The San Francisco Chronicle
recently reported "soul is in". In a headline calling it "the buzzword of the
'90s" a front-page story reported that some 322 citations for the word appear
in the current edition of Books in Print. That's nearly four times the
number in 1990.
Having been asked by corporate
executives to address soul and spirit at a recent leadership forum, I decided
it was time to tackle the topic in writing. What prompts the use of this term?
What do we make of it? Does this appear to be calling for a spiritual revival
across the world of business?
Here's an analysis:
Times of upheaval, great
change, and chaos call for a re-assessment of values. With a globalized, competitive
economy and job security now a once-upon-a-time thing, is it any wonder that
we all seek a deeper meaning to what we do and why we do it. As my Canadian
colleague Ian Percy describes it, our workplaces are experiencing a "great shuddering".
Workers are no longer willing
to rent themselves to a job to survive to the weekend. Rather, this term "soul"
implies looking for a deeper purpose behind work other than just gaining a paycheck.
It also implies that people want to be identified as whole individuals with
brains, hearts, AND souls waiting to be opened within the workplace.
Note the phrase "waiting
to be opened". It carries the same connotation as the first word in this article's
headline, "uncovering". Soul/spirit has always been here. Wise leaders have
known how to access it, for themselves first, and then for others. But it goes
against conventional wisdom because it cannot be tracked, measured, benchmarked,
or in anyway quantified. No audit can place it on the balance sheet but its
impact can be felt on the bottom line.
Soul/spirit can only be
visible in context. Like natural gas which cannot be seen until it is lit, soul
burns bright when it's flush with enthusiasm and excitement, when it is being
listened to deeply by people who matter most. Soul blossoms when given opportunity
for meaningful contribution, innovation, and learning. It retreats in environments
where trust is absent, where politics take precedence over performance, where
positional privilege takes most of the gain and little of the pain connected
Uncovering soul, therefore,
means examining both behaviors and systems within an organization. Is there
congruency between what is said and what is practiced? Are people invited to
participate and then ignored when they do? Does the organization preach empowerment
but then require multiple sign-offs before action takes place? Do managers claim
to have an open-door policy but then respond in anger when they hear something
they don't like? These are just some of the questions which, when honestly answered,
can indicate if there's breathing space for the soul.
Engaging the human spirit
is the softer side of business. But without the "software" of soul/spirit, you'll
never truly engage the mindware. And that's what ultimately creates the competitive
edge for the future.