What's All This Stuff About
Spirituality in the Workplace?

"Can you send us a list of your talks?" the speaker's bureau lady asked. I've always found that an odd request because it sounds like I should have a menu of four or five canned presentations. That's just now how I work. So, instead, I tried to spin the question by describing my current research interests and the focus of topics various corporations were requesting.

Somewhere during the conversation, I mentioned "spirituality in the workplace." "Intriguing," she says, "what exactly is that about?" Suddenly I realized that while I could talk for hours about spirituality in the workplace, I couldn't give her two simple sentences describing what "it" was. What are we talking about when we talk about something "Spiritual?" Were we spiritual in the psychedelic sixties, romping naked through the surf at Big Sur, becoming one with the universe? Were Johnson & Johnson being spiritual in 1982 when they dumped thirty-one million Tylenol capsules sending the entire corporate world into a values kick? Is being an equal opportunity employer spiritual? Has Jack Welch, now on the eve of his retirement, demonstrated spiritual leadership in revolutionizing General Electric? Is Lee Iacocca remembered as a truly spiritual leader? How about tele-evangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell? Are they spiritual leaders? Did you see any spiritual leadership emerge during the world's longest Presidential election?I did some work at Microsoft recently and learned that those folks see their President and CEO, Steve Ballmer as their spiritual leader - no question about it. What is it that puts him in that role? While the press describes Ballmer as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense, dam-the-torpedoes kind of leader, his people genuinely love him and will follow him anywhere. Is that what makes a spiritual leader? An even more important question is, "Are you and I seen as spiritual leaders?" Aren't we supposed to be "people oriented?" Aren't we concerned about taking human performance to its ultimate height? Seems to me we better know something about spirit if we are going to do that. To understand what this spiritual stuff is all about, let's look at four levels of commitment: POLITICAL
SPIRITUAL Everything we do is anchored to one of these four levels! Take environmental protection. Green is politically correct. If you do not at least look like you are recycling - get with it! Put the recycle bins where people can see them and use recycled paper, at least for the annual report. You don't have to like it, just do it! Likewise, I don't care if you voted for the President or not, you should give political respect to that office. These are just things you do, regardless of what is in your heart. That's pretty superficial so it is not hard to go a little deeper. Recycling is politically correct and it may also be an intelligent thing to do. Get some numbers together for a business case. That's how most businesses make their decisions. Find out how much you can save by recycling. Whether or not it is good for the planet is not nearly so important as whether it's a good deal for you. You intellectually make a decision on the basis of whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs. There is deeper water still. Beyond the political and intellectual lies the emotional. You go out of your way to recycle. You rinse out your tin cans and separate the colored glass from the clear before depositing them in the recycle bin. On a rainy Saturday you take your kids to "Tree Day" in the park where they lovingly plant tiny saplings. Most were mowed over the next morning, but that's not the issue. Your heart is in this ecological thing and you inconvenience yourself to protect our planet. My definition of emotional commitment is that you go out of your way to make the world a better place. I hope that, in your organization, there are a hundred stories about how your people went the second and third mile to serve your customers and clients. Using their own time and often their own money simply because they truly and deeply cared. If you are not telling those stories over and over again - well, to be honest with you - you don't deserve those people. Quick recap before we go even deeper to the spiritual level. Politically - just do it. Intellectually - have a business case before you do it. Emotionally - go out of your way to do it. Now we start to get serious! Using our ecological metaphor, what does one do to demonstrate spiritual commitment? Spiritually - you chain yourself to a majestic cedar of the west coast or a tall pine of the north, defying the lumber barons to cut through your naked body with their chain saws. The tree and you will live or die together! There is a serious point in my attempt at drama! The key to understanding this spiritual level is the recognition that there is no separation between you and the object of your commitment. This "object" can be God, a person, a belief, a philosophy, a dream, etc. Unity is central to spirituality. When you behave politically, there is a huge gap between what you believe and what you say or do. The intellectual level narrows that gap considerably as does the emotional level. When you hit spiritual level, there is no gap. You and the object of your commitment have become one! You will love this example - the typical annual management conference or workshop. Here is how it often goes as the group tries to work its way through the four levels. Stay with me here. It always starts with the President's address written by somebody in Public Relations. This is usually a political experience. We laugh heartily at the opening joke though we've heard it a hundred times.

We take note of key phrases to use strategically during the reception that evening. The political obligation to applaud enthusiastically goes without saying. If the group is particularly enthusiastic they could try the politically motivated standing ovation. There are documented cases where a standing ovation for the President has turned the reception from a cash bar into a company-hosted bar. Some groups are even more politically overt and invite a high-ranking government official to kick-off the conference. We know that nothing of any substance will be said, but then we aren't intellectually motivated at this point anyway. The intellectual stuff comes with an industry specialist telling us with considerable authority about the challenges facing the industry in the global market place. You are given a binder bulging with the data backing her up. This scares us half to death but it sure gets us thinking. Coffee break. Regional reports follow. Not much to be said here. The guys from Central always take more time than they are supposed to. Lunch. We're still in intellectual mode and so are invited to sign up for various break-out groups focused on key issues such as customer service, cost reduction, etc. There is just nothing as wonderful as breaking into small groups. If your corporation is highly controlling you are pre-assigned to your group because they know you won't mix on your own.

Once there you fill pages of newsprint with brainstormed ideas and spend the remaining time trying to talk someone into giving the report. Whoever gets the job is obliged to begin with the reminder that they are "only the messenger," thus absolving themselves of any responsibility for what they are about to say. See how we're slipping back into "political" here? The President acknowledges the plethora of great ideas and reassures us that each one will be given the attention it deserves. We all know what that means in terms of real change. The closing motivational speaker is now introduced. This at least should be fun and upbeat. This is the emotional part. The anatomy of a good closing motivational speech is Laugh, Laugh, Cry, Laugh, Poem. (This is also a good formula for you who have to give speeches at retirement teas and weddings!) All of which is wrapped up by the sweatshirt ceremony in large or X-large. The conference will get much better evaluations if the sweatshirts are any color but white. It will get exceptional reviews if you hand out golf shirts. This may sound cynical but doesn't it also sound familiar? Where in all of this well-intentioned effort do we get real? Where do we, without fear, make the kind of connections with each other that enable us to truly transform our work and our world? We easily accommodate the political and intellectual levels and perhaps nibble on the emotional and - to our detriment - that's as far as it goes. The true foundation of our personal and corporate lives is spiritual and we don't even come close to touching it. That is where the real power and permanence is. The real force for change lies in our spirit not in our strategies or our systems. Team meetings, strategic planning, re-engineering or parenting could easily have been used as examples. What I want to make clear is that everything has a spiritual core, a spiritual center. Spirituality does not equate to religion. Religion may, or may not, be a spiritual exercise. Spirituality in the workplace is about knowing that you are doing with your life what you are meant to do. That you and the work you have chosen are "One." This is how we find our balance. Anything short of that unity means our lives are off balance. Once we learn to connect to that spiritual core the world changes color and life and work are never the same again. How I wish this happened more often.

The following quotation must be printed at the conclusion of each reprinted article:
"Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation."
Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at www.ianpercy.com

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