By Jamuna Rangachari
Spirituality and business can mix, say Dr Peter Pruzan and Kirsten Pruzan Mikkelsen, a Danish couple who traveled the world over to interview business leaders who operate from a spiritual basis
Dr Peter Pruzan, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Manage-ment, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, and his wife Kirsten Pruzan Mikkelsen, an eminent journalist and former newspaper editor at Berlingske Tidende, a major daily national newspaper in Denmark, are a couple with a mission. They have traveled the world over to put together the experiences and perspectives of 31 top executives from 15 countries in six continents. The result is a book, Leading with Wisdom, published by Sage Publications, that portrays an emerging global culture, where spirituality and business are seen as interconnected, not separate areas. For the couple, this is a passionate concern, one that will play a vital role in whether Planet Earth lives or dies.
Excerpts from an email interview:
What made you decide to combine spirituality and business?
It was our (and our research partners, Debra and William Miller’s) intention to demonstrate that business leaders can achieve success, recognition, peace of mind and happiness, and at the same time, serve the needs of all those affected by their leadership, when they lead from a spiritual basis.
We have traveled, worked and lived in many parts of the world, in both developed and developing countries, over the past several decades. We have become aware of a trend that is increasingly manifest in business organizations of all kinds, no matter where they are located, or what products or services they produce. Many business executives are increasingly becoming workaholic human doings, longing to be full and integrated human beings. They aspire to live with integrity, where their thoughts, values, words and deeds are in harmony. The problem is that they don’t know how to do so in a business world that is increasingly characterized by complexity, turbulence and greed.
Leading with Wisdom provides food for thought for dealing with these challenges. It contains stories and reflections by inspiring and compassionate business leaders who care about what is truly important in life, and who integrate this awareness and sensitivity into their leadership. Leaders who search for meaning, purpose and fulfillment in the external world of business, and in the internal world of consciousness and conscience. Leaders whose leadership is a natural expression of their hearts, minds and souls – whose thoughts, words and deeds are in harmony with their most fundamental truths and longings, both at work and in their private lives. In other words, leaders who lead from a spiritual basis, where their external actions and their internal reflections are mutually supportive – so that spirituality and rationality can go hand in hand, rather than being each other’s competitor.
We note that in writing the book, it has not been our intention to imply that people will be more successful in business (however one may define success), if they are spiritual. It is enough to realize that these executives have achieved their leadership positions while being spiritual – that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Summing up here, we combined ‘spirituality’ and ‘business’, because we believe that there is a great need for integrating them – for business executives to lead from a spiritual basis. And we believe that our modest attempt to contribute to this integration, Leading with Wisdom: Spiritual-based Leadership in Business, will enable business leaders at every level, as well as spiritually-inclined working people of any profession, MBA students, professors and consultants, to discover for themselves: first-hand experiences of spiritual-based leadership in business; new insights into business practices when traditional success criteria are supplemented and reshaped by a spiritual perspective; and opportunities for spiritual growth through business leadership.
The sections in your book range from love to wisdom. Any particular basis for this classification?
At the end of that part of the interview where we questioned the executives about their spirituality, we asked each leader to capture all that he or she had shared into a “spiritual theme”. This spiritual theme then became a guide throughout the remaining interview to help us and the executive stay focussed when sharing specific examples and giving their perspectives on leading from a spiritual basis. It also helped us to organise the book, since we built it up around a number of sections, each of which contains the profiles of leaders whose spiritual perspectives have a common focus. This enabled us to reap the more subtle insights from the very diverse and extensive (1½ to 2 hours) interviews with them.
Do you think it is necessary for management schools to introduce spirituality as part of their teaching?
The answer depends entirely on what one means by ‘necessary’.
If one means whether there will be so much pressure on management schools to give courses on spiritual-based leadership that they will have to offer such courses in order to be competitive, then the answer is a clear “No”. At present – and this applies as best as we can judge all over the world – spiritual-based leadership is definitely not ‘mainstream’, neither in academia nor in business. There are very few management schools that offer courses focusing on spiritual-based leadership, and it is not part of the vocabulary or the mindset of most business leaders … or of teachers at management schools, for that matter.
If, on the other hand, by ‘necessary’ one means ‘essential for the well-being and sustainability of our societies and of business as an institution’, then the answer is a clear “Yes”. Greed, prestige and power still appear to be prime motivating forces for leaders of the world’s corporations. No tightening of laws and threats of punishment will end the amoral and immoral behavior of business leaders.
What is clearly needed is a change in the mindset, values and principles of our leaders, as well as of those who finance our enterprises, and of those who teach and mentor our future leaders. At a very minimum, what is needed is an expansion of the concept of ‘success’ so that it transcends the prevailing myopic focus on short-term financial gains.
It can be argued that rampant greed is gradually being tamed, not just by laws, but by social and ethical norms. Major companies throughout the world have developed executive positions and reporting systems that are intended to demonstrate to the world that the corporate world, in spite of – or perhaps because of – its classical focus on wealth creation, is becoming
increasingly sensitive to the needs of the public and the environment.
However, without in any way attempting to play down the important role played by these perspectives, something crucial is still missing. When one analyzes the positive discourse and the fine ‘triple-bottomline reports’, it becomes clear that underlying the implementation of these perspectives into the vocabulary and policies of our corporate bodies is a very traditional economic rationale. When leaders are questioned as to why they and their organizations should promote this new and expanded sensitivity to ethics, responsibility and the environment, their ‘default’ answer typically is: ‘It pays to do so! It protects our reputation, and enables us to maintain our license to operate, and to continue to increase our wealth.’ This answer implies that ethics and values and responsibility and sustainability are not important in their own right. They are simply efficacious means to promote classical business ends of increasing earnings and share prices.
What is missing is a paradigm of leadership that looks upon social responsibility, ethical behavior, and concern for the environment not simply as instruments, but as fundamental principles and values in their own right. In the moral language of the mind, what is missing is responsibility. In the emotional language of the heart, what is missing is love. In the spiritual language of the soul, what is missing is compassion and unity.
This is why it is necessary to introduce spiritual-based leadership as part of the curriculum at our management schools – to motivate our future leaders to find their way in the increasingly complex business world, by using a compass that points not only to a pot of gold, but also to a path to deeper meaning and purpose in business.
Have you found the mantra for combining success in the business world with spiritual growth?
While the above replies have been from both of us, the following is a reply from Peter alone: “I have found my personal ‘mantra’: Surrender is the greatest triumph. But this is certainly not something that I would advise others to use, as it really depends on who you are and how you interpret and experience the words. An overly simplified understanding could be that we must do our very best to serve noble causes, loving all and serving all, both at work and in our private lives, and accept with confidence that the results are as they should be. I know from experience how difficult it is to surrender in this manner, and therefore, being able to do so and to live in the present with equipoise and love for all is the greatest triumph.”
How has your own perspective changed during the course of writing this book?
The book has been almost five years in the making. So our perspectives have changed in a number of ways – not dramatically, but in more subtle ways. First of all, we have become more optimistic. In the process of searching for leaders to profile for the project on spiritual-based leadership, we discovered, much to our surprise, an abundance of business executives around the world who were not only spiritually inclined, but who were willing to speak openly with us about their spirituality, and how it shaped their leadership. Furthermore, having experienced the confidence of these leaders, we know that spirituality is alive and well in the world of business, though in a subtle and often tacit way: not yet is it part of the common business vernacular; seldom is it explicitly expressed in corporate mission statements, policies, PR and reporting; and it is taught at only a small minority of MBA programmes throughout the world. But as the legendary American folk singer, Bob Dylan, proclaimed, “The times they are a’changin.”
Secondly, we have felt personally inspired and touched by each and every one of the 31 spiritual-based executives that we and the Millers interviewed, and whom we have profiled in the book. From these leaders we have learned about integrity and determination – about how they strove to live up to their spiritual principles, even in the most trying of times. We have learned about courage and faith – about how they drew upon their spirituality to make difficult decisions that others might not agree with. And we have learned about humility – about how they gained strength from their spirituality to face their mistakes.
Not only have these magnanimous people enriched our knowledge about leadership and business conducted from a spiritual basis, they have also touched our lives as human beings. They have broadened our horizons, and given us new insights and confidence about spirituality as the basis not only for business leadership, but for self-leadership, for living life, as well.
Finally, and a direct follow-up on the last reflection, we have grown as husband and wife. We have worked extremely closely and intensely, and little by little, found out that the reason we worked so well together was not only due to skill and experience; we realized that Leading with Wisdom was a part of our own spiritual search, an expression of our own fundamental aspiration to selflessly serve.
‘It is necessary to introduce spiritual-based leadership as part of the curriculum at our management schools – The Pruzans’
Contact: Peter Pruzan: pruzan@cbsdle;
Kirsten Pruzan Mikkelsen: firstname.lastname@example.org
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