Popular business ‘gurus’ of today include spiritual components in their seminars. The numerous scams and governance issues have certainly raised questions about priorities and values in life including life at work. Managers who might have been unwilling to discuss anything other than ‘the bottom line’ are now openly talking about spirituality and the ‘value of values’.
Individuals are constantly looking for ways to align their work and personal lives and often find a disconnect between values of private life and those at the workplace. Community, contribution, and cooperation may be important values at home, but in the workplace rewards accrue from independence, competition, and acquisition. People yearn for greater wholeness and integration of the ‘at-work selves’ and their ‘at-home selves’. Is it possible for managers to bring life and work back together?
Managerial leadership includes responsibility for the way people are treated within the workplace and beyond. We can conservatively multiply by three the number of people a managerial leader supervises to estimate how many people outside his immediate sphere of influence are directly or indirectly impacted by one single manager.
On the positive side, this significant impact means that managerial leaders have a tremendous opportunity to spread “goodness” through their direct and indirect organisational networking with people. This potential to lead “with good character” has not often been fully acknowledged or systematically addressed by top executives and their management teams. One could argue that strengthening, modelling and sustaining of good or virtuous character is the cornerstone of an emotionally healthy and ultimately a productive organisational culture. The word “virtue” may seem old-fashioned to many and even out-of-date for contemporary times. Yet the concept of virtue, or moral excellence, should be very much a part of the discussion about business and values, ethics, or spirituality.
Virtuous character does not come without challenges – there may be the temptation to compromise honesty and veracity for economic gain, to not adhere to legal and moral boundaries in order to get more work out of employees, or to disclaim responsibility for a mistake if it appears that no one else knows for certain who made it. An attempt to provide a straightforward framework to help managerial leaders meet the challenge of strengthening and maintaining ‘virtuous’ character has been made.
Life’s Relationship Spheres
Authentically virtuous character requires paying close attention to the way we interact within each of the five key sets of relationships we all have in our lives. To be personally effective, we need to be competent in our relationships in all five.
Relationship with God: David Myers, in his book The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty provides estimates indicating that as many as 95% people believe in God, and as many as 82% believe in the power of prayer. While many may not share faith or understanding of how one relates to God, each person who strives for a virtuous character grounds that search in some understanding of a source. This is foundational for building a virtuous character.
Relationship with Self: Cultivating a positive relationship with oneself centered on self-awareness and trust of oneself is a prerequisite to trusting and effectively interacting with others. To be effective, managerial leaders need to know and utilise their personal values and strengths. They are then able to focus their time and efforts on utilising those values and leveraging those strengths to achieve their goals. When a leader is not self-aware or does not fully trust himself, energy is often spent in masking shortcomings and acting inconsistently. Having command of one’s self equips managers to be better leaders.
Intimate Relationships: Strong relationships with those within the closest circle of our lives are important. These hold tremendous value and need to be nurtured and savoured on a regular basis. Leaders are increasingly recognising the need for all to balance their work lives with the quantity and quality of time they spend with individuals in their intimate spheres. Relationships intimate and committed in nature can give leaders positive energy to support their work in organisations and communities. The same commitment needs to be encouraged in those they manage.
Relationships with Others: Having good relationships with those outside our intimate circle is another goal worth striving for. Empirical evidence supports the economic value of treating people in the workplace as assets to be developed. People are motivated to work for leaders who are perceived to be fair and caring. They want to be associated with organisations that track and maintain equity – both internally and externally. Managing relationships with others involves managing perceptions and systems of fairness. All said and done, good leaders have good relationships with others.
Relationships with Communities: Relationships with our various communities remove us from isolation and are necessary for self-reflection. Work, civic organisations, special interest groups, schools are communities in which relationships can be built and sustained and where virtuous character is needed. Being part of a community that shares your faith and values helps to reinforce them and can provide support when tough challenges arise.
These five life-relationship spheres offer a package of purpose to motivate leaders to manage them effectively. By integrating the learning and positive influences from all spheres of relationships in their lives, managerial leaders have the opportunity and challenge to make their organisations good places to work in.