The Lost Art of Blessing

Is It Time To Move To Your Next Level of Leadership Maturity?

When I cry watching a movie, it is often when an older character bestows an authentic blessing upon a younger character. Not as an act of congratulations for achievement, but as an unconditional, grace-filled blessing of the very essence of who that young character is.

My emotion reflects my hunger for blessing. A need that I don’t know can ever be fully satisfied in me. I suspect that the striving for accomplishment and visibility during the first half of my life arose from my intense desire to be blessed.

We Live in a Judgment-Rich Culture

Not long ago, I was working with a group of CEOs on retreat. These leaders were looking deeply at their lives and mortality, expanding their awareness in order to make clearer, more mature choices as leaders, parents and partners. During one process I asked a man to step into the role of a future, older version of himself and “bless” a younger version of himself. He looked at me, and without words, let me know that he was baffled by what I was asking of him. He did not know how to give a blessing.

Our culture trains us how to evaluate, criticize and praise – in essence, it teaches us how to judge. School grading systems categorize people as “good” and “bad.” Athletic competition and corporate compensation programs train us well to scrutinize each other and ourselves.

These practices reinforce a cultural emphasis on comparison and judgment. From this early training our “inner critic” is born and often becomes overdeveloped. In case you haven’t met him yet, your inner critic is that part of you – that voice inside – that lays on judgment and criticism of you, your thoughts, and your actions.

Yes, self-criticism can be a powerful incentive to push ourselves harder to do better and prevent future errors. Similarly, critical feedback can be a motivating force for others. Yet, at its core, criticism motivates primarily by fear: We seek to avoid further criticism. Blessing, on the hand, inspires, which from its Latin root means to breathe into. Mature leaders recognize that inspiration represents a much more powerful force than motivation.

Blessing is the art of looking deeply into the heart and soul of another and unconditionally honoring the essential quality you discover there. Blessing is not earned through accomplishment or status. Blessing is about seeing who the person is, not what he has done or thought, or what role he plays.

You may notice that when you offer an authentic blessing, you act as a channel for a higher power. You allow a greater consciousness to move through you into others.

When my client on the retreat began to practice the art of blessing, at first he found himself qualifying his recognition of himself (self-judgment) and encouraging himself to do more in the future (for instance, “You will be acceptable when you…”). In the process he struggled to connect with and see his own beauty.

How Do We Learn To Bless?

Our biggest obstacle to blessing others is our inability to bless ourselves. When we consider our training and the leverage we typically apply using our inner critic to push us to higher levels, it is no wonder we struggle to bless.

Inspirational leadership that uses authentic blessing reflects a higher, more mature level of leadership than that which merely motivates the troops. All too often motivation is consciously or unconsciously viewed by others as self-serving, manipulative or (and it takes a mature leader to see this) demanding.

As leaders mature they are fueled less by unconscious inner criticism, achievement and perfectionism and more by blessing and inspiration. Leadership maturity is not about acquiring more skills and experience but by gaining more self-understanding and broader ways of viewing the world.

Leadership maturity comes through doing the “inner work” of looking at belief systems and identifying unmet core needs. What emerges as leaders do this work is the archetypal sovereign energy* that can bless, receive blessing, affirm and radiate a certain leadership presence.

Running The Blessing Circuit

Depending on your own level of development, it may feel risky to do anything that gives your inner critic the day off. Without your critic (you may wonder), how else are you going improve, avoid mistakes and move to the next level?

You may begin to recognize how your overdeveloped critic which propelled you to this level of success has now become the barrier preventing you from stepping up to the next level of leadership. It may also be the barrier blocking you from the next level of your life!

Developing the art of blessing does not require that you suppress your inner critic. Don’t worry, your inner critic is not going away. In fact, you don’t have to stop doing anything. The ability to bless starts with running an internal blessing “circuit” a few times a day. One way I evoke this energetic circuit is pausing a couple of times a day in front of a mirror, looking into my eyes and acknowledging my true nature and beauty and giving myself the words of support and affirmation I want to hear.

Your critic may already be saying “that sounds pretty hokey.” I would expect nothing less of my critic. Find a practice that works for you. It is amazing how quickly this simple practice grounds me, strengthens me and allows me to lead from my heart instead of my solar plexus where I hold my fear.

Self-blessing practices offer an excellent first step on a path to higher levels of leadership but often we find there is more work to do. We may see that our blessing deficit is running high and realize that we hunger for rituals that bless vulnerable or beat-up parts of ourselves. Meeting this need for a deeper blessing often requires the support of a coach or facilitator. Such a process helps us lead from higher levels of consciousness without sacrificing our intensity, boundaries and focus.

Maybe you recognize in yourself the same hunger I see in myself: a yearning for authentic, soulful blessing. I assure you this powerful unmet need exists in your direct reports and line associates, just as certainly as it does in your family members – and most everyone you come in contact with. Develop this art form, offer a blessing and see what happens in the other person and what happens in you.

Bless yourself, bless others and open to the blessings flowing all around you.

*Archetypal Sovereign Energy:

Archetypes are core, inherited images everyone relates to as a part of our collective understanding of human nature. The healthy or balanced Sovereign/King or Queen energy is one of four archetypes that well-rounded leaders embody. The other three are The Warrior, The Magician and The Lover.