Spiritual Intelligence at Work: Meaning, Metaphor, and Morals: Volume 5


Table of contents

(18 chapters)

The purpose of the series is to explore the central and unique role of organizational ethics in creating and sustaining a flourishing, pluralistic, free enterprise economy. The primary goal of the research studies published here is to examine how profit seeking and not for profit organizations can be conceived and designed to satisfy legitimate human needs in an ethical and meaningful way.

In the lead article of this volume, Daryl Koehn relates the story of “The Fisherman and His Wife.” There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a ditch by the sea. One day the fisherman caught a magical, talking fish. Realizing that he couldn’t kill a fish that talked, the fisherman throws the fish back into the water. After hearing about his adventure, the fisherman’s wife insists that the fisherman return to the water and ask the fish to grant them a wish – perhaps a small cottage. When the fisherman returns home from his second encounter with the fish, his wife is sitting in front of their new cottage. “Inside there was a pretty little parlor, bedroom, kitchen, and a well-stocked pantry. The cottage contained the best furniture and fittings of shiny brass. A small yard was full of hens and ducks, and there was even a little garden with beautiful flowers and fruit.”

Noting the recent wave of books on business and spirituality, the editor of a business journal recently sardonically observed that there must be more Zen in American boardrooms than in Buddhist monasteries. While the spirituality of business may be withering, the business of spirituality appears only too alive. Elmer Gantry has left the revivalist tents and entered the convention hall circuit of motivational speakers and corporate awards banquets.

Various realities, both political and economic were experienced by Drucker within Weimar Germany. Such realities were a result of those historical developments germane to the emergence of modern Germany. In particular it was “the triumph of industrial capitalism (which) changed the reality of German life” (Stern, 1992, p. 30). This “triumph” was however tempered by the crash of 1873 which led to Germans, prior to 1945, harbouring a “violent resentment against the new industrialism” (Stern, 1974, p. xxvii). In attempting to research those formative influences upon Drucker’s later managerial thought, which denies the relevance of business ethics, cognisance has to be given to this German history. The search for a so-called “third way” in Weimar Germany, and the later triumph of Nazism, were both developments which stemmed from this history.

The past few years have seen a swelling of interest in explicitly Christian approaches to business ethics. The time is ripe, it would seem, to map the diversity of approaches within what I term “Christian business ethics.”1 Here I will frame the diversity of approaches as answers to the distinctive kind of question which religiously minded ethicists have brought to the terrain of business. I will not use theological or religious terms or categories, since such language is not likely to be of interest to philosophers and social scientists. Drawing up this map has been rendered easier by the fact that Christian business ethicists themselves have used a language which is readily accessible to listeners outside their traditions.

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in a developing school of thought called spirituality in business. While this movement houses a diversity of particular viewpoints and definitions of spirituality, they are all attempting in one way or another to articulate a sacred attitude toward life which can be separated from any theistic beliefs. However, the various characterizations found in the current literature converge in a general understanding of spirituality (distinct from religions beliefs) as informing a sense of right and wrong and permeating one’s mode of existing in the world. Spirituality generally centers upon a desire by individuals to be their best, to help others be their best, and to feel a sense of connectedness with others and a sense of sacredness in their actions and in the world. Thus, spirituality involve a pervasive mode of behavior or mode of action that displays concerns with bettering oneself and others in the context of community and involves a sense of sacredness that extends to the world in general.

This paper defines and explores the concept of intelligent spirituality. It is a deeply-grounded, emotionally-inspiring, spirituality that is human-centered, pragmatic, and intelligent. While the name is new, the idea itself has a well-respected pedigree. The American pragmatist philosopher, educator, and activist, John Dewey, more than anyone else, defined the parameters of intelligent spirituality, demonstrated its usefulness in the modern world, and, perhaps most importantly, exemplified it as a living option in his daily activities.

For those interested in the contemporary “spirituality movement” – advocates, critics, or spectators – and especially how it affects today’s business organizations, the idea of intelligent spirituality, as discussed here, provides a useful set of precise criteria to evaluate some of the many changes which are occurring in corporate America and are defended under the banner of spirituality in business. Can one distinguish, for example, between legitimate and illegitimate spirituality? Are some forms of spirituality more useful than others? To what extent can spirituality play a positive role in contemporary business? Is spirituality necessarily related to coerciveness and intolerance in business? This paper explores the assumptions of intelligent spirituality and attempts to answer these questions.

Andrew Greeley draws a distinction between serious literature and popular literature, and locates theological and moral insight in the latter rather than the former. An overview of modern writing leads him to conclude that, while “‘serious’ literature realizes that life is pointless and absurd…popular fiction or fairy stories…reassure their readers that there is meaning and purpose in life” (Greeley, 1988, p. 11). He readily acknowledges that this has not always been the case. However, to find “happy endings” revealing “paradigms of meaning” and hopeful, encouraging answers to the important questions of life the contemporary reader turns to popular literature (Greeley, 1988, p. 11).

Jerry feels good as he leaves his office for the day. He takes pride in being CEO of a Healthcare System that provides much-needed services to the urban poor often in difficult circumstances. He reflects that his career has been an interesting journey. He had started as an accountant with Price Waterhouse, but found the work and time pressures very heavy. Wanting to spend more time with his family, he moved to the a health care system and rose to Controller. There had been a period while Controller when he wondered whether he had made an error in making the change, given the financial turbulence his health care system experienced with the transition to managed care. He experienced no less stress than at Price Waterhouse as he assisted his new employer to manage a turnaround to eliminate waste and reposition the system within a solid financial model. But he emerged from the turnaround with a new sense of direction and drive. Subsequently, seven years ago Healthhelp chose him as its Chief Financial Officer and he’s been CEO for almost three years. Today he’s excited about the new marketing plan he just reviewed which promises to give Healthhelp a bigger share of the home care market.

In the past six months Jerry has been practicing a form of meditation called Centering Prayer. His original decision to attend a workshop on meditation was to deal with his increased sense of work overload, stress and burnout associated with the demands of his position as CEO of Healthcare. However, he learned that meditation can also be prayer, and he has found his practice very helpful. Although during Centering Prayer he is often aware of the distractions of his busy “business mind,” nonetheless he has noticed that during the day he is able to focus more effectively at work, is less irritable, and more willing to listen to others as a result of incorporating contemplative practice as part of each day. Even his wife and children have remarked he “seems more mellow these days.”

What is my purpose in life? Why am I in this job, this organization, this industry? How did I get here in the first place? Am I working to live or living to work? How do I measure my success? Does my work serve any greater purpose? Many individuals ask these kinds of questions at some point in their lives. When faced with life and death situations, as many were during and after the September 11th attack, these questions move out of the shadows. For some of us, questioning our purpose in life and career are frequently forced to the forefront by the pressures and challenges – and sometimes boredom and emptiness – of our workplace. Still, these questions are a powerful way in which our human spirit manifests itself. Therefore, finding meaningful answers to them is one of the essential tasks we face when we attempt to integrate spirituality more fully in our lives.

One might begin by clarifying the title, which could as well have read: A Hindu Perspective on Religion and Management. It could of course be argued that there are good prudential reasons for preferring the word “spirituality” to “religion.” In a recent probe of the attitudes of several hundred managers, only 30% had a positive view of religion and spirituality. More than half, 60%, had a positive view of spirituality and a negative view of religion.1 In the case of Hinduism, however, although prudential concerns apply, other reasons also come into play. It could be plausibly argued that Hinduism is better described as a “spirituality” or “wisdom”2 rather than religion in the Western sense, a tendency which is already apparent in attempts to describe it as a “state of mind,”3 and even the “mind of India.”4 The title, therefore, appropriate as it is, is particularly apposite in the case of Hinduism.5 Thus, rather than why spirituality, the first question one must address is: What is Spirituality?

This paper presents the results of a qualitative study of ethical decision making by managers employed in two major companies in the U.K. Forty managers from these large commercial organizations were interviewed about how ethical issues arise and are dealt with at work. This interview data was transcribed and a thematic content analysis was conducted in order to explore the various influences upon managerial ethical decision making. The analysis framework includes analysis at both an individual level, in terms of the role of individual characteristics such as personal value systems, and at an organizational level, in terms of the influence of organizational characteristics such as organizational culture. The paper then goes on to examine the extent to which this empirically-based account of ethical decision making is congruent with, or runs contrary to, some of the main theoretical propositions contained in the ethical decision-making literature. This provided only limited empirical support for the theoretical propositions described in the literature. In particular, the findings of the empirical work reported here suggest that while personal values may play a part in organizational ethics, the ethical decision-making process itself is subject to a much greater influence from the everyday demands and commercial pressures which managers perceived as being placed upon them in the types of organizations examined in this study. Thus, while supportive of the notion that values may be important in some respects, the study suggests that they are not necessarily that closely involved with the actual decision-making process. Rather the evidence gathered in this study indicates that they can exert an affectively-mediated retrospective effect. This possibility would suggest a reformulation of the role of values in the ethical decision-making process, while also calling for a greater emphasis upon the role of emotions. These are, however, only tentative findings and must therefore be subject to further empirical work before the precise way in which ethical issues arise, unfold and are dealt with in the workplace can be understood.

According to Harvard historian Crane Brinton, “…a cynical democracy, a democracy whose citizens profess in this world one set of beliefs and live another, is wholly impossible. No such society can long endure anywhere. The tension between the ideal and the real may be resolved in many ways in a healthy society; but it can never be taken as non-existent” (Brinton, 1950, p. 249).

Peter Drucker reflects upon his two novels with indulgence, describing the first as “my seventieth birthday…present” (Drucker, 1987, p. 12). Upon reading these novels, aspiring novelists might well agree. For, whilst Drucker is proud to describe himself as “a professional writer” (Drucker, 1987, p. 9), and has been remarkably successful as a non-fiction writer, it does not seem unfair to speculate that were it not for his illustrious name, he might never have secured a publisher for these novels. There is very little in the way of a plot, the characters are unmemorable and the dialogue is boring. One might thus well ask why bother to review a novel of so little literary merit written nearly twenty years ago? Such a question is easily answered. Drucker wrote his 1984 novel The Temptation to do Good for a specific purpose. And that purpose is intimately connected with ethical issues in organizations.

Publication date
Book series
Research in Ethical Issues in Organizations
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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