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Eye-to-Eye with Alan Briskin...

Bringing Your Soul
To Work

By Tom Brown

Tom 
Brown

Alan Briskin and Cheryl Peppers have produced a most unusual book:  Bringing Your Soul To Work. It's unusual, first, because it's practical about what can be a very philosophical subject. Second, the authors have accepted the challenge to make the book applicable to any kind of business -- profit or non-profit. And, lastly, it's unusual because it is packed with exercises that help the reader from blurring the points in the book. Alan and Cheryl truly help the reader put "soul" to work. Here's Alan on...

Alan Briskin



Q

"Soul" is a word usually connected with religion. You use it in a workplace context. Why?

AB

Soul appears in the history and stories of all cultures. Soul reminds us of our humanity, our essence, but also calls forth hidden or unexpressed feelings and longings. Some associate soul with the underlying rhythm of life, others with the importance of meaning, memory, and beauty. Still others associate soul with the vitality of life that comes from wrestling with the interplay of matter and spirit. Today there are as many meanings for the word "soul" as there are people taking up the question.

Rather than this being a deterrent, it can serve a useful purpose. Liberated from a rational or religious interpretation, we can seek our own meaning. "Soul" becomes a guiding metaphor for the questions we ask ourselves that lead to growth and wholeness. Soul, often hidden or unexpressed, is always present. At work, soul is present whenever we seek the true essence or meaning of a problem, a success, or a failure.

Soul is present in small acts of kindness -- when we listen without interrupting, when we consider how someone else might see a situation differently from ourselves, when we take time to be fully present with another human being. Often these small daily acts of remembering our humanity make the difference in a customer interaction, or managing a team project, or simply having the energy to come to work. So I guess I am turning the question around. How can "soul" possibly  not be at work?

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Q

You talk about a "collective cry for something more." How many workers really feel that way?

AB

I think the number is growing all the time, in all demographic areas, across all income levels, and throughout all job categories. I don't believe the cry for something more is simply among the baby boomers or among women, or what some call "the cultural creatives."

This cry for something more is a social phenomenon that affects dot.com'ers and physicians, general contractors and architects, middle management and leaders of Fortune 500 companies. There is an awareness that the pace of work has accelerated and consumes more and more of our time and attention. There is an awareness (and often frustration) that not much can get done if it's not done together with others. There is an uneasiness about how power and resources are abundant for some and scarce for too many.

The collective cry for something more is about personal meaning, but I think behind that, maybe beyond that, is a cry for how we, together, care for our environment and about how we, together, care for each other. In the United States, we are somewhat conditioned to look out for ourselves first -- our issues, our agendas, our priorities. I believe the collective cry for something more is how we can join with others and still be seen and valued for our individual gifts and contributions.

As with all social phenomena, you wouldn't want this to happen overnight. There needs to be smaller groups within the larger collective to try out what this might look like. And that is certainly happening, all over the United States and all over the world.

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Q

Many workers hint to me in private that their bosses "don't even have a soul" because of their abusive behavior. What is your opinion?

AB

I'm reminded of the comedian Jose Jimenez who performed a sketch in the '60s as a NASA astronaut and was asked "You must have an opinion about the space race?" He answered, "Well if I must, I will."

I think the collective cry for something more comes, initially for some, from feelings of despair. I don't believe professional managers lack soul as much as I think we have created structures that foster treating others as objects for getting things done. This creates despair and the impression that there is no soul, only "what have you done for me lately?"

Individuals in management, often unconsciously, sometimes out of a misdirected need for power and control, fall prey to this all the time. When we treat each other as objects, losing any respect for the whole person, their particular strengths and weaknesses, their particular circumstances, we lose our ability to influence the direction that leads to surprise, excellence, and the impression that we really do have souls.

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Q

Putting "Application Exercises" into a book on soul must have been hard. Was it?

AB

Have you ever tried to ask someone to define the meaning of life, providing two examples and two exceptions? The idea is absurd. Application exercises and pauses for reflective questions must honor the reader, their own experience, and the mystery of their own life. My coauthor, Cheryl Peppers, was particularly good at framing questions and written exercises that invite the reader to explore and learn rather than summarize or confine their lives into little boxes. I've been very pleased so far about the feedback that the exercises really set the book apart because they allow readers to personalize these larger concepts and see relevance in their lives.

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Q

Most companies today are pushing for more and more profit. Does your book have anything to say to people who are primarily driven to make the bottom line ever bigger
?

AB

There is nothing wrong with wanting to create a product or service that is used by many people. The question is, "What is enough?"

If you don't know the answer to this question, you may not know what really is driving you or where you are really heading. Sometimes we discover too late what part of ourselves was really in the driver's seat. The book suggests there is an interior journey as well as the journey in the outer world of work. If we don't see how the two are connected, we risk doing damage to ourselves and driving a lot of other people crazy.
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Tom Brown is editor of MANAGEMENT GENERAL. A public voice on managerial leadership for more than 20 years, Tom is now authoring a history-making series of "Leader's E-books."

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