Entrepreneurship and Spirituality… How can they go together? It must be one hell of a cocktail. That is the reaction that I have experienced whenever the topic of spirituality in business is broached. There is always a certain amount of skepticism. I have personally observed the discomfort amongst many entrepreneurs whenever the subject of spirituality is brought for discussion, even though some of them practice it unconsciously. Often it is considered risky and awkward and people tend to question the motives of discussing it because many confuse it with religion.
The intersection of work and spirituality need not be a flash point. This debate is a healthy one to bring about a balance between these extreme views. While some people are positive about spirituality and skeptical about business, many others are positive about business and skeptical about spirituality. They often ask “How can one be competitive in business if one is spiritual?” or “ How can one be spiritual at the same time when business demands are different?” Business people sometimes forget that it’s grossly inefficient to run a business without spirit. Spiritual people sometimes forget that it’s impractical to run an organization without strategy, structure, discipline and financial control.
Business is often considered tough and demanding, involuntary, hierarchical, controlling, and driven primarily by financial considerations. The entrepreneurial spirit is sometimes believed to be the ability to unleash the primitive instincts of man, which some people refer to as the animal spirit. Successful entrepreneurs are expected to be incisive, courageous, determined and passionate – giving the impression that these attributes are poles apart from being spiritually inclined.
People in business, especially when they are not so successful, are unfortunately believed to be ineffective leaders if they have a pronounced spiritual inclination. Of course it has something to do with how success is perceived which invariably is largely influenced by how strong the bottom line is. Quite often, lack of success is attributed to a leader who was “not being ruthless enough.”
Can a person be successful as an entrepreneur while being spiritually inclined? Can a successful entrepreneur also be like Nelson Mandela who, when asked if he would seek revenge on his captors, said:
“That would go against my mother’s wishes. She said there are three groups of people in the world. The first group passes through, leaving nothing behind, not even their name; the second one tries to achieve at the expense of others; and the third group tries to leave the world a little bit better than when they arrived.”
People who have developed the spiritual side of their life tend to have a stronger sense of purpose and perspective, without which we become alienated from our work and therefore find it harder to motivate ourselves, leave alone motivating others. Most people, if given the opportunity, will always want to bring a greater sense of meaning and purpose into their work life. They want their work to reflect their personal mission in life. When people are encouraged to express their creativity towards meaningful goals, the result is a more fulfilled and sustained workforce.
Spiritual people also tend to be lighthearted and have a quality of buoyancy and gratitude. Even when in trouble, they demonstrate a sense of calm. They are fully alive, and they create a contagious atmosphere of charge radiating this aliveness to others. The best talent always seeks out organizations that reflect their inner values. Happy people work harder and are more likely to stay at their jobs. Business performance studies have revealed that a good part of the variability in corporate performance is attributable to personal satisfaction of the staff. ]
When people spend a good part of their lives in the work place, it is sensible to practice human values in that work place making their lives both spiritually and materially rewarding. Qualities such as nurturing, intuition, and caring, which are believed to be female associated qualities, are increasingly recognized as necessary attributes for organizations to work in today’s world. Therefore, the trend is to move more towards a cooperative attitude than a commanding attitude when dealing with employees, third party relationships, partnerships, outsourcing etc.
Spiritual people are believed to have a much more humanistic and holistic approach. Enlightened organizations are now illuminating their vision and mission, and aligning them with a higher purpose and deeper sense of commitment to serve all. Businesses are increasingly becoming aware that employees and environment are as important as economics. In other words, people and planet are as important as profits.
Consider this in the context of the ancient Indian values of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. These are the four major goals of life. Kama, desire, is the entire range of human cravings for family, home, career, status etc; Artha, wealth, which is the instrument for fulfilling desires; Dharma, ethical sense, is living in harmony with creation; and Mokhsa is experiencing spiritual fulfillment.Therefore a balanced score card approach to business should have all these four corner stones to create a healthy, wealthy, happy and sustainable organization. Putting too much of emphasis on Artha and Kama at the expense of Dharma and Moksha is a short term and myopic view of creating and sustaining an enterprise.
Entrepreneurial spirit and spirituality can co-exist in successful organizations. And spirituality, after all, could be the ultimate way to run a business – and create competitive advantage as a byproduct. Leaders today are closely watched to see if they in fact walk their talk. Some entrepreneurs are now coming forward and expressing their spiritual based leadership – some in their own discreet and subtle way, respecting every individual and allowing all people to freely express themselves.
When leaders perform, people perform. And when people perform, organizations succeed. In that context, it is good to remember what Napoleon Bonaparte said:
” There are only two powers in the world – the spirit and the sword; and in the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit ”.