  Her friend was a student at the Jaffe Institute in California (now the University of Spiritual Healing and Sufism).  What she experienced was not only significant help for her physical symptoms, but even more importantly, the opening of her heart to the Divine Qualities of Love, Peace, Mercy, Strength, and many more.  Very soon, she was enrolled in the “Healing School” herself, and offering me the same opportunities to experience this path that her friend had given her.  I could see the positive benefits she was receiving, and I was happy for her; but I wasn’t particularly interested for myself.  I already had “my spiritual path.”  But to please her, I did participate in receiving some healings from her and in attending a number of lectures and workshops she invited me to over a couple of years.  Despite my initial resistance, I had to admit that every time I went to an event or received a healing, I experienced something unexpectedly helpful and profound.  I felt the growing peace and trust in my heart and was able to maintain a more positive emotional state, I experienced healing for some physical issues I was having, and I learned how to receive guidance or answers through my spiritual heart for almost any question (personal or professional) that I had.  Gradually I was coming to know and believe that “this stuff is real, and it really works!”

There are many more details to the story, but eventually (in the fall of 2003), after some undeniably profound personal spiritual experiences, I found myself as a student at the Healing School also.  It was during my first year in that curriculum that an important new insight regarding the Center for Enlightened Organizations came to me.  For a long time I had been wrestling with how to describe what I meant by enlightenment in an organizational context.  The descriptions and definitions I was familiar with from my previous spiritual path seemed way too abstract, strange and impractical for the organizational world that I wanted to serve.  As I learned more and more about what the Sufi path was about, a new awareness came to me one day.  I had the insight that truly enlightened leaders, and the enlightened organizations that they create, are leaders and organizations that are guided by the “light” of the Divine in all the decisions they make and in all that they do!  I knew from my own experience that this kind of guidance is available to anyone (with a little practice in application) through a few very easy to learn practices from the Sufi tradition.  And with that insight, it became more compelling than ever before for me to bring this knowledge into the OD and leadership development arenas.  I came to realize that this was a way that I could fulfill the long-standing desire in my heart to make a significant contribution to this field.  With this inspiration, I founded the Center for Enlightened Organizations (CEO)  (

It is with a great sense of pride and gratitude that I am finally able to offer this kind of support to organizational leaders and members through the Center for Enlightened Organizations.  It is an offer that has been growing within my heart for a very long time.  I know from my own personal experience, and the experience of the leaders with whom we have worked, that the approach and methods of CEO can bring profound, Divinely inspired results that will lead to more enlightened leaders and more enlightened organizations, characterized by work-life satisfaction, organizational success, and service to the world.

What CEO Can Offer

As an organizational leader or professional in your field, what if you had access to a “perfect advisor” who would give you unerring guidance for all the difficult decisions you must make, and who always had the comforting, encouraging message you most needed to hear in times of stress, anxiety, or uncertainty?  The truth is you have that resource available to you always, from your own “inner wisdom.”  You only have to learn the very simple practices that develop your ability to access it.

What I have experienced in my own life is that the ultimate in individual development and expanded consciousness comes from connecting my awareness to Divine Awareness.  The spiritual practices that have enabled me to do this, and to benefit greatly from it in my work, come from the 1400 year-old Shadhiliyya Sufi tradition – although these practices are available to be used by anyone, from any religion or spiritual tradition (or with no religion or spiritual tradition).  There is no need to become “Sufi” to apply them and experience the benefits.  The only requirement is that you be human, with a heart, and willing to explore and experiment with this approach.  Establishing this connection with the Divine is the foundation for finding peace and fulfillment in your work, making decisions and taking actions that are always “in the highest,” and creating truly exemplary organizations that make great contributions to our world.

When applied in your work setting, some of the benefits available from these practices include:
·      Greater clarity about personal and organizational purpose or mission and vision.  What is it that your deepest “heart” wants to give through your own career and through your organization?  What is that “jewel” that the Divine has placed in your soul, the gift that you were born to contribute to the world?  What is it in your work that will “make your heart sing” and give you a sense of true fulfillment?
·      The ability to gain insight into any limiting beliefs (usually semi-conscious or even unconscious) that may be keeping you from moving forward to achieve your mission and vision; and then the ability to examine those beliefs from the perspective of the Truth - and clear them if they are not true and are not serving you.
·      Clear guidance on the next steps necessary for you to move ahead and achieve success.
·      “Tools” for you to use to maintain a firm foundation and emotional stability when challenges and pressures present themselves.  You have a way to deal with the stresses, anxieties and struggles inherent in any organizational or leadership role.  When times are tough you can find relief in your heart with qualities such as Peace, Mercy for yourself and others, Love, Strength, Patience, Trust, Wisdom/Insight, Compassion and many more that are necessary to be most effective in an organizational leadership role.
·      Deep and profound answers for complex questions and difficult decisions you and the members of your work team need to make.
·      The ability to create and maintain the kind of caring, supportive, trusting, respectful relationships with all stakeholders – your own supervisors, colleagues, employees, customers/clients, regulators, others.  And the ability to create and maintain an organizational culture and climate of mutual trust and respect that is so essential for effectiveness and harmonious functioning.
·      The wisdom and broad perspective to find “win/win” solutions to any conflicts or differences that do arise.

Our Invitation:  Let us support you in becoming an enlightened leader and in creating an enlightened organization.

We offer organizational consulting, workshops and custom-designed organizational improvement engagements in the following areas:
·      Coaching for leaders and other stakeholders
·      Leadership Training Workshops
·      Facilitation of a wide variety of groups
·      Strategic Planning Processes
·      Performance Management Systems
·      Work Process Improvement/Re-design Initiatives
·      Developing a Global Mindset and Global Skills
·      Change Management
There are a variety of ways to structure or package our work that will be agreed upon with each client to provide the best value for their circumstances and needs.
·      Coaching and consulting at an hourly or daily rate
·      Public workshops at a per person fee
·      Workshops tailored for, and offered within, an organization for a fixed fee
·      Projects mutually designed and agreed upon at a contracted fee
·      Multi-session (volume) discounts for any work

WE WANT TO HELP AND SUPPORT YOU WITH YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL AND LEADERSHIP GOALS AND CHALLENGES!  That is our mission and our reason for being here.  So don’t let any financial concerns keep you from contacting us.  We will work with you to find a way to structure an engagement that is mutually satisfactory for both of us.

FREE initial coaching session to allow you to experience our work and see the value it can bring to you and your organization.

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