Ghosts & Time Spirits at Work (w/ Neil Edwards)

Neil invites corporate executives and individual leaders into the world of ghosts and time spirits to address systemic racism at work. He asserts that D&I programs are destined to fail, and the impact of systemic racism will recycle. Taking actions to address these deeper issues at the right level of intervention might be the systemic innovations companies need to final produce transformative results. 

You can connect with Neil on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. You can email him at


Neil Edwards (00:11): I am Neil Edwards, and this is The Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of Black and brown coaches, leaders, and allies, and have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships and teams, well-being, and inclusion. Here, I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and life. Here’s a question. Can CEOs, diversity officers, talent executives, and leaders believe in ghosts and be successful in their careers? Ghosts and spirits are haunting corporate America. Learning how to work with these could unlock stale and ineffective leadership development and inclusive leadership programs and returns serious dividends for corporate investments. If you’ve been listening to me for a while, you know that a part of my expertise is developing leaders and coaching, and as a part of my coaching, I use organization and relationship systems coaching. And in that, I train HR and OD leaders and consultants, and train other coaches, train leaders, train IT professionals in this organization and relationship systems, coaching work. It is powerful work and a powerful set of tools once you’ve experienced it. A small part of this work involves looking at what we call ghosts and time spirits, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today and show you how it’s relevant in corporate America. It’s important because every business is trying to develop leaders and teams that produce results, and anything that gets in the way of that is something businesses need to address. Left unaddressed, you’re leaving money on the table and you’re compromising the potential of the most important resource and asset that organizations have, and that is people. It’s also important for individual leaders who want to be at their best. It’s particularly important for Black and other minority leaders who are navigating corporate environments, and these ghosts and time spirits are having a specific and particular negative impact on their career journeys. In the next few minutes, you’re going to understand why there’s a need to address ghosts and time spirits, and you’re going to realize the potential on the other side of doing so. The real benefits. Almost every organization is trying to elevate leadership and develop inclusive leadership. Just about every organization has made declarations and are trying to address systemic racism as an imperative. And I cannot think of an organization that’s not trying to move towards creating a culture of belonging. These are all serious problems that organizations need to solve, and they have not yet been solved. Addressing ghosts and spirits will not just move the needle on leadership and inclusive leadership, and moving towards a culture of belonging. Addressing these things are transformative for organizations and individuals alike. Even more, you can map this to results in your people organization that has financial implications for the business. So let’s do it. Robin Green Ingersoll, an abolitionist from the golden age of free thoughts said, “The first step is for man to cease to be the slave of man. The second is to cease to be the slave of the monsters of his own creation, the ghosts and phantoms of the air.” So let me frame up in very summarized terms what we’re talking about here. In [inaudible 00:04:09], we have something that we call roles. And roles exist in organizations. Everybody understands roles at a high level. In ORSC work we have outer roles. They support the structural functioning of an organizational system, and these are typically things like titles. You need a CEO, you need a head of HR. You need someone that’s doing learning and development. You need someone that’s dealing with finance. These are outer roles and are typically titles. There are all sorts of other roles that support the internal sentiment and dynamics and morale and culture of an organizational system, and they operate at different levels within the hierarchy of roles, different levels of depth.It’s useful to think of these levels like strata in the earth, and on the upper-most level, you would have outer roles. And then you go deeper and we have types of inner roles, and then we have secret roles, and then we have ghost roles and time spirits. Now, ORSC didn’t come up with time spirits. A psychologist called Arnold Mindell came up with time spirits. He’s a process-oriented psychologist and a psychotherapist. And this is a part of his work, and it has influenced ORSC work and is a part of what we do. One of the things that we know in ORSC work and in process-oriented psychology around roles is that when there is an issue in systems, when there’s an issue in relationships, that issue needs to be addressed at the appropriate layer in the strata of roles. Outer roles, inner roles, secret roles and hidden roles, ghost roles and time spirits. And if the issue is not addressed at the proper layer, the issue recycles itself. It repeats. It doesn’t actually get resolved. It doesn’t go away. So hold that thought for a second. I want to tell you what a ghost role is and what a time spirit is. So let’s start with ghost. A ghost role is a thing. It’s an invisible thing that is having an impact on a system, on a relationship, on an organizational system now, but it isn’t actually present. It’s based on something that has happened in the past. These things from the past can be positive or negative, and have the corresponding impact on the relationship or on the organizational system, the culture. So for example, a former CEO could have some impact or some residual impact on the organization based on the presence of that CEO and maybe some work that that CEO has done. A huge firing or reorganization from the past, or a merger and acquisition that happened in the past, that really had a huge impact on the organization. Even though it was 10 or 20 years ago, it left a taste in the culture that is having an impact on how people behave today. That is a ghost. A time spirit is a cultural ghost in the walls of an organization. These are societal. They impact the entire culture of society. There is a powerful cultural sentiment and mood and experience associated with time spirits. One of the unique things about time spirits is that, unlike ghosts, time spirits are present today. They continue to impact in our personal relationships, organizational systems and societal systems today. Any -ism that you can think about is a time spirit. Racism, sexism, fascism, nationalism, they’re all time spirits. They are all something that generated and emerged in the past, and they are present today, and they have impact on relationship and relationship systems and organizational systems today. So when we talk about systemic racism inside organizations or around organizations, or we talk about inclusive leadership as a sanitized language to address systemic racism and we’re addressing it at that upper level of the strata, at outer roles and its source, its root, is at a ghost role and time spirit level. What we know in ORSC work is that problem is going to continue to recycle because we’re not addressing it at the appropriate layer of roles. So what does that mean? D&I programs need to address racism and inclusive leadership at a much deeper level than they currently are right now. James Baldwin said, “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” Organizations and people don’t need to remain trapped in the history of systemic racism. And Louis Brandeis, lawyer and Supreme Court Justice of the United States in the early 1900s said, “Most of the things we’re doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” I appreciate this last quote because I can hear leaders saying now, “Well, we can’t do that. We can’t scale that. We can’t talk about racism.” Here’s what I say to that. Are you more interested in continuing to be haunted by the ghost and time spirit of racism? Or might you be interested in systemic people innovation that can lead to better results for your investments? I say it’s worth questioning and it’s worth exploring, given all of the investments that are currently being made. This isn’t about getting rid of racism. This is about recognizing that racism is a ghost and time spirit that is having an impact on the organization and on the people in the organization. This is a conversation recognizing that racism isn’t the organization, and it’s not the people in the organization, it is a conversation about reorienting around racism and having a conversation about it. A conversation where the focus is “How do we build our organizational systems around racism that we know exists in our society, and has an impact on us, on our interrelationships in this system?” It’s a conversation about building a future, recognizing the things that are having an impact on us now. Thomas Jefferson. Everyone knows Thomas Jefferson. He said, “I liked the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” I think dreams and hope are a leadership skill. So let’s recap what you just heard. Ghosts and time spirits from the past exist, and they are having an impact on our inner personal and organizational systems today. Racism is one example of a time spirit that is having an impact on our society, on our organizations and on our people. Time spirits need to be addressed at the appropriate level, otherwise they will recycle and reoccur. We don’t solve the problem if we’re not addressing them at the right level of relationships, and we currently are not doing that. Time spirits are not easy to work with. They need to be addressed at both the individual level and the systemic level, and there are ways to go about doing that. Executives and other leaders with influence need to do something different, because what is being done now is not working. The science, talent, and skill is out there to support this problem, but you have to think innovation. You have to think systemic people innovation if you really want to address these problems. Choosing to do so means transformative change. Transformative change for individual leaders. Transformative change for Black and minority professionals trying to navigate a predominantly-white workplaces, and transformation for the talent agenda, creating a community, a culture of belonging, retaining top talent, developing top talent, and really impacting the bottom line. Obviously, I’m skimming the surface here. If this is something you want to learn more about, you want to dig into, reach out to me. I’m happy to have a conversation. If you’re a leader of influence, if you’re a diversity officer or even an individual who wants to take and use this in smaller systems around you and advance your career, just reach out, message me, link with me on LinkedIn, email me. We can talk about it. What I want is for everybody to have the same opportunity to thrive, and sometimes a new focus and tools and a new framework is what’s needed to help to move us in that direction. It might require getting rid of old ways of thinking and adopting new ways of seeing the world and operating. So my invitation to everybody is to begin addressing these issues at a level that’s going to produce results rather than continue to recycle and remain unresolved. Thank you for listening to this episode of The Leadership Range. If you enjoyed the episode, I invite you to peruse the others for more great conversations. If you know someone you think ought to be on the podcast, please send me an email at To connect with me you can find me on LinkedIn at I look forward to you joining in for more conversations each Monday on The Leadership Range.

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