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  • Writer's pictureClaudio Senna Venzke

Spirituality as a Path to Organizational Development

Spirituality allows us to broaden the ability to visualize and make connections from the immanent to the transcendent to see beyond traditional boundaries.


The inability of many organizations to deal effectively with large number of variables involved (social, economic, environmental, cultural, and emotional, among others) generates negative impacts. These impacts are not only from socio-environmental point of view but also internally as in health and psychological well-being of employees. Affecting their productivity, creativity, engagement and organizational performance.

Our great challenge is to find ways to reduce these external and internal impacts, which can go beyond current and consolidated models, techniques, and management practices, which are not compatible with growing organizational changes because mainly put strong focus on economic and financial variables despite others.

Thus, in this article I will present a path that I have used in activities for education and development of managers and leaders in Brazilian organizations. This development focuses on a broader organizational vision, where everyone involved (employees, shareholders, directors, customers, society and environment) has the opportunity to obtain benefits from the actions and products of these organizations. The path proposed here also aims to develop subjective dimension using spirituality concepts in search for development in all organizational dimensions. This path has an important role for flourishing of more sustainable organizations, fostering behavioral changes and integrating visions and values in order to create a more just society for all.

The focus of this path presented here, is to aware managers about human dimension aiming to expand their worldviews and their roles. Much of lack of manager’s worldviews and their roles is because human dimension is predominantly disciplinary in management programs, which not being a transversal theme and not integrated with other topics. Human competencies for managers need an inclusion of critical reflection in their academic education. Critical reflection leads understanding that we can capture reality in several ways because it is socially constructed and based on social experiences and interactions.

Thus, concepts of spirituality in organizations have potential to generate a greater capacity for reflection, self-awareness and sensitivity for others, personal generativity, and a capacity for creative openness. This aims to educate managers so that they can understand their own purposes and motivations to overcome the challenge of reducing external and internal negative organizations impacts.


Spirituality in organizations


To clarify the path I use it is important to understand concepts of spirituality in organizations. Starting from the need to increase manager’s awareness realizing something bigger than they and organizations that participate.


Spirituality aims to provide subsidies to meet the need to connect with a greater purpose, in which managers play role of agents of transformation, expanding frontiers of management, mediating realities and producing meaning for themselves and for those involved in their management decisions. This also refers to the impact exerted towards a transcendent reference point, that is, outside organization. In addition to forces recognition that emanate from whole person, interconnections of human and non-human environments, and global nature of social and natural processes.


Using concepts of spirituality in organizations, being an emerging theme, can generate many confusions or different conceptual conceptions about what it is, and what are its impacts on organizations. In this way, below are concepts related to spirituality in organizations for a better theme understanding. The first important point is about differentiation of religion and spirituality concepts. Neal (2013) points out that religion and spirituality concepts are not the same, although they are highly interrelated, pointing out that religion can be a path to spirituality, but that people can have a spiritual search without being involved in a religion in particular.


Still in sense of differentiating religion and spirituality, Gyatso (1999) points out that religion is about faith acclaiming of one or another faith tradition. To accept some form of paradise or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogmas, prayers, rituals and so on. While spirituality is related to qualities of human spirit, such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility and a sense of harmony that bring happiness to both you and others.


In a complementary way, spiritual energy is approached by Zohar (2012) as being a spiritual intelligence, which is the ability to access higher meanings, values, purposes alone and unconscious individual aspects, to incorporate these meanings, values and purposes into a more prosperous and more creative way of life.


With introduction above, I present a spirituality concept to use in organizations that I developed in my PhD dissertation in Business Administration (Venzke, 2015):


Spirituality is the search for our connection with external aspects, expanding individual and collective consciousness. Recognizing the capacity for mutual influence between immanent and transcendent aspects, where we perceive ourselves as part of a larger whole than ourselves, acting in a way that we can to generate positive effects to whole and also be open to receive positive effects from this whole. 

Transcendence in presented concept means to recognize and connect to elements beyond individual dimension to rise or to go beyond individual daily life. In general, it means connecting with family, friends, co-workers, community, social issues in our countries, other living beings, and it means connection with energies or higher consciousness that move people depending on spiritual breadth you are seeking to achieve.


Immanence is about powers within an individual that which concerns people. In general, it is the values, beliefs, attitudes and skills of individuals. Immanence is the pertinent to a being as the human being's existentiality. Immanent is in whole that comprises the human and the transcendent is everything that is in the human possibility.


Consciousness expansion, in sense of spirituality concept presented, means expanding capacity to visualize and make connections between immanent and transcendent with ability to see beyond traditional borders.


This expanding consciousness sense that spirituality concept exposed above aims to act. In my work in organizations, expansion of managers' consciousness aims to recognize the capacity for mutual influence of their immanent aspects with transcendent aspects, thus perceiving themselves as part of a larger whole than themselves. Transformation process to increase consciousness aims to conduce managers to understand their fundamental individual values, and have a commitment to live aligned with them.


In this transformation process, I use meditation experiences and practices focused on other spirituality key elements. In addition to transcendence, these practices have potential to lead to organizations goals in a more humane way. Some of these elements worked on in meditative experiences and practices are gratitude, altruism (kindness, empathy and compassion), love and humility.


Being grateful means feeling and expressing a deep sense of gratitude in life and, more specifically, taking the time to genuinely expressing gratitude to others. In a transcendent view, we can be grateful for spontaneous gifts from nature, such as a cool breeze on a hot day, the rain that irrigates the soil to produce our food or the Sun that warms and energizes us.


Altruism connects with kindness relating to empathy and compassion. Compassion really means being there to care for someone, listening carefully his or her suffering or just sitting with them and silently supporting them. This compassion involves a deep concern for others welfare. Kindness is also about nurturing and caring for others and doing good deeds.


Love is not only about emotions, it refers to the degree to which we value intimate relationships with people and contributes to this closeness in a warm and genuine way. In relation to spirituality, is possible to stimulate compassionate and altruistic love by expanding sense of purpose and meaning, facilitating awareness in sense of being more self-reflective and creative aligned with the impact and meaning of our activities.


Humility is a strength related to virtue of temperance, and temperance describes strengths that help to manage habits and protect against excess. In this context, humility means accurately evaluating our achievements. From spirituality perspective, humility involves precise self-assessment, recognition of limitations, keeping achievements in perspective and not focusing on oneself. People with a high degree of humility do not distort information to defend or verify their own image and do not need to see or present themselves as better than they really are.


Experiential and meditations practices for organizational development


Experiences presented here are not prescriptive, or as the only paths, but rather illustrative of how I develop each of themes related to spirituality in organizations. In this way, presenting here just the beginning of a long journey with all its challenges towards humanistic and spiritual values in management development to stimulate human spirit for growing and flourishing of organizations.


Transcendence


I use a meditative experience to explore non-visible components of a product that organization produces to develop capacity of transcendence in managers. I use “interbeing” concept* proposed by Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh where he explains that at first we consider a sheet of paper only as an object for a particular use. However, according Hanh (2017) by broadening the view of connections that make it possible for a sheet of paper to exist, it is sun's energy transformation result, earth's nutrients, carbon present in the air, water and other cellulose elements, and all human work involved. I propose this so that managers are aware of how a product affects external environment (transcendent view) and how positively or negatively affects employees as well.


Gratitude


Also related to transcendence, it is important to work with the force of gratitude. This involves feeling and expressing a deep sense of gratitude in life and taking time expressing gratitude to others. This aims to generate a psychological response, transcendent feeling of gratitude, and feeling of having received a gift from a person or even from nature. I use the “gratitude letter” experience, where an employee writes a message to employee who performed an activity immediately prior to his or her, and which was relevant to his or her work. The messages can be identified or anonymous. Because the most important thing is to have psychological response than to know who wrote it.


Altruism


Spirituality for organizational development has another important basis that is altruism. For altruism development in organizations, I use experiences to purpose and meaning sense expansion. It is facilitating manager’s awareness and other employees, in sense of being more self-reflective, creative and aligned with the impact and meaning of their activities.


A suggested experience is to “put yourself in shoes of others” who can be customers and your colleagues. For this, I use the “empathy map” proposed by Gray (2014). This is a powerful and excellent tool to help you put yourself in shoes of someone else, who may be a potential customer, a product user or your colleagues. It allows us to understand his or her experiences, based on objectives and questions about his or her perceptions.


In expression of love within organizations, I work with compassionate and altruistic love.

Compassionate love

I use a meditative and experiential technique for compassionate and altruistic love development in organizations. It is the “conscious listening and speaking”. Conscious speech means speaking honestly and concisely, specifically, directly and from the heart. This involves dropping offensive lines and comments and repetitions. Conscious listening means giving total attention to the speaker with genuine kindness and compassion leaving aside impulse to react or think what to speak next. The practice purpose is to improve conscious communication to connect deeply with other person to see and really listen to other human being.


Humility


People with high humility think well of themselves and have a good sense of who they are but they are also aware of their mistakes, gaps in their knowledge and imperfections. Thus, an experience proposed to managers is to examine their limitations and potential. Writing a letter to themselves about themselves. About your strengths and about his or her limitations and barriers to become more humility. Being as accurate as possible, reviewing the letter and summarizing how they can maintain humility.


Learning with experiences


Learnings about these experiences is that business can alleviate suffering and raise joy of our lives, while still offering performance to shareholders. Businesses with a more transcendent vision can become places of flourishing for employees and their families, a source of sustainable solution for customers, communities and ecosystems and a healing force in society, helping to alleviate cultural, economic and political divisions. We as pracademics (practitioners-academics) can develop ways to do it reality. It is in our heads, in our hearts and in our hands. Therefore, it is time to put in action.


* “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be” we have a new verb: inter-be. (Hanh, 2017 pg.27)


References


GRAY, D. The Connected Company. Boston: O’Reilly, 2014.


GYATSO, T. Ethics for the New Millennium. New York: Riverhead-Penguin Books, 1999.


HANH, T. N. The Other Shore. Berkley: Parallax Press, 2017.


NEAL, J. Creating Enlightened Organizations: Four Gateways to Spirit at Work. Londres: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


ZOHAR, D. QS: Spiritual Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.


VENZKE, C. S. Education for Sustainability to Faculty Development in Business Schools. Doctoral Dissertation (in Brazilian Portuguese). Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul - Business School. Porto Alegre, Brazil: 2015



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