Engaging Soul in Business

“We labor at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life, because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.” Nietzsche ‘Untimely Meditations’

The word ‘soul’ is from the Old English sawol “spiritual and emotional part of a person, animate existence,” sometimes said to mean originally “coming from or belonging to the sea,” because that was supposed to be the stopping place of the soul before birth or after death.  I think the Soul is the human part of our spiritual (read ‘inner’ life) and in Jungian psychology would relate to the Feminine (don’t read female) or Feeling self.  It is very related to people & our relationships with people.

The Wall Street Journal had a post by Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0 called ‘The Hole in the Soul of Business’ where he postulated that the language used in business lack soul.

In my last post, I cited a survey that found that only 20% of employees are truly engaged in their work — heart and soul. As a student of management, I’m depressed by the fact that so many people find work depressing.
In the study, respondents laid much of the blame for their lassitude on uncommunicative and egocentric managers, but I wonder if there’s not some deeper organizational reality that bleeds the vitality and enthusiasm out of people at work.
A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance. In so doing, it transforms great talent into exceptional accomplishment. That’s a fact—and it leaves me wondering: Why are words like “love,” “devotion” and “honor” so seldom heard within the halls of corporate-dom? Why are the ideals that matter most to human beings the ones that are most notably absent in managerial discourse?
Again, there’s nothing wrong with utilitarian values like profit, advantage and efficiency, but they lack nobility. Reflect for a moment on the avarice and irresponsibility that produced the recent banking crisis, and wreaked havoc at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and a host of other scandal-plagued companies. If corporate leaders and their acolytes are not slaves to some meritorious social purpose, they run the risk of being enslaved by their own ignoble appetites. An uplifting sense of purpose is more than an impetus for individual accomplishment, it is also a necessary insurance policy against expediency and impropriety.  Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, held a similar view, which he expressed forcefully in “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . ..”  Given all this, why is the language of business so sterile, so uninspiring and so relentlessly banal? Is it because business is the province of engineers and economists rather than artists and theologians? Is it because the emphasis on rationality and pragmatism squashes idealism? I’m not sure.

Gary Hamel

“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.” James Truslow

It is true that business terminology is often cold, hard & unyielding.  Business systems can be the same way.  In Randy Komisar’s book ‘The Monk & the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living’ without using the word ‘soul’ he evokes the experience of soul in Claris when he worked there embodied in Bill Campbell, leader of Claris.

What you noticed about Bill, after you worked with him a bit, was that he spent a lot of time talking about people.  He ate, drank, and breathed people.  When we talked about product support, it wasn’t evaluated as an expense line.  It was a service – for people.  The focus was always on the value you could deliver to your customers, employees, partners, and shareholders – and what they and others thought about it and about you.  You might not hear it in the first session.  You might not hear it in the second session.  But, unless you were deaf, by the end of the first few months, you heard the theme loud & clear.  Bill had an underlying faith that if we focused on the people issues, worked hard, and did a great job, the business would take care of itself.  That was Campbell.
In the beginning, despite my respect for him, I resisted Bill’s philosophy.  I strongly believed in the notion of business as a manageable, predictable, and quantifiable process.  I believed everything should be crisp, clear, and buttoned down.  Managers made the trains run on time.  Campbell’s approach seemed inefficient to me.  Too many soft, murky, and complicated issues to grapple with.  Let’s just focus on the stuff we can measure, I contended.
For some reason, Campbell, thank goodness, didn’t give up on me.  There were times he probably should have fired me because I was such a pain in the ass.  My work brought me in contact with all parts of Claris, and I would outspokenly & constantly challenge anything that didn’t appear to contribute directly to the bottom line.  I was often out of step with Bill & the rest of the executive team.
But I gradually began to internalize Campbell’s frame of mind, and some of my own personal values, long subordinated to the bottom line, began to resurface.  I couldn’t argue with Bill’s results: What appeared to be a sometimes inefficient process was creating extraordinary success.  Our customers liked us.  They valued our products.  Our partners respected & trusted us.  Our employees were highly motivated & committed.  Often I would be working late, and I’d look up from my computer at 11 or 12 at night to see a crowd, all working just as feverishly.  Why was I there late?  Because I needed to finish my piece of a project, so I could hand it over to somebody else, so she could get on with what she needed to do, so the company could achieve its objectives.  There was an intense sense of loyalty, responsibility, and camaraderie; a locking of elbows with everybody around you.
The change in my perception of Campbell is summed up by one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”  Likewise, in a a short time I had learned what wisdom Campbell carried; he could do things I couldn’t quantify.  He had a highly intuitive sense of people.  he could inspire them to be better than they already were and to work together as a whole to create something greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Randy Komisar

“Life’s pretty good, and why wouldn’t it be? I’m a pirate, after all.” Johnny Depp

To be truly engaged in business, we need the freedom & inspiration to connect with our work on a Soul level to express ourselves from our Heart, to know that we are making a difference.