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A roundtable discussion on spirituality in management

Spirituality in Management was the topic of a roundtable discussion held in May at the Rochester Business Journal. Participants were: Germaine Knapp, president of Worksmart of Rochester Inc.; Mary-Frances Winters, president of the Winters Group Inc.; Edward deJong, technical specialist/project manager, strategic programs, Xerox Corp.; John Engels, president and partner of Great Lakes Leadership Group Inc.; and Barry Keesan, founder of Logical Operations Inc. and coordinator of the Rochester chapter of the World Business Academy. Moderators were editor Paul Ericson and special projects editor Rose Ericson. Excerpts:

PAUL ERICSON: Let’s start at the beginning–by defining spirituality.
EDWARD deJONG: I think the word “spirituality” brings some negative connotations into the workplace. (At Xerox), we’ve renamed it diversity, empowerment, management for results. We’re really looking at the planning process and encompassing everyone’s ideas, thoughts, making sure everyone is satisfied that they know what the objectives are. It really (means) satisfying (all of our) customers, both internal and external.
GERMAINE KNAPP: Personally, I see it as trying to understand the meaning behind what we do and how we work. Spirituality has the element of (being) unseen. It’s essentially saying, “Why are we doing all of this? Why are we working this way together and not another way? Why are we even putting out this product?”
JOHN ENGELS: I often find myself asking clients, “Out of everything you could be doing with your life, why are you doing this?” It’s what makes us distinct as human beings, the “why” question.
The other thing is this idea of perspective, which has to do with realizing what ultimate or bigger context this work fits into. Perspective says to me, “Nothing matters–5,000 years from today, who’s going to remember anything?” But meaning says to me, “Everything I do counts, because all I have is this self and this life.” It’s that paradox; it’s wrestling with that tension.
BARRY KEESAN: (To me,) spirituality is seeing our connectedness to all things: to the planet, to the people on it, to ourselves, to our community. That means we’ve got responsibilities to ourselves and to each other not to act in isolation. That’s true for any aspect of life. Particularly in business I think we don’t have traditionally enough of that recognition of the true interdependence. Bringing our human spirit to work means bringing our deepest feelings about our connections.
ROSE ERICSON: How do you exhibit those at work?
KEESAN: By being authentic about who you are, about behaving in accordance with your values. This comes out in the most ordinary ways: treating people kindly, honestly, the Golden Rule. Recognizing that everyone has dignity, everyone has value.
KNAPP: And still you have to do tough things that make people unhappy, for the good of the business.
deJONG: The foundation of ethical behavior (is) open and honest communications, trust and respect for each other, and what you end up with are basically empowered employees. At the same time, you have to manage the business side of things. That really gets into listening to people, understanding people, meeting their needs. Kaizen says we don’t do it well today. We’ve actually had to lay off people; in some cases, we may have laid off the wrong people. But it’s the attempt to try to do it right and continue the process improvement.
ENGELS: This sounds very positive to me. (Then) why is spirituality, in so many ways, systematically kept out? Why are people so afraid of it? I think much of what passes for spirituality is really a very unhealthy kind of spirituality that’s intolerant, very rigid, that looks and sounds like certitude.
ENGELS: Or denominational rigidity.
WINTERS: I think that’s why we have so much trouble with the term “spirituality.” Many people immediately translate that term into religion, and, of course, we separate church and state. I think spirituality is the third piece (of the whole person): the mind, the body and the spirit. We work a lot on the mind; we do a lot with our body. But we don’t really deal with the spirit, (because it) is within. We can learn what’s right and wrong using (our heads), but we do what’s right and wrong because of our spirituality. That’s how I think about it.
KNAPP: I think religion can divide people because it gives us rules; (as) Barry said, spirituality connects people. Spirituality means wondering, not settling, not having the certitude. I think it’s difficult in business, because we want to be there first with the best, and you’re always racing against other people.
P. ERICSON: Don’t you think that, for some people, religion does define their spirituality? Can that become a problem in the workplace?
ENGELS: There’s a big difference between the person who says, “This is how I see it. This is what drives me,” and the person who says, “I have found it. This is the truth. And if you don’t see it this way, maybe you need to listen to me and I can help you to get it.” One posture is more humble, more curious; the other is more dogmatic.
KEESAN: One honors the other people around you and accepts them; one rejects and separates people. A lot of times what passes as spirituality is a religious kind of fervor that separates people.
KNAPP: Proselytizing. When we proselytize, we conquer, we take over, we don’t honor.
deJONG: In order to have a successful team, we’ve got to learn to get along with each other. The term “managing diversity” looks at the religious aspect of things: sex, nationality, creed, whatever. We’re talking about managing different types of people, whoever they are. Industry today is starting to change. The competition is still there, but it’s different. We have more team recognition, more peer review processes.
WINTERS: I think, too, in the ’70s and ’80s, we minimized the importance of people in the workplace. We were talking a lot about technology. Now, in the ’90s, we recognize that people truly are what matters. People make computers, sell machines. Without the people, nothing is going to happen.
For a while there, we sort of forgot the importance of people. We even called these kinds of disciplines “soft skills.” I was at a diversity session at a major employer in this town, and people started to hug each other, and there were some people in the room who were totally appalled. One person actually walked out.
KNAPP: It may be true that some are recognizing the importance of people, but on the other hand, profits are going up, and the number of people employed is going down. I think it says that profit might be more important than people. I wonder what kind of obligations a company has to keep people employed, to not desert a city. I think this is part of the interconnectedness of business with the community and the world. I think there’s a difficult thing with making a profit and as much money for the shareholders as possible and still being a company that really cares about people and the community.
ENGELS: If spirituality would be postured as an increase of reflection, or as an appreciation for meaning or depth or careful thinking or sensitivity or connection to other people, it could be seen as a competitive advantage, something that actually undergirds and fuels and contributes to performance.
R. ERICSON: Give a real concrete example of how that might happen.
ENGELS: A spiritual perspective might value imagination and reflection time instead of an obsessive busyness. It might value taking 15 minutes to really ask myself, “Is this where I should be? Is this what we need to be doing right now?” Out of that perspective, I might come up with a kind of idea, a kind of approach that could actually be deeper, and more in sync with the mission of my organization.
WINTERS: Some companies even have meditation rooms.
KEESAN: (Spirituality) also manifests as really functional teams. (In) the total quality movement, human behavior is so important. A lot of times you have the techniques without the underlying attitudes. From a spiritual perspective, you’re not competing with a fellow employee, you’re mutually dependent on getting the job done.
WINTERS: I think, also, you don’t tend to have the entitlement mentality. If you’re in touch with who you are and you feel self-actualized, you don’t feel, “I’m entitled to this job. And look what this big company is doing to me.” The employment contract truly is changed in America today. There is no more lifetime employment. But I think people still feel entitled to that. They feel like they have been let down. The spiritual perspective reverses that.
deJONG: I think industry today has changed; we are doing new and different things. The students coming out of college today are smarter than we are; they’ve got all the right tools. We need to reach into those people, pull them out, build them up, pull their creativity out and add it to ours. We have to manage diversity, we have to empower them, we have to work with them so they are free to let their imaginations run wild and let loose some of those ideas that they’re working on.
KEESAN: As John said, if it’s done right, this is competitive advantage. I think that’s why we’re here now, because we have experienced some competitive advantage in our worlds by acting on these things.
deJONG: (At Xerox,) we had to go through layoffs and everything else. But those of us who were left felt bad about the whole situation as well, so we had to deal with it. Here we had just laid off people, and we sent a team of quite a few people out to New Mexico to go on a “Let’s figure out how to work together”-type seminar. Xerox can’t stop developing the people that are left.
R. ERICSON: Everything everyone is saying here sounds really wonderful, but there are a lot of companies out there (that) would have nothing to do with what any of you are saying. So what happens to people in those companies? What happens to their development and their opportunities to express their spirituality?
KNAPP: I think some of those companies will lose good people if they think they can go someplace else and use their talent and be respected. So I think it eventually will be a competitive advantage. I do think the challenges for a small business are different from those of a larger business, and maybe you feel the heat, the devil at your back, and worry that the payroll won’t be met this week. It’s a constant preoccupation for some people, and it drains a person of energy and desire to think of the meaning behind everything. I think it’s a major thing, that we’re all trying to be first and fast and best.
ENGELS: Let’s play with that, though. This is what spirituality really is begging at: What’s the point of being first? I’m not knocking it; I think it’s an important goal. We’re all here; we have families to support.
WINTERS: The point is supposed to be self-fulfillment, self-satisfaction. When you get up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror, do you feel good about who you are, what you did yesterday and what you’re about to do today? I think more and more companies are getting to that point where they’re saying, “If we treat our people well and we do the right thing, the money will follow.” You’re right; there are some organizations that haven’t caught on, (but) the labor pool is shrinking. There are fewer people out there to be had.
KNAPP: Skilled.
WINTERS: Right. And those folks will want to go to those companies that value the fact that they are a whole person, and that their whole life does not revolve around whatever it is they do from 8 to 5. The whole notion of balancing work and family life has become much more respected and accepted.
R. ERICSON: But what about the people who don’t want to hug? Suppose you plan some training for your employees, and there is going to be a spiritual component of this training. What happens when employees get into the midst of it and, all of a sudden, they realize they really don’t want to do this?
WINTERS: They can walk out. I invite people to say, “I’m not comfortable with that.”
KNAPP: I don’t think spirituality, though, is all about feeling good all the time. I think spirituality also involves a little pain and questioning. It doesn’t mean that you always have the great answer to everything. I think it’s questioning and wondering and seeking.
WINTERS: I think spirituality is about hope.
KNAPP: But it doesn’t erase questions and doubts and a certain amount of pain and tension. Without it, maybe we’re not asking the right questions.
KEESAN: If you’re not honoring and acknowledging your own pain and your own difficulty, it’s hard to be honest about anything. You can’t be working on love and not feel all kinds of pain around you. How do you feel joyous about working and, at the same time, acknowledge that difficulty?
ENGELS: I wonder if what you’re saying might explain why more people aren’t open. All authentic spirituality involves dealing with the dark side, with challenge, with struggle. To what extent are we, as business leaders–and a particular onus is on those who are at the top–really willing to enter into the fray, the trenches of uncertainty, where I’m not in control anymore, and I have to be curious, and I have to begin to open my life up, perhaps share with others at a level at which I’m not used to sharing? This is scary stuff.
P. ERICSON: I want to get back to what the point of being No. 1 is. A lot of people would say the point is knowing that you’re not last. You’re certain, at least for now, that your business is going to survive. That doesn’t mean you don’t get fulfillment out of the work that you do, but you can’t be fulfilled in your work if you fail. A number of companies in this town who seem to be doing the right kinds of things, from this perspective, are also ones that are laying off people wholesale–even while making record profits. Speaking for, perhaps, the people who just got laid off from Kodak and Xerox, where does spirituality come to the table? Wouldn’t it be, perhaps in the Christian sense, more spiritual to have found other work for those people?
deJONG: When I joined Xerox in 1968, at the same time I was walking in the front door, they were laying 2,000 people off in Henrietta. I never quite understood that. When I grew up a bit, I went back and saw there was a business need that wasn’t being met. They had too many people; they laid them off. They went into a voluntary type of work- reduction exercise, provided phones, counseling. You have to remember our competition was Japan Inc., and we were in trouble. That made us stronger, more efficient.
I can’t justify what they did, because I don’t have a lot of the facts, but the people that were left behind were just as hurt as those who were laid off. We had to help not only the people who were laid off with all the counseling, helping them find jobs, moving people around or retraining them. Xerox was willing to retrain people instead of lay them off.
P. ERICSON: The assumption (about layoffs) is that, “We have to do it.” Says who? What does spirituality say about profits?
KEESAN: It doesn’t say anything about it. It’s very hard to talk about this in the abstract. In some cases, layoffs can be the most profoundly helpful thing that can happen, because a company that is failing can’t help anybody. And other times, layoffs are unnecessary. You can’t make pronouncements that layoffs are good or bad; it’s the way it’s done and the circumstances.
WINTERS: I really don’t see the correlation between a company (not) caring about their employees, and layoffs. Going back to my premise: We have to take care of ourselves. Some people believe one door is closed, that means another is going to be opened. I think that it’s not necessarily the lack of a caring for employees that leads companies to make business decisions.
KEESAN: But it can be, right?
KNAPP: I think it can be.
WINTERS: It can be, but … to be honest, there are some people who retire in their jobs and are not benefiting the company. The other thing that you said I just want to mention: I don’t equate Christianity with spirituality.
P. ERICSON: I said, as an example.
ENGELS: I had the same reaction. It has as much to do with spirituality as Hinduism and Buddhism and Judaism and the rest.
KNAPP: Getting back to laying off employees and profits increasing: I think it’s unclear how much obligation business has to the community. We did say at the beginning that spirituality connotes connectedness, and if it does, then one can hardly not care about what happens in the community. It seems to me that there are becoming two tiers: skilled and unskilled people. Somehow business has a part to play in that.
ENGELS: What I hear all of us saying is that a holistic, spiritual approach is very nuanced. There are no simple answers to very complex questions. It has to be seen as, “What is the best we can do?”
There’s a lot of societal permission to care. But the other side of not caring is caring too much. I work with many people who have difficulty making decisions, taking stands, because they’re afraid of what the reaction’s going to be. So this wrestling, this curiosity, coming together and really struggling with the questions, instead of having to have the answer to the question– reductionist, black/white thinking–I think that’s going down a path of a decidedly unspiritual approach.
deJONG: (There are some) values that we have that we’ve all wanted to get back to. If you want to call it spirituality, we’ll call it spirituality. I think we’re all now into managing for results and looking at our employees as assets, continuing to develop them. We need to touch the hearts of all of those employees as well as continue to develop their minds, the interconnectedness.
KNAPP: Terminology of people as assets and getting return on investment connotes a little bit to me that, if they don’t come through, they’re not worth it, and I’m going to get something more valuable in its place.
I also hear you say empowerment, and open and honest communication. But I’m just thinking about people as assets, as things, and it just bothers me.
ENGELS: Commodities.
WINTERS: I like to look at it as organic vs. inorganic. We think, oftentimes, the processes we see in corporations are inorganic; they’re about inputs and outputs. When you think about something being organic, you think about it changing, living, needing nourishment. I would say that the terminology that we use often in describing people is an inorganic language.
KEESAN: The easy way for management to talk about this is to say there’s a correlation between certain behaviors and a return on investment. And I think that’s the way you justify making positive change. But, really, it comes down to an act of faith. Right now, in the evolution of our business, people have seen success, and they have seen the returns that come from valuing people. But it is kind of an act of faith for a lot of companies and a lot of managers to say, “I’m going to put my people first,” and really act out of that place.
WINTERS: And that’s difficult because it’s not as concrete as setting a machine.
KEESAN: Many people who have taken that leap of faith have seen positive results. If you try to explain that to others, they put it in their own situation and say, “I could never do that.”
R. ERICSON: How about if you tried to explain it to the media? I’m wondering if anyone other than I is frustrated with the way this issue is generally dealt with in the mainstream press.
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A roundtable discussion on spirituality in management

KEESAN: People are always willing to listen to someone who has been successful in the terms that everybody understands, if we’re talking about redefining success, which is very important. If you talk to a successful person who has acted according to (his or her) values, people think it’s OK.
KNAPP: I don’t think spirituality necessarily leads to worldly or monetary success. I don’t think anyone should be spiritual in order to make a profit.
ENGELS: How many companies do all of us know that are absolutely dysfunctional and have no concern whatsoever for anything other than profit making, and they’re highly successful? And they’re going to stay that way at the expense of their people.
KEESAN: And that’s the corollary: that not being spiritual doesn’t mean you won’t make money.
ENGELS: One of my reasons for entertaining spirituality in my business has to do with me and personally what I need and what I want for myself. It’s selfish; let’s admit it. It’s what brings me a sense of peace, a sense of meaning. It’s not this high, noble path that I’m going to change the world, and we’ll make profits, and all our people will be happy.
KNAPP: I would say that for me, too.
P. ERICSON: Can a business have a soul? Or is it the individuals?
ENGELS: Soul is a quality. For me, it’s a comfort with metaphor and with imagination and with the unknown. It’s a comfort with struggle, with mistakes, with confusion. It’s hard to pinpoint; I don’t have it defined.
KNAPP: We sure thought someone would know. (laughter)
ENGELS: I was talking to a woman the other day who’s a manager. She said to me she’s been really struggling with all kinds of difficulties facing her business. I said, “What is it like?” and she said to me, “It’s like there’s this huge weed being pulled out of my garden that’s trying to make room for me to grow, and it feels so painful, so excruciating, so difficult.”
She was using metaphor, imagination. And I could really feel it with her. You wouldn’t look at this person and say (she’s) got it all together. But you might look at this person and say (she) has a quality of depth, of soul, perhaps a quality of wisdom that goes beyond analysis.
deJONG: I think companies can have a soul. How I ended up at Xerox was I read an article in the New York Times about a research fellow, this was 1966, ’67, who was up in Maine. Two of his autistic children were lost in the woods, and (Xerox sent people to search for them). There are examples of Kodak and GM and everyone else that have done the same thing. Yes, a company can have a soul.
I’d also like to read something from 35 years ago from Joe Wilson: “Organized human endeavor can be lifted an order of magnitude through leadership if it is inspiring. The springs of inspiration lie deep in the knowledge of all that is worst and best in men and in the wholehearted acceptance of that worst and best. To lead well is to know people and to know, above all, that they are always people.”
I think Joe Wilson’s soul has flown completely through the company and is still there. I think (what he wrote captures) the roots of spirituality.
KEESAN: There are many companies founded and stewarded at one point by great people who had noble ideas, and there’s so much pain in so many of those same companies, not because there isn’t the potential but because, over time, the worlds within those companies have changed.
Most companies that I know have some sort of touchstone that they go to and say, “This is what we’re really about.” The question is, How does it become authentic? Almost any company I know has really good words. There are so many words about what great intent there is in the workplace, but when you see it carried out–
WINTERS: It has to start–don’t you think?–one on one. We talk about the company, we talk about corporate cultures, we talk about systems. A company is not brick and mortar; a company is people. Individuals need to know themselves first and be comfortable.
It’s very painful, but if you can begin to know who you are, what your own strengths and weaknesses are, what you have a passion about, what you are going to commit yourself to do, then if the company says to you, “I’m sorry, we don’t need you anymore,” you’re not going to look at them and say, “Look what they did to me!”
How does it begin? Nice words are great, and I think those words at Xerox have meant more than words, but the individuals still have to make (those words) real for them. If that doesn’t happen at the individual level, it’s not going to happen.
deJONG: It’s like calculus. It was awful painful when you had to go through it, but there’s an interesting thing that happens after you’ve been through it and you start to use it in your daily life: It falls down into your subconscious.
You really have to get into the context of the problem and help that person understand how they fit in, and that’s the role of that particular’s manager.
KEESAN: While it’s true that quite often when a person gets into negative behavior, they need to take responsibility for themselves, it’s also true that companies can behave in a negative fashion. A lot of time the pain that people are feeling is not just their own (inability) to handle the problem. There’s unethical behaviors in all of us.
KNAPP: Unsupportive behaviors.
R. ERICSON: The self-knowledge and all that obviously is extremely important (but) not everybody has that. Depending on that person’s level in the organization, (that lack) can have a tremendous negative effect on everyone else. As managers, how do you reach out to the people who are struggling with those kinds of problems, in your own company or in other companies?
KNAPP: I think they need a lot of feedback, a lot of conversation about what they do well and what they need to encourage.
deJONG: With (Xerox’s) Management by Fact approach, you really get into the why, what, when, where, how, who. You start working with people to understand what their process capabilities are, where they need development help, and move forward with that, to bring them out of that active negative role into a positive role. At least we’re trying to do it that way.
WINTERS: (It’s important to) start from the premise that everybody has something to contribute, some kernel of genius, of power, and try to build on that strength, rather than highlighting the weaknesses. I think that’s where we’ve probably made some mistakes in giving feedback; we’ve focused on, “This is where you need to work,” rather than focus from the point of the individual’s strengths. I think we’re starting to do that more and more, talking about the team, (to which) everybody has something unique to contribute.
deJONG: The Council process is an American Indian (technique that we learned in New Mexico, in which) we actually passed a rock around and talked–uninterrupted–about process problems, attitude problems. There were a lot of techniques that we used, and we’ve had some success looking at what works and what doesn’t work.
ENGELS: At the same time, respecting that, I’m suspicious of techniques as an answer. I think that, if people are truly connected to others in the organization, (we’re) going to know what’s happening. Techniques are OK; they can serve that relationship. The danger is techniques are quick fixes, easy things.
But the relationship is something that involves me; I have to invest myself. I have to share my own story, perhaps with the boss. I have to be a little bit vulnerable. Perhaps I have to apologize. These are difficult things for me as a boss. Some of the instruments, the data collection and all the rest of the tools that are around, I would see them in service of the relationship.
This idea of interconnectedness is so important both in leadership and in spirituality. How many of the people we know who are running organizations have the characters and the attitudes and the capabilities to truly connect with their people?
WINTERS: We don’t connect very well as a society. There’s a fear of getting close.
KEESAN: And that’s what needs to change. I’m surprised that the word “love” has not been said, because that’s another dangerous word in business.
R. ERICSON: We talked earlier about spirituality having some negative connotations, and I believe a lot of that is because some of the media coverage is too limited.
KEESAN: The media is fairly cynical, let’s be honest.
R. ERICSON: Let’s say the words so we don’t have to be afraid of them, the dangerous words.
KNAPP: I like to be careful that I don’t feel like people are trying to make me be a certain kind of person, so I’m very wary of words that I think are pushing me into a corner. Maybe it is “love.” Maybe it’s being expected to hug or kiss when I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to be pushed. I really want my privacy and my own time to make a decision respected. I think it’s important not to use words that push people into feeling like they have to think or behave a certain way.
WINTERS: You have to respect the individual. And that’s what I was saying earlier when you asked, “What if I don’t want to play?” Fine.
KNAPP: But I don’t want to be the one person who says, “No, I don’t want to hug.” (laughter)
ENGELS: But it’s possible to trivialize these words, too. “Love” can be a trivial word. But it can also be a profound quality of the heart that one brings to the workplace. I’m guessing that Barry used it in the latter sense of the depth, the quality of compassion. The problem with words is the media or whatever will take the word “love” and trivialize it as passion or sensuality.
deJONG: The other problem that we have is that, in Japanese, there is no direct translation for the word “love” in the way we’re using it, and no exact translation for the word or concept “friend.” So it’s an important thing when you think about managing diversity. We have to look now at the words that you use, and how those words have an effect on other people.
KEESAN: At the same time, we need to expand our vocabulary in business. Growing up, (we’ve heard) business is hard, harsh, brutal, unforgiving, demanding. And I think that’s totally false. We have to start expanding the words that are appropriate. Just because you have a loving heart doesn’t mean you can’t be tough and get the job done and be a warrior.
WINTERS: If you are in touch with your spirit, you still have to make the decisions, but your thought process is probably going to be very different.
KEESAN: And the range of feelings that you’re allowing yourself to go through–it’s much more real.
KNAPP: Maybe we need to think of simple, true words. Real things. And search, when we use words, for the word that says what we’re actually thinking, not a word that’s waxy.
WINTERS: And you know how we can do that better, maybe? Through stories. We’ve begun to do that more and more, telling our stories, rather than trying to define.
deJONG: And body language is really important, too.
A little while ago we talked about tools. In this information age today, we have people moving from position to position. We have teams coming in and out of programs. And we really need tools.
We have some that (Xerox has) developed, and there are some out in the marketplace, that allow us to quickly form teams. We’ve sent people over to RIT and had them go through the little obstacle course, we’ve sent them out to New Mexico and they’ve done a Vision Quest, we’ve sent them out to the Catskills and they get together as teams, and start to understand who and what each person is and what they really need.
ENGELS: Not to be argumentative, but how did we get in the situation where we need to go to New Mexico to talk to each other, in the situation where the techniques are central to being able to connect? And I really think it returns to this idea of stories. Why can’t you tell me who you are today, right now? Just give it to me, give me your story. Let’s not go on the rafting trip; let’s not go to the ropes course. And I’m not knocking those things. I think they’re in the service of something. The fear I have is that you never quite get to the essence of I think what this is about today, which is, “This is who I am. Who are you?” Can we do that together?
deJONG: Can I answer that? In any business environment, it’s the ba, the wa and the ma: the place, the time and the harmony of the situation. The business culture today isn’t what we would like it to be from a spirituality perspective, (but) it’s going to change (with) time.
If we set our expectations so high, we’ll never reach them, and you’ll fall into that active negative role. If you want to stay in the active positive, you have to chop off a little bit each time and eventually get to be where we want to be. Get the tools in place, start the communications, start to draw people in, show successes, and you can draw them in. If we expect them to be perfect up front, we will fail.
P. ERICSON: I would imagine that most of you wouldn’t have said many of these things back when you were starting out in business. Maybe you could (tell) a short story about how you got to the point where you felt this way.
ENGELS: I could tell you things I try to do in my life that would contribute to a spiritual perspective in my work. One is that I try to get out of my world as much as I can. I go into Attica prison once a month to sit with a group of lifers who are talking about change. Going to Bangladesh, going snorkeling, going out in the woods, which is my cathedral, my place of perspective.
(I also seek out) solitude. My whole world is people and groups and talking and too many words. So I find it really helpful to go out in the backyard, or to go fishing without a pole. It’s what I’ve come to rely on to be a little more soulful.
KNAPP: I think probably my tendency is to want people to connect and work well together. Maybe it comes from being the oldest girl of eight children. (Taking) care of my brothers and sisters was my job, and I really liked it.
I always have had a sense of adventure. And I got into business, which was way off of what I ever did before. I think I thought I would run a wonderful company, and I found out I wasn’t as wonderful as I thought, that people don’t work together as beautifully and harmoniously as I thought they would. A lot of it was on account of me.
So I think growing a business and hanging in there, for me, has been a journey of personal development, finding what I do well and what I don’t do well and toughening up a little. So now I think maybe I can talk a little more about it, because I’ve been through some hard things, and I certainly know a lot more about my limitations.
deJONG: I was a resident in Japan from 1986 to 1990, working for Xerox. I’ve also traveled the world–the South Pacific, Europe–to learn different cultures.
I like to sit in a tree for eight hours to clear my mind and open it to different perspectives. I think it’s that worldwide exposure that has made me realize that we have diversity in people from spiritual, religious, cultural perspectives. One of the things that has made our country rich is that we capitalize on these different perspectives. Now I think we need to continue that development.
WINTERS: I was adopted when I was 18 months old, and I didn’t know it until I was 18 years old. As an African-American woman, I never had much sense of history or past. I realize now, at 44 years old, that I’ve been running all these years, afraid to face who I really am.
What I’ve done is kept myself totally consumed with everything–my business, the community, my family, everybody else–and (refused) to think about who I really was, until about seven or eight years ago when somebody told me what an impact I’d had on them. They didn’t know me, but they’d read about me in the newspaper, and it was because of me and what I’d accomplished that they finished high school, went to Empire State College.
A friend of mine said to me shortly thereafter, “You really don’t know who you are and the powerful impact that you have on a lot of people. You really need to take some quiet time just for you.” Then she started sending me books and articles, on spirituality and meditation, and I’ve spent the last seven or eight years really trying to figure out who I am and what I really stand for, what I really care about, what I really get passionate about, to become more focused and not try to hide.
I have a wonderful family, two fantastic kids and a wonderful husband. I have that connection, but I’ll probably never find out who my biological parents are.
(Until that stranger told me about the impact I’d made,) I’d never really thought in depth about what I was doing, (which) was just existing, trying to be a success, and letting other people define what success meant.
R. ERICSON: I definitely would not be here today if I hadn’t met (John) a few months ago. (But) there’s a lot of people out there who haven’t met people like you who can open the door to the possibilities in themselves. I think about all the people I know who are in so much pain, and they don’t know how to open that door. No one in their life is supporting them to do that.
I don’t have to go back to my childhood. The most important things that have happened to me have happened in the last few months.
Another person I’d like to mention is my husband, for asking us to tell our stories. I didn’t expect that, and I really appreciate that.
P. ERICSON: I came to business fairly late. I probably had a fairly typical attitude among journalists (that) business is something I’d rather not have to think about. I sort of fell into it.
I brought to (business) a perspective from having traveled almost all around the globe and seeing how other people live. The more time that I have spent talking to people in business and writing about it, and helping run one, the more understanding I have of how difficult and humbling it is, but at the same time how fulfilling it is.
I once heard work described as a conversation we have about life. In a conversation you use words to build meaning; in work you produce meaning about your life.


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