The Spirit of Success

by rthieme on May 2, 1997

The Spirit of Success

Books on spirituality and business are flooding the marketplace. Why? The boomers, the biggest market in history, are in midlife. They’re asking hard questions and looking for answers.

Their questions — how do my values relate to making a living? How can I balance life’s practical demands with the urgency of some compelling inner necessity – are good ones.

There are no right answers, however. Answers have to emerge out of our struggles like luminous breadcrumbs leading us through the forest. The best answers always do justice to the complexity and ambiguity of life. They aren’t black-and-white. They don’t separate spirituality from “real life.”

Spirituality is the way we respond to the bullets of real life fired at us at point blank range.

That is not the same as religion. Our religious structures may nurture genuine spirituality, but work in religious organizations is not in itself any more or less spiritual than any other work. In fact, the religious nature of the enterprise can make it more difficult, because it is easy to substitute “being religious” for an authentic response to life.

It isn’t the content of our work that defines the opportunity to live with integrity. It’s what we bring to our work — how we serve clients and customers or treat employees — that makes the difference.

When I worked as a parish priest, a bishop once gave me a picture of a lion for my study wall. Above and below the lion’s head were the words: In our business, the customer is king. Customers make paydays possible.

Success, he was saying, depends on the quality of service we provide. The value added to the transaction builds customer loyalty. In this era of knowledge workers, the knowledge or wisdom we contribute, enabling a client to do a job better or live life more meaningfully, is that added value.

We have all known “religious” people who turn religion into a club. Their certainty and righteousness is used, not to invite contributions from employees or liberate creativity, but to dominate and control. Whether in a business, a school, or a church, that kind of religion kills the spirit and destroys initiative. People are not fools, after all: if we must remain in such an environment, we become cynical. If we can, we leave.

The radical changes going on around us increase our tendency to be rigid and fearful. The need for genuine spirituality in the work place is greater than ever.

What can leaders and managers do to foster an environment that supports people and renews their strength?  We can create structures of mutuality, feedback, and accountability to provide men and women with the security they need to be effective. All three are essential to renew a work force continually threatened by terminal downsizing.

Religion may not belong in the work place, but spirituality does — a practical, down-to-earth spirituality that creates an environment in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

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