She says 'soul' helps leaders in crisis

Margaret BenefielMargaret BenefielThe lessons of the still-unraveling economic crash will likely take economists and social scientists years to deconstruct. Dorchester's Margaret Benefiel, however, thinks the root cause can be summed up rather simply: Short-sighted, selfish greed. In a word, soullessness.

Benefiel, who lives on Ashmont Hill and teaches and writes about leadership skills and spirituality both here and in Ireland, is the author of The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Fulfillment and Success. She will be on hand at the Wainwright Bank branch at Ashmont next weekend to discuss the book and sign copies, including free books that will be given out to the first 50 people who arrive.

The book, published late last fall, draws on interviews Benefiel conducted with prominent men and women like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and U2's legendary guitarist The Edge, among many others. The book is described as a guide to "leading with soul" and "demonstrating the principle that soulfulness at work is a way of being and doing."

One of the business leaders profiled in the book is Bob Glassman, the chairman of Wainwright Bank, a company that Benefiel praises for its commitment to non-profit causes and social justice.

Benefiel says it's telling that as bigger banks are suffering the ill-effects of poor management and bad loans, Wainwright and banks like it are faring far better.

"I was impressed with their tag line 'Banking on Values'," Benefiel says. "I started reading about them and I was impressed with how they partnered with the community. In the mid-80s they started to do some partnerships with Pine Street Inn and then from there they said, 'We want to be a market leader for non-profits.' People warned against it."

Bob Glassman and others said we'd like to go ahead and try it.

"Now in past 20 years they've lent over $700 million to non profits and they've had zero losses. It's a sharp contrast to what's happening elsewhere and they are on solid footing while other banks are collapsing."

Benefiel, who has a Ph.D. in Theology, splits her teaching time between Andover Newton Theological School in Boston and the Millltown Institute in Dublin, Ireland. She currently spends roughly two months a year in Ireland, a connection that helped bring her face-to-face with The Edge, the U2 guitarist whose own activism - though lesser known than his band-mate Bono - caught Benefiel's eye.

"He's very down to earth, intelligent and thoughtful. No big rock star ego.

"I'd interviewed him before and I asked him if I could talk to him for this book. I interviewd him about his leadership to start Instruments Rising, which was an effort to help artists and musicians who lost their equipment in Hurricane Katrina. I was very impressed with how he was able to bring people together to help New Orleans."

Although the book is aimed primarily at people in leadership positions, Benefiel says that the term applies broadly to anyone who helps to influence others.

"We all influebnce others in our lives, whether in our neighborhood or faith communities," Benefiel says. "President Obama in speech last week talked about how we focused on short term gains, next quarter's profit and that's led to our downfall. Those leaders I've focused on have built for the long term. They of course need profits to survive and they're focused on serving clients and in long run I think that is a better recipe for success."

Benefiel and her husband moved to Dorchester in 1995 because it was diverse, friendly and affordable. Fourteen years later, she says her Ashmont neighborhood has continued to reward that decision.

"One of the reasons we were attracted to Dorchester was we wanted to be close to some of the social justice issues we care about. Living in city we're right there with issues of injustice and crime and building community and diverse neighborhoods. All of those things are important to me and that keeps me close to the ground."