A look at the role of spirituality within business organizations.


by Clive Simpkins

Spiritual Intelligence or Spiritual Awareness is an idea whose time has come."

Outgoing American Ambassador to South Africa, James Joseph, said: “People who strive to live morally are now insisting that their institutions and leaders do the same.” International Corporate Governance guru, Bob Garratt, is quoted as saying, “In an increasingly litigious environment internationally, your honesty rating will follow you like a personal credit rating.” It’s a pity that the fear of litigation has to be a driver for honest behaviour. But following the scandals surrounding Enron, Worldcom, and (here in South Africa), Saambou, Regal Treasury Bank, Unifer and now PSC GG, one is inclined to ask, ‘Who’s next?’ People are suffering from what I call ‘fraud fatigue.’ We’re all heartily sick of seeing elderly people’s life savings evaporate and droves of people refreshing CV’s because some greedy sods have ‘done it again.’

Enter the alien concept of moral and ethical living and behaviour in the corporate world. What I would call ‘Spirituality in Business.’ Zilch to do with religiosity, but everything to do with respecting other people and their interests. I believe that the ‘new era’ corporate perception organogram will have Spirituality at the top. On the next tier down, in descending order of precedence, will be Corporate Image, Client Service and then only Technical Competence. Corporations will wake up to the fact that they’re not ‘things.’ They’re vibrant, living entities, comprising, surprise—people!

Spiritual Intelligence or Spiritual Awareness in business is a concept whose time has come. Twice in the last few weeks, I’ve given talks on the subject, to audiences comprising pragmatic, competitive business people. Just five years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Yet now, through the vision of Debby Edelstein and her QualityLife Company, and others like her, we see like-minded business people from all walks of life, coming together to look for something beyond just making money.

Corporations around the world already know that potential or actual shareholders want a healthy triple bottom line. Good fiscal performance, a corporate social investment program that works and environmental sensitivity. Enter then, the ‘Fourth Wave’—of Spiritual Intelligence. Stakeholders will want to know that the organization functions morally and ethically. That it has a conscience. That it is founded on a set of strong, non-negotiable values. That they function, as David Ogilvy said, like, ‘gentlemen (or women!) with brains.’ Which was the kind of client he sought for his advertising agencies.

How would you recognise Spiritual Intelligence in corporations or elsewhere? Here are some of my thoughts: The Spiritually Aware individual will often be nonconformist or idiosyncratic. Their concept of what constitutes truth, fair play or justice will feature prominently in their relationships. They will often, by default, make those who are ‘economical’ with truthfulness and integrity, feel uncomfortable. They raise the moral and ethical bar through their very presence. Yet they’re not necessarily members of the clergy, missionaries, social workers, volunteers and the like. Indeed, they may never have been in a mosque, temple, shul, church or shrine in their lives, or followed any traditional or formal religious path.

OK, if that’s the people, then how would I define Spiritual Intelligence itself? Here’s how: Spiritual Awareness is not necessarily religious, or even dependent upon religion as its foundation. It can be defined against or observed through some telling criteria such as: a sense of purposefulness, truthfulness, compassion, respect for all levels of consciousness, constructive empathy, a sense of being a player in a greater whole, generosity of spirit and action, a sense of being ‘in tune’ or ‘in synch’ with nature and the universe, and being comfortable with being alone, without being lonely.

Out of all of this, what would be the organizational ‘symptomology’ of Spiritual Intelligence? Here it is: People with a sense of relevance and purpose in life. A better work ethic. Greater respect for diversity. Lower stress levels. Less ego, conflict and gossip. Less inappropriate (destructive) competitiveness. Better mentoring, nurturing and supportiveness. Lower levels of fraud and theft. A better social investment ethic. Better respect for and conservation of, resources. Lower levels of sexual or other impropriety. As I joke, the only downside to all of this is the risk of premature sainthood!

There’s a simple, proven sequence to personal or organizational behaviour. Thought becomes Action. Action becomes habit. Habit becomes Character—and the ‘Character’ of the organization is what will be seen just before the pinnacle of the corporate organogram. No amount of spin-doctoring or PR effort will have a sustained impact on public perception when an organization is intrinsically spiritually unintelligent.

Think about it. 

Clive Simpkins is an independent marketing and communications strategist.