Mending the Rip in the Corporate Soul

Recently on LinkedIn, Swiss business philosopher Dieter Langenecker asked, "The purpose of a company is . . ."

I replied that the word "company" derives from com (with) + pane (bread) and can be translated as "sharing bread together." (Hat tip to Kenny Moore for this etymological realization.)

So, I would say that the purpose of a company is to attract a group of people who share in a joint undertaking that serves a market and nourishes the community and world in some way.

I had the good fortune of meeting the business philosopher Charles Handy a couple years ago.

He told me the story (that he has often told) of gently provoking his MBA students to think beyond results, growth, and profit. He challenged them to ask themselves, What are we, the Company, building? Are we making this world a better place for our employees (and their families), our customers, our investors, and our communities and neighbors?

In his own words:

"The companies that survive longest are the one's that work out what they uniquely can give to the world, not just growth or money, but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call those things a soul."

A soul. A corporate soul.

By coincidence, business guru Gary Hamel recently published a piece on fixing the hole in the corporate soul where he said:

"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? ...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?"

An important key to mending this rift in the corporate soul is leadership.

What is the essence (essence = the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing; the inward nature; the substance, spirit, lifeblood, heart, principle, soul, core) of leadership? I'd point to these seven aspects:

Purpose - A leader is here for a reason, a mission, and pursues it with intention and determination.

Commitment - A leader can be counted on to make and keep commitments.

Presence - A leader will show up and stand up for what's important.

Listening - A leader wants to know what others are thinking and feeling and pays close heed.

Engagement - A leader connects with others, communicates with others, challenges others, is considerate of others, and coaches others.

Vision - A leader is going somewhere good.

Stewardship - A leader accepts responsibility and understands the saying "Take care of yourself; take care of each other; take care of this place."

And leadership requires the Whole Person:

- The heart for loving others.
- The stomach for courage to face adversity.
- The head for critical thinking.
- The eye for looking ahead.
- The tongue for telling truth.
- The ears for listening to others.
- The hands for applauding the work of others.
- The arms for embracing others.
- The back for lifting others up.
- The knees for bending in service to others.
- The feet for the journey.
- The soul for going down deep in search of meaning.
- The spirit for soaring to the heights of higher purpose.

Where in an organization would you find such leaders? Everywhere. In any function. At any level.

As Warren Bennis said, leaders have the ability to turn vision into reality. From that we can distill some of the key elements:

- Vision: Leaders can see something that others aren't seeing yet. They see a solution. Or a new product. Or a customer need. Or new possibilities on a new horizon. They convey what they are seeing to others so that they can see it too. Leaders ask: How can we break through to a new level? What are we capable of? What are we called to become?

- Turning: Leaders can "turn," a word that has ancient roots: "to cross over, pass through, overcome." They help others to cross over (the turning) from the "as is" to the "to be." Leaders ask, How can we get started and get moving? What will we need for the trip? How will we support one another?

- Reality: Leaders can realize (make real). They enlist others in making the new reality materialize. Leaders ask: How do we make this work? How do we hold the gains? How do we keep improving?

Consultant Dr. Anne Perschel (aka @bizshrink on twitter) has decided to start a movement around mending the hole in the corporate soul. I have volunteered to join in.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, March 12, 2010


Liz said…
Our worklife is so important -- I love the idea of mending the corporate soul, and adding meaning to our jobs. I think that's especially important, given the high unemployment rate and the fact that at most jobs, employees are being asked to do more and more. Finding job satisfaction can be harder than ever, and it seems to be (to me anyway) more important than ever. Denice Kronau has a great website where she talks about getting people reconnected to the feelings they had when they first started working, when work was fun and exciting. She helps white-collar professionals (especially women) who are overwhelmed by their work situation and don't see help on the horizon. She helps you see work in a different light --maybe it's regaining that corporate soul, or something else, but she gives you new ways to view work, and to help bring that joy and satisfaction back to the workplace. (She has a book on her own work life, and how she got joy back -- and we can too -- coming out. It's not been published yet, but I know you can download an excerpt on the site. Well worth a look.)
Terrence Seamon said…
Thanks for the comment, and for the link to Denice Kronau's site.

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