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Soul at Work

Spiritual Leadership in Organizations

Author(s): Margaret Benefiel

ISBN13: 9781853909009

ISBN10: 1853909009

Publisher: Veritas

Extent: 160 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 22.4 x 15.2 x 1.2 cm

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  • Soul at Work describes the way organizations do business. Soul in the workplace is not a theological abstraction, but a way of being and doing. Each of the organizations that Benefiel profiles in this lively and informative book describes the profound role that awareness of soul, or spirituality, can play in leadership and organizational life.

    Divided into three parts, the book looks at the role of individuals in nurturing soul, the organizational reality by which soul is manifest, and the process by which the tension between individual and organization are managed. It is for managers, workers, organization specialists, church groups and anyone involved in the transformation of organizational life. It is for everyone who suspects that there is more to business than the bottom line.

  • Margaret Benefiel

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    This wise little book invites the reader into a user friendly conversation that contains memorable, grounded illustrations drawn from contemporary organizational life, focuses the reader on spiritual essentials, and allows the reader (or teacher) to probe at any depth that might be desired.

    - from the Preface by Andre L. Delbecq, Thomas J. and Kathleen L. McCarthy. University Professor, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

    "Soul at Work is an extraordinary addition to the literature on spirituality in the workplace. Using a wonderfully diverse set of case studies, and drawing on rich insights from various wisdom traditions,
    Margaret Benefiel explores the spiritual dimension of individual and organizational life, and offers experience-based spiritual practices that can help us to deepen it. Her book is a must-read for anyone who wants the workplace to become more life-giving for all concerned."

    - Parker J. Palmer, author of A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and 7he Courage to Teach

    "This book will be a gift to any organizational leader who cares about their own soul and the organizations soul."

    - The Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, Founder and Senior Fellow, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

    "Evocative, challenging, and compelling-this book is a gift to the imagination of organizations and those who work in them."

    - Sharon Daloz Parks, Co-Author, Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World



    The U2 Community

    Its a very healthy way to live your life, not to be so wrapped up in yourself, but actually to think in terms of "us." I think U2 and U2s fans are good at thinking about "us" in a very broad sense.

    This sense of "us," which the rock band U2s guitarist The Edge articulates, permeates all aspects of U2, from the way the band relates to one another, to the sense of community at U2 concerts, to the bands sense of connection with the wider world.

    U2 (the band and the larger U2 community) is not your typical organization, but it clearly manifests the hallmarks of "soul at work." Behind the Grammy awards, the concerts, and the music, its members manage to create an identity that transcends the individual and supports the greater mission. This corporate identity has evolved from when the four band members first joined together in the 1970s and continues to evolve today. The challenge for U2, as for other organizations described in this book, is "How do we balance sustaining our soul, doing our work, and being individuals committed together?"

    Within the band itself, huge rock star egos have no place. Band members ask themselves, "Whats good for U2 as a whole?" While admitting that they all have quite healthy egos, The Edge observes, "Your ego, in our case, gets subsumed into a kind of band ego," a situation that is possible only because everyone is secure in his position. "No ones trying to do anyone else down. Its kind of the opposite. You know if you get a chance to compliment somebody else, in the end youre complimenting the whole band." The relationships band members have with one another stem from mutual respect and many years of hard work. Band members have grown up together, gone through their apprenticeship as musicians together, fought with one another, and matured in their Christian faith together. "Theres a stability there and a kind of trust that is pretty indestructible at this point," comments The Edge. "A very miniature community like we have is a great model for success. Its a very effective form of cooperation for everybody involved."

    Beyond the band itself, a sense of community pervades U2s wider circles. For example, The Edge notes, "At U2 concerts, theres a great sense of unity in the venue, whether its a full stadium or a small theater. Theres a kind of an understanding that everybody there shares a certain view of how the world could be, and theyre interested in literally changing the world." Band members have been delighted to hear from such organizations as Amnesty International and Greenpeace that many new members have become involved with them because of U2s influence.

    U2 members bring their whole selves to their music, including their spirituality, and thus go against the grain of the artistic world they inhabit. "We throw everything in, you know, politics, religion, sex, everything that is us. I think that is whats missing now in music, that completely holistic thing. Its like art and music mostly has completely turned its back on anything spiritual for such a long time," observes The Edge, also noting that he thinks that trend will change eventually. U2 is aware of a generation growing up in their native Ireland with the influence of the Catholic Church having waned and nothing yet replacing that spiritual influence. Because they believe that to be human is to be spiritual, U2 looks forward to the day when the spiritual element reasserts itself in Western society in general and in the arts in particular.

    U2 members are not involved in the institutional church; they rely on their wider community to nurture them in their spiritual lives. The Edge describes this community: "There is that community sense that I would associate with the Christian ideal of looking after your neighbor. But it isnt always pretty; in fact its often very rough. Like do you care enough about someone to risk confronting them with the truth, if it is going to hurt them? Thats love in action, real commitment to one another, real community, and it has nothing to do with being nice to everyone at all times. So in some ways rather than being a once-a-week concept, its sort of the way we try and live here. And the challenge is to try to move it out further, so theres not just your immediate small community but its asking, can you get it to be bigger and bigger?"

    While the band doesnt have a specific plan for increasing the scope of the good they do in the world, they continue to maintain their vision of transforming the world. And they know that that transformation begins with them. As The Edge puts it, "I just think by continuing what were doing I hope therell be a natural process of change in us." As they change, they understand that theyll influence the U2 community around them. The Edge muses, "Its nice to feel like you might have been a bit of a catalyst along the way, or to be more accurate, that the music and the culture thats grown up around the music would be a catalyst to other people to do something."

    U2 incarnates what it is to think in terms of "us," in the band itself, in the U2 community, and in the wider world. In reflecting on the U2 community, The Edge typifies this attitude: "In the long run, I suspect that other people will end up doing far more than us, and thats an exciting idea."

    Sisters of the Road Caf?®
    "I need you. You are the social service center in the neighborhood. You can point me to where clothing is, you can point me to where the health clinic is, you can help me find a job. I know that about you. But dont you ever forget that you need me, too!" screamed the homeless woman who had burst into the staff meeting of the social service agency where Genny Nelson worked in 1979. The words struck home with Genny, reinforcing a message she had been hearing from the homeless for several years: "Listen to me. You need me."

    Genny Nelson and her colleague Sandy Gooch founded Sisters of the Road Cafe in Portland, Oregon, in 1979, in response to hours and hours of conversation with homeless people, listening to them articulate what they needed in order to get back on their feet. They asked for an alternative to the missions and soup lines, a place where they could dine with dignity, a place where they could work for their meals. They asked for a safe space, for community, and for help in job training. "We dont want to be stuck in a lifetime of charity," they said.

    Sisters of the Road became all that they requested, and more. Today, Sisters serves hot meals every day between 10:00 and 2:45. Customers can work for a meal or pay for a meal. They can work their way up to staff positions at Sisters. They can join the workforce development program and receive job training and help in job placement. The sense of community at Sisters is palpable. "This place is different," notes a customer. "You can feel it the minute you walk in the door." Customers and volunteers alike note the sense of respect and mutuality that pervades the atmosphere of Sisters of the Road. Not an easy atmosphere to maintain in the midst of the poverty and violence of life on the street, Sisters of the Road staff rely on their monthly nonviolence training and their daily practice of meeting violence with compassion to create and sustain the sense of community and mutuality at the cafe. "Nonviolence is the practice of living from the heart honestly," states Genny Nelson. "It asks of us the courage to address hurtful behavior while not humiliating that man, woman, or childs personhood." Genny attributes the atmosphere at Sisters to the consistency with which nonviolence has been practiced at Sisters over the twenty-five years of its existence.

    At Sisters of the Road, staff, customers, and volunteers continue to work together to solve the problems of homelessness. The partnership between the homeless and the housed that Sisters conceived of initially continues in Sisters day-to-day operations. "Listen to me! You need me." The message Genny received from the homeless woman who burst through the door has continued to echo in Gennys consciousness and has provided guidance throughout the years of Sisters existence.

    Reell Precision Manufacturing

    We are committed to do what is right even when it does not seem to be profitable, expedient, or conventional.

    So reads the first principle in Reell Precision Manufacturings Direction Statement. While such a principle might not appear to be a recipe for business success, Reell has grown from the 3-person company it was when it incorporated in 1970 to the 225-person company it is today. The company has adapted successfully to changing markets and a shifting economy and is now thriving, with revenue of over $25 million in 2004.

    At first glance Reell seems as distant as can be from U2 or Sisters of the Road Cafe. What can a midwestern manufacturer of hinges and clutches possibly have in common with a rock band or a cafe for the homeless? Yet at the most fundamental level, as Reells Direction Statement suggests, Reell shares a common core with U2 and Sisters of the Road. Reell, like U2 and Sisters of the Road, shares a commitment to soul at work, to manifesting its deepest values and its spirituality in its day-to-day life as an organization.

    Reell discovered how to Enron-proof its organization long before American business knew how sorely such insurance was needed. Named after a German word meaning "honest" or "trustworthy," Reell made ethical behavior a part of its DNA from the start. Reells first priority is the growth and development of its employees. Unlike most American manufacturing companies, who believe that workers must be constantly monitored in order to get the most work out of them, Reell believes in trusting its co-workers to do their best, thus freeing them to "express the excellence that is within all of us." Furthermore, Reell knows that business needs to make a profit, and they expect profits; at the same time, "our commitments to co-workers and customers come before short-term profits."

    Because of its commitment to employees and customers, Reell has done such unconventional things over the years as limiting executive pay to roughly seven to ten times that of the lowest-paid employee. Furthermore, during economic downturns in 1975, 1979, and 2001, when other companies were laying off employees, Reell discovered another way and didnt layoff anyone.

    "Do what is right, even when it does not seem to be profitable, expedient, or conventional" has served Reell well. By putting the development of their employees first and foremost, while at the same time keeping a steady eye on technology, markets, and the bottom line, Reell manages to work smarter, adapt quickly, and avoid the power struggles which often dominate technology and manufacturing compames.

    Greyston Foundation

    I wanted to create an environment demonstrating the interdependence of life.... The big question was how to bring spirituality - an awareness of the oneness of life - to the marketplace. (5)

    With these thoughts, Bernie Glassman recalls his motivation for founding Greyston Bakery, the forerunner to the Greyston Foundation (an umbrella organization for two for-profit ventures and five nonprofits) in 1982. While Glassman knew how to bring spirituality into non profits, he wanted to demonstrate how spirituality and commercial ventures could be linked. A Jewish astrophysicist turned Buddhist roshi, Glassman was influenced by both spiritual traditions when developing his principles of social engagement.

    Greyston Foundation, located in Yonkers, New York, now includes not only Greyston Bakery but also Greyston Cafe, Greyston Family Support Services, Greyston Housing, Greyston Child Care Center, and Greyston Health Care. The bakery, currently a $5 million business, donates its profits to the Greyston Foundation to support Greystons other projects. In addition to funding Greystons nonprofits, the bakery contributes to Greystons vision of social transformation by hiring "unemployable" people and training them to be successful.

    While Glassman moved on in 1997, the spiritual foundation he put in place remains throughout all Greystons branches. David Rome, one of those currently responsible for maintaining the spirituality of Greyston, serves as senior vice president for planning and development. Like Glassman, Rome grew up Jewish and later became a Buddhist. Rome attributes his spiritual formation to both traditions, and felt at home at Greyston when he arrived in 1992 because of Greystons integration of Jewish culture and Buddhist practices. Rome seeks to help integrate spirituality throughout the internal organizational life of the Greyston Foundation, as well as throughout client services.

    The various branches of Greyston have grown organically over the years as needs have become apparent. For example, Greyston Housing grew out of experiences at the bakery. Observing that many of the people who came seeking employment struggled with homelessness, Greyston leaders began exploring ways to address that problem. Greyston Family Support Services, in turn, grew out of these same explorations, as Greyston staff came to see that a more holistic approach to the problem of homelessness was needed than just providing housing. Greyston Family Support Services now provides everything from training in practical skills like budgeting and housekeeping to spiritual support for its tenants and prospective tenants.

    Bernie Glassmans dream has been more than realized. Greyston has brought spirituality into the marketplace and has demonstrated the interdependence of life. From baking brownies to preparing homeless people to be housed, the Greyston Foundation demonstrates how soul at work can transform individuals and organizations.


    Theres real compassion and love and relationship in this organization; theres friendship, theres support, theres trust. We have permission here to express ourselves in a different way.

    With these words, Etta Erickson, program director for the cancer program at HealthEast, expresses her experience of the organization. HealthEast won the Best Minnesota Hospital Workplace award for 2003, based partly on HealthEasts employees reporting descriptions of the organization similar to Ettas.

    HealthEast was created twenty years ago through merging two Protestant and two Catholic hospitals on the east side of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Now a health care system bridging two states, HealthEast boasts four hospitals, eleven clinics, five assisted-living residences, and various outpatient and home-care services.

    HealthEasts "passion for caring and service" (6) shows up in how employees treat one another, in how employees treat patients, in the variety of support groups and therapies offered, and in the structures and processes of the organization. Staff at HealthEast work in interdisciplinary teams in order to build relationships across specializations and thus enhance staff relationships and patient care. Strengthened through a program called Interdisciplinary Clinical Practice, teams work regularly on improving the quality of their relationships and the quality of their patient care, measuring their results carefully.

    HealthEast focuses on holistic patient care, offering not only state of-the-art conventional medicine but also doing research on and offering alternative therapies such as healing touch and massage. In addition, HealthEast offers, as a complement to medical care, counseling and support groups on living with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other topics.

    "Moments of Truth" at HealthEast are defined as moments when patients or their families have an opportunity to form an impression of HealthEasts service through contact with the organization. At HealthEast, employees remind one another that each" Moment of Truth" has the potential of becoming what they call a "Moment of Compassion." They notice and name" Moments of Truth" and share these stories with one another to encourage greater awareness.

    The authentic relationships and compassion evident at HealthEast are examples of how a sustained commitment to organizational soul can avoid the stereotypical soulless bureaucracy which can emerge when institutions merge out of necessity. HealthEasts example demonstrates how a continuing focus on soul and relationship can help organizations and their cultures recover from the surgery of mergers and restructuring.

    Southwest Airlines
    In the midst of the failing US airline industry, Southwest Airlines stands as a shining counterexample. The secret to its success? Fun.

    When Rita Bailey, former director of Southwests University for People, would frequently be asked about Southwests employees, "How do you get people to do those fun things?" she would respond, "We hire fun people." Southwest flight attendants crack jokes during passenger safety briefings, pop out of overhead bins, and generally enjoy themselves in their work. Their attitude is contagious. Passengers enjoy flying Southwest Airlines, and go out of their way to buy their tickets on Southwest, where they consistently find the same attitude in flight attendants, ticket agents, gate agents, pilots, and ramp agents.

    Since Southwest is known as a low-fare airline, its success is often attributed to its no-frills, point-to-point service. While these are important elements in its business model, they are not the most fundamental. Other airlines who have tried to copy Southwest focusing only on these elements have discovered that they cant compete. (7) Southwests success depends on creating and sustaining fun, caring relationships - between top management and employees, among employees, and between employees and customers.

    As Bailey says, understanding and living out Southwests philosophy is "simple, but not easy." The fun at Southwest Airlines is not a superficial, irresponsible type of fun but is intrinsic to how employees connect to one other and to customers. One writer calls the secret of Southwests success the power of "relational competence." (8) Simple to understand but not easy to live, relational competence requires both training and ongoing sustenance. Being caring toward fellow employees and customers is simple to understand but not easy to do in the relentless daily pressures of running an airline. It is because of these pressures that Southwest hires people who are already caring people
    with a good sense of humor and then trains them to be even better at those skills. "You can teach behaviors that look like nice, but that doesnt make me nice," observes Bailey. Southwest wants people whose hearts are in their jobs and who are committed to living out the philosophy of the airline.

    The first airline to define itself as a customer-service business, Southwest prides itself on its high customer-service ratings. Southwest is also the only airline to win the "Triple Crown" five years in a row, based on the Department of Transportation statistics on on-time arrivals, fewest customer complaints, and least misplaced baggage.

    Financially, Southwest stands out against the backof other US airlines, many of whom are losing money year after year and some of whom are in and out of bankruptcy. Southwest, in contrast, has turned a profit every year since 1973, and its stock is currently worth more than all other major US airlines combined. (9)

    Building a business on fun may seem counterintuitive, but Southwest has demonstrated that, when understood in the right way, it works brilliantly.

    Organizations, like individuals, have souls that transcend and support their practical activity. (l0) In these six organizational snapshots, we have seen how that soul is manifest in a quality of care in personal relationships among the organizations staff and stakeholders. This quality of care is not blind to or divorced from bottom-line concerns, but it energizes individual and corporate activity toward those concerns. Care of this kind is simple, but not easy in the real world where decisions have to be made and deadlines need to be met. This very tension is what makes organizational soul more than a Human Resources policy; it is an insistence on holding the organization in all its relational complexity while pursuing its economic, social, and cultural goals. In the chapters that follow, we look more deeply at the way in which soul at work manifests itself in these organizations and others.


    5. Newsday, March 1, 2004, 4.
    6. HealthEast vision statement.
    7. For example, Continental Lite and United Shuttle.
    8. Jody Hoffer Gittell, The Southwest Airlines Way: Using the Power of Relationships to Achieve High Performance (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 85-100.
    9. As of April 17, 2005, Southwest Airlines market capitalization was $11.6 billion, and the many other U.S. airlines market capitalization combined was less than $8 billion.
    10. For the purposes of this book, I define (p.9) spirituality as "the human spirit engaged". See Mary Frohlicj, "Spiritual Discipline, Discipline of Spirituality," Spiritus 1, no. 1 (2001) for a similar definition that draws on Bernard Lonergan, who in turn draws on Thomas Aquinas.
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Soul at Work

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