Good Place Akron

Heart to Heart:
Taking a Deeper Look at Work

By: Katie Sobiech

Walking into a building that was once a convent and entering Father Norm Douglas’s office you notice two things. One – he must be one of the friendliest men on the planet and two- he must love reading, because bookshelves cover just about every wall.

Co-Author of the book How in the World Do We Make a Difference? – Getting to the Heart and Soul of Love and Work, Father Norm has a passion to do just that – make a difference in the workplace.

Together and Larry Vuillemin founded Heart to Heart Communications. Their focus he says is “Helping people connect more deeply their spirituality and faith values in their work life.”

A Stroke at Thirty Five

It all began when Vuillemin, a successful attorney, came to Father Norms’ office after having had a stroke at just 35 years old. The stroke caused him to take a deeper look at his life. He realized that outwardly he was what the world would consider a success, but inwardly he felt somewhat empty and disconnected from his spiritual roots. This brought somewhat of a spiritual awakening in his life.

“One of his biggest questions was ‘I’ve been a lawyer for all of these years, I need to sort out how to more deeply connect my spirituality and values with the practice of law’,” Father Norm explained.

As he and Vuillemin discussed the topic of spirituality and work they thought it would be even more interesting to invite others in on the conversation so they all could share their wisdom and experiences with each other. Their group grew in 1986 and they officially incorporated Heart to Heart in 1990.

Since then their small group meetings have grown, they have had ongoing work shops and completed many programs.

Spiritual Life at Work

“Our key focus is people’s work life,” Father Norm explained.

He and Vuillemin desire to see people find a greater sense of meaning in their work.

“Our purpose is to foster the kind of conversations that help people to more deeply integrate their spirituality in their work,” Rev. Douglas said.

Integrating people’s values into their work and how they build relationships at work are two important focus areas.

Accepting Differences

“In this pluralistic culture and workplace how do we bring people together in the kind of conversations where they can seek to better understand one another and enrich one another - not simply be divided?” Father Norm asked.

Meeting in groups is one way. Therefore, Heart to Heart establishes groups of 12-15 people in workplaces all across Akron, which meet for 10 sessions in a series called “Leadership Connections”.

Their goal is to foster self awareness.

“We’ve had a lot of people who have come to a realization of themselves which helped them to be more purposeful in their work,” Father Norm said.

Heart to Heart also works towards cultivating a non – judgmental atmosphere in the workplace where people of so many different faiths interact.

“We are different,” Father Norm said, “Let’s share our different stories, our different perspectives. I’m not going to try to convince you or make you see it my way, but I am going to share out of my conviction and be open to hearing and better understanding you and your conviction. Even if we disagree – we’re going to be civil and caring of one another.”

After working in the groups, many have come back saying that the discussions opened their eyes as to how spirituality and faith are relevant to their work life and everyday relationships.

Annual Breakfast

Every year for the past 15 years Heart to Heart sponsors a breakfast called “Greater Akron Speaks Out for Values” where a highly respected individual from the community speaks about their life journey, spirituality and values. The breakfast focuses on leadership and how spirituality connects with and shapes the way people lead. It draws several hundred people each year.

Both Father Norm and Vuillemin found that leaders can get so caught up in all of the practical concerns and outer skills of leadership, such as strategic planning and vision setting, that they neglect looking at the inner life – the inner attitudes, values and spirit – “Which is what shapes us,” Father Norm said.

Available but Not Approachable

He told a story about one leader who always had his door open and was available to people. He wanted them to talk to him but didn’t realize why they never did until one man said “When we do talk to you, you get kind of defensive, so a lot of people don’t come in even though your door is opened.”

He realized that he had been available but unapproachable. Once the communication lines were open and he realized this, he became a more affective leader.

“It took coming to a deeper self awareness. Stepping back, taking an honest look from within – a heart to heart conversation with himself,” Father Norm said.

Ethics and Values in the Work Place

Another important aspect of Heart to Heart is looking at ethics and values at work.

“It’s a huge issue today,” Father Norm said. “Everyday you can pick up the newspaper and find issues; even with the economy today and some of the reasons (are) human greed and immediate gratification.”

He explained that research shows great importance in companies getting their employees to examine their own personal values. Because of this, Heart to Heart helps people develop an inner sense of virtue which Fr. Norm describes as “The desire to want to be a good person and do the right thing.”

Participants answer questions such as how to strengthen the inner spirit so that people want to live ethically. They desire for people to aspire to be people of integrity.

Making a Difference

In order to spread the word on incorporating spirituality in the workplace, Rev. Douglas, Larry Vuillemin and Stephen Hallam, Ph.D, the former Dean of The University of Akron School of Business, wrote the book How in the World Do We Make a Difference? – Getting to the Heart and Soul of Love and Work.

Reverand Douglas and Vuillemin connected with Hallam when he taught business classes at Akron University. Because Hallam would often tie in ethics to his class topics he invited the two men to attend some classes and converse with the students on the subject. After having great conversations and reflections with people from all over the globe they decided to write a book together.

Not only that… “The genesis of this book came from Larry and I doing missions in various communities and evenings of retreat and recollection,” Fr. Norm recalled.

How to live out faith in daily life is the emphasis of the book. The authors ask questions such as “Where in the world is our God?” and “How in the world do I make a difference?”

“We wove our stories into the book and some reflections based on the stories,” Father Norm said.

Through this experience they found that it is so important for people to get in touch with their own story. By the same token – it is also important to hear other people’s stories.

What if My Job Seems Purposeless?

What about the millions of Americans who don’t like their jobs?

In that case, Fr. Norm says a person should look inside of him or herself. After his spiritual awakening, Vuillemin lacked a sense of purpose as a lawyer.

“He almost thought ‘Should I move into some new realm, like become a missionary?’ But he took another look and realized that he didn’t need to leave the practice, he had to change how and why he was doing what he was doing.”

Ask yourself: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? How am I doing it? Could I find a greater meaning or purpose by doing it differently or having a different focus?

Ask what are my gifts? What are my strengths? What am I drawn to?

Fr. Norm says that Heart to Heart often uses the acronym NAG – what is NAGging at you? Is there a Need out there that you have an Attraction to and that you’re Gifted in doing something about?

“Explore that. Maybe you need to move into a new area,” he said.

If you are interested in having Heart to Heart Communications facilitate workshops, presentations or small group discussions at your workplace please call (330) 434-3278 ext. 3 or check out their webpage

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