Spirit and Profit

bird in flight

Spirituality is no longer taboo.

Mainstream Publications such as the Washington Post and New York Times regularly write about spirituality in life and at work. Oprah and her empire has risen largely on a focus on spirituality that isn’t about religion at all. More and more often now, you will see pieces on spirituality in Forbes, Inc, or Fast Company.

Why?

As a nation, as a people, and as a culture, we seemed to have reclaimed the idea that what we do needs purpose. And that purpose, that spirit, needs to be about something bigger than ourselves. It needs to be part of a group of core beliefs that go beyond a mission statement.

Authors such as Steven Covey and Rick Warren have written books that moved the power of purpose, of spirit, into the mainstream. Daniel Pink’s masterpiece, Drive, speaks intimately to what moves us, what drives us, and what binds us together. I rarely have anyone I work with, personally or corporately, deny the potential power of spirit in their growth and in reaching their goals. And I almost always ask about purpose.

Yeah, I ask.

Knowing your purpose is a key to reaching your goals.

We need something bigger than ourselves to commit to. We derive power from it. We will work harder, with more focus, more effectiveness, and with more joy with that spiritual sense of being a part.

So I ask. If I know the spirit of a person or the spirit of an organization, there’s a way to get them there. But you would be surprised at how hard it is for people to answer that question.

Oh, they have an answer, but it’s vague. Or as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on

Typically, when I talk with coaching clients, as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on new form, new ideas, contradictions, self-arguments, soul-searching re-arranging itself again and again as we peel away the onion to find what really drives people, what really energizes and excites them and fills their spirit.

Organizations are not much better. A lot of them have mission statements, which were all the rage a year or so ago. But as I talk to leaders and others down the organizational chart, there is, once again, confusion. There’s often a disconnect, with the corporate culture being out of alignment with the professed mission statement.

Why is it so hard? 

It’s hard because a couple of things have to come together. First, we are not trained to look for what really moves us. Modern culture tells us what should move us. Culture tells us what is trendy, acceptable, and popular. But it can’t tell us our real hearts. That takes work. Real soul searching. Whether we are a company or an individual, digging for the truth is hard and takes time.

Let me tell you this. In all my work as a consultant and coach, I have never had a person or corporate group have the same purpose when we ended looking at it as the one we started with. Not once. And I don’t expect it to happen if I get to do this for another decade or two. It takes work finding the truth of ourselves.

The other reason is that having a spiritually-oriented life, being focused on doing what we say we are about is even harder than figuring it out in the first place. Inevitably, as people or organizations, we discover that our actions are out of alignment with our professed purpose.

When we are out of whack like that, when we are professing one thing and doing or acting on another, we end up confused, or angry, or dismiss that high-sounding purpose as just another lie. We become even less effective with a fractured purpose than if we had no purpose at all.

What makes a purpose, a spirit, work? 

  • First, it must be true. It has to be at the heart of what a person or company or organization is about. If it’s marketing, or if it’s a thing to say to puff ourselves up, it will fail. People will see through us. Our customers will and we will and (in the case of an organization) our employees will. And when you lie about your spirit, your credibility is gone.
  • Second, it must be wide enough to encompass all we do. It can’t be a narrow little idea. It needs to be a big idea. A big reason to be. Something that we can apply to everything. So for a person, it has to be able to work for our work, our relationships, our creativity and (if we have one), our faith.  If we are an organization, it has to be big enough to be useful in each and every division, product and job.
  • It must be achievable. We have to believe we can get there, truly be able to believe, or we can’t embrace it. And neither can our employees, customers or leaders. (Now that I think of it, this may be part of being true.)
  • Lastly, it only works if the people at the top not only embrace the idea, but live it, talk it, market it, encourage it, point out others that are living it. Leadership has the power to make it go or not go. That is true with individuals where self-leadership moves us, and it’s even more true in organizations, where leaders at all levels have the task of making that spirit real.

Why go to the trouble?

A wonderful article in the Financial Times points out that the paradox that the most profitable companies tend to be less focused on profit, and more focused on purpose. My experience as a coach for individuals has indicated the same thing.

When we have a purpose that is true, wide enough and achievable; and when our leaders (or ourselves) commit to that purpose, great things happen. Morale soars. People want to work with us. People want to buy from us.

And, oh yeah, we make more money. Hmmm.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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