The soul of the boardroom
We hear people refer to companies as moral or not moral, good or bad, honest or dishonest. It seems as though people perceive organizations to have a soul. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the soul is made up of the intellect, the will and the memory. Of course, an organization can’t actually have a soul, but it does have a culture and that culture will often emulate the soul of its leader. So the leader has the power to influence the intellect, will and memory of the business.
I will always remember a strange subplot that occurred during a consulting project I had with a Fortune 100 client. A very talented and wellrespected executive, who we will call Bob, told me that he was being transferred to a different division because he was in the “dog house” with his GM. Bob had the highest employee satisfaction rating of all the leaders in the division. He developed more talent than any other executive in the division and his productivity was among the best overall. So why was Bob in the dog house? It was all because he was aware that his GM was having an affair.
Bob didn’t confront the GM, and he didn’t talk to other employees about the situation, but both he and the GM knew that Bob was aware of the situation. Bob was not prone to gossip and his track record proved it. He had seen many unscrupulous things in his day but didn’t talk behind the backs of his co-workers.
Despite that, the GM was willing to trade his star player, which would immediately reduce the quality of his core staff. Considering all the facts available to me, it appeared that the GM wanted Bob out of the picture simply because Bob’s presence sparked something in his conscience. He knew Bob did not approve, not because Bob was preachy, but because he quietly lived out his faith. The irony was that both Bob and the GM were Catholics.
This story demonstrates that a weakened soul leads to irrational decisions and limits a leader’s ability to form rational outcomes. Once he turns himself over to his sins, he will often protect himself from guilt by attracting only people who he assumes would not be offended by his immorality. Soon he surrounds himself with a team of moral relativists and things start down a precarious path.
It will likely follow that the GM will begin making decisions that are actually designed to alleviate his guilt rather than build the business.
He will lose his ability to solve future problems effectively, and he probably won’t admit that fewer people in the talent pool and lower productivity are his fault. So he will need to find alternative reasons, which will not be fully accurate because they are predicated on a false assumption.
Medically speaking, a diseased heart reduces a person’s physical activity and has symptoms such as shortness of breath and overall weakness. If you want to regain endurance and strength, then you go to the heart of the matter (no pun intended), and you fix the heart.
When the soul is tarnished by sin, especially serious sin, there are severe daily consequences. The intellect of a sinner is dulled, the will is weakened and the memory confused. How many millions of dollars are spent on psychotherapy, nutritional supplements and self-help courses that could be solved by a single contrite confession? Clearly nutrition and psychotherapy have their place, but if you compare the length of the lines at the confessional with those at the doctor’s office and health food stores, you can see that most people overlook spiritual opportunities for healing.
There is a strange biological phenomenon that researchers have recently discovered. They have observed a part of the brain which promotes imitating the actions of leadership at an unconscious level. Of course, any experienced leader would not be shocked by this, but it highlights the point that the culture of an organization is a magnification of the leader.
A leader with a clean conscience is the greatest asset to any company … by far. Leaders must live their faith every day and everywhere, the board room included. When your team sees that you are not willing to compromise your integrity to advance your own career or the company objectives, then that will soon become the culture of the organization as well.
Leaders who are dissatisfied with their organizational performance far too often fail to consider that the true source of the problem may be the status of their own soul. Personal issues like an affair, some people claim, have nothing to do with a person’s ability to lead.
But timeless wisdom teaches that you can only give what you already have. Therefore if you lack integrity, you can’t pass it on professionally or personally. So before you bring in outside consultants, seek spiritual direction and go to confession. The problem may be closer to the vest than you have ever considered.
Dave Durand is best-selling author of “Perpetual Motivation,” executive of a $250 million company, and trainer of well over 100,000 individuals in sales, marketing and business management. He writes a regular column for the National Catholic Register.