I changed the title of this piece a little before pressing the ‘Send’ key from “Do Corporates Have a Soul”, to the one cited above, to make the argument and to discuss it extensively, without restricting to a single segment of the business world.
As a first step there has to be some understanding about what is soul? In the most simplistic term, soul is referred to that non-tangible part of a human being, considered by many as spiritual, that has immortality associated with it. It is that part of any existence present in every person that lives, feels, thinks, and wills (this is a century dictionary definition). All attributes that are in the realm of non-material constitute the soul. Ancient understanding of the soul meant the presence of at least three elements; intelligence, reason and passion.
Soul resides within. Philosophers and sages have always considered without any evidence, physical or otherwise, the heart of the human being as the repository of the soul. Aristotle referred to the soul as being distinct in at least three dimensions; a part that deals with nutrition and growth, a portion that creates a sense of reasoning and an appetitive portion that monitors, controls and governs desire.
Immortality is a sine qua non of the soul’s existence. Socrates too believed that the soul is immortal. Death is unknown to the soul. Death is related to the physical self where the body once the soul has left or deserted it decays –—- from dust to dust. Death hence is seen as the separation of the soul from the body. Soul precedes physical existence and remains eternal, even once the physical (material) existence is over. Plato defines the soul as a simple, pure, unorganised, uncompounded, invisible, rational entity. The “soul” in its original form is pure and divine –— our manner of living, either adds to its nobility and purity or it contaminates the soul with impurities.
Without leaning heavily towards religious interpretations and definitions of the soul it is easy to be conclusive about the unanimity that exists between philosophers and religious pundits, that the soul is eternal and immortal. Collins refers, “Soul is the part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts and feelings. Collectively when we use terms like the soul of the nation, we generally mean to refer to its political, economic and social conditioning, that is reflective of its core nature, beliefs and values. Soul therefore is about the emotion, moral nature of individuals. It excites sentiments towards spirituality which in turn, is potentially a moral force.
The human conditioning is to seek a purpose in life which once defined with some clarity has to be backed by working upon the naturally endowed skills and balance. Since the business world is about interconnectedness, the endeavor has to be to bring out the best of behavior and attitude to the workplace. In doing so, it is of critical importance to have in place not merely an enabling environment but an atmosphere of congeniality that provokes positivity in reactions to business challenges. All opinions must remain open to revision, and certainly not aversion. It is an innate impulse of the humankind to arrive at some point of his/her life at something higher than natural state. Emerson in one of his essays puts across a similar thought with powerful eloquence; “To the Poet, to the Philosopher, to the Saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”
The discernment of a manager in being able to see the invisible, to hear the unsaid or inaudible or even experiencing (touch) the intangible is the quest to attain a higher pitch in spirituality must acquire the status of being the cornerstone of corporate values, if the institution is to be reckoned as one that has a soul. Victor Hugo (the Les Misérables) states: “There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”
An entity, where the corporate culture is embedded with humane touch, will have an environment of spirituality, which in turn creates a soul for the organisation. In an essay on virtues and vices, James Wallace (1978) categorized the ethics of virtue into three categories; self-discipline virtues, such as courage and patience; conscientiousness virtues, such as honesty and fairness; and virtues that extol benevolent attitude towards others, such as kindness and compassion. The presence of these virtues, in individuals, teams, groups. Entities or even nations have the amazing potential to influence the success of an idea, a concept, an objective, a goal or a vision. Any person who contributes to the happiness of others around him/her is bound to develop their own cognitive ability to remain happy. An unhappy team cannot have (at least not for long) a happy leader; their collective unhappiness will eventually drown his happiness because the team (unhappy) would perhaps, refuse to deliver the desired results.
There are several global institutions who value the presence of a soul in their work environments; mentioning their names in this piece might tantamount to advertising, so they best remain unnamed. However, since it is now defunct and doesn’t exist, BCC was one organisation that in a short span of time had developed a distinct “corporate soul”. The institution was shut down, it did not collapse and the reason for its being made defunct were more global, political and economic interests and not its management values.
Its closure was almost 31 years back, yet its mark of unique corporate soul and spirituality, exists in the form of practices adopted by its members in different institutions across geographies – proves that soul is eternal, the brick and mortar, the financial institution however, is dead and buried. To make the soul a living one at all times, there is no effort required to allocate time and energy, it is a practice that one develops – a part of inherent nature.
My daughter, who works overseas, in a five-star hotel chain, has enriched me with an example of practical and focused attention, where her organisation has put in place humane policies –— She informed me that her headquarters sends regular updates and bulletins on the imperative need for paying attention to the mental wellness of staff; visibly demonstrating a duty of care towards them and also ensuring that there is no corporate intimidation. As an example, she said, if a performing staff member, on any particular day cannot respond to an internal email, from colleagues or supervisors, with remarks like; “I’m feeling burnt-out today. Will revert tomorrow”. Nothing can be held against the staff member.
Further since pandemic has brought into play with heightened awareness of their rights, HR cannot be bound to do work outside of defined hours. It is their choice to do more from home at any given time, of their convenience. So long the work assigned is completed no action can be taken on other counts, sans of course, deliberate or obstinate insubordination.
Living organisations, work towards making their employees enabled to do what they are best at; this is done with a two-fold objective, firstly it is inspirational and secondly it creates happiness — and for the flourishment of the ‘corporate soul’, happiness and wellness are critical dynamis, which means to develop into a mature version of whatever they (people) are or even their creative potentials and abilities.
Management have to usher an atmosphere that will bring about in their organisations and the associated people, moral sufficiency, which means, being true to themselves. In being true to themselves, staff would be compelled to see the impact of their current work upon the future of the organisation which in effect would lend solidity to the strengthening of the soul of the organisation. Entities non-tangible values can exist beyond its tangible existence. Those organisations who bring into play this type of thinking strategy that bring or infuse the ability of the soul into their work and productivity.
It is always the attention to basics, whose presence will ensure the fostering of the corporate soul. Simple habits of listening more and talking less; giving space considered as safe psychological area; hence creating an environment where winning is never individualistic promotes the soulful organisation.
Any organisation, worth its salt that lacks or is devoid of soul; is already a dead matter. Corporates die too. All dead matter decays. Leaders and managers must endeavor to not only create the soul and the organisation, but through persistent and focused policies provide vitamins for its growth. Only the soul sustains, everything else decimates, decays, etc.
The writer is a freelance columnist