Islam and the ‘corporate mystics’


  • IKIM Views
  • Tuesday, 21 Oct 2014

Successful businesses require leaders grounded at least as much in the spiritual as in the physical, and so do our families, communities and nation.

AS intriguing as the anomaly “corporate mystic” might sound, it is in fact the title of one of the most practical books ever written in the field of corporate leadership. Published in 1997, The Corporate Mystic: A Guidebook for Visionaries with Their Feet on the Ground, was authored by Dr Gay Hendricks and Dr Kate Ludeman, renowned American psychologists whose prolific writing and training of top executives span more than three decades.

The Corporate Mystic is based on a study done by the duo on hundreds of successful global entrepreneurs and business owners including companies such as Motorola, Dell, Nike and Intel.

Their findings led them to make a prediction that successful corporate leaders of the 21st century would be spiritual leaders, hence, the term “corporate mystic”.

A “mystic”, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is: “A person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect.”

So, the “corporate mystics” or individuals heading their companies, are grounded in vision, integrity and intuition, and they know how to nurture these qualities in others.

Interestingly, the “mystics” are in their businesses not just solely for their heart and soul, they are also there for their wallets. They have beaten back the fear that robs the less hardy of their authenticity.

With their ability to focus easily and non-dogmatically on the tasks at hand, these “visionaries with their feet on the ground” are also problem-solvers who inspire commitment, speak plainly, listen well, manage projects and create wealth.

Both Hendricks and Ludeman also detailed 12 common characteristics of “corporate mystics” as follows: Absolute honesty; Fairness; Self-knowledge; Contribution-focused; Non-dogmatic spirituality; Getting more done by doing less; Calling forth the best of themselves and others; Openness to change; A special sense of humour; Keen distant vision and up-close focus; An unusual self-discipline; and Balance – (Focus on four areas: intimacy, work, spirituality and community).

From the list above, the first four are the ground of a perennial and universal spirituality.

In describing absolute honesty during interviews with the authors, every one of the “corporate mystics” said the same thing: “the first secret to success in business is to say only things that are true and to say them with total consistency”.

Many organisations nowadays recognise that honesty isn’t the best policy, it is the only policy. Nevertheless, it is still typical to find that business-people get into trouble when they say one thing to the banker, another thing to the customer and yet another to the board.

On fairness, Hendricks and Ludeman argued that everyone in an organisation wants to be treated fairly but many forget this under the stress of decision-making.

Hence, they found that one of the edges of “corporate mystics” is their ability to apply the question – Is it fair to all concerned? – even when the pressure is fully on.

“Corporate mystics” are particularly concerned with self-knowledge. They recognise that our minds, bodies and spirits are the instrument by which we carry out our actions, so they examine their motives, history and feelings.

More importantly, “corporate mystics” are committed not just to their own learning but also helping others learn at the same time.

In the focus on contribution, “corporate mystics” always realise and fully understand why people work, and are motivated to contribute to their organisation. Above all, spirituality means deeds, not words, to the “corporate mystics”.

They are comfortable with being a source of integrity, vision and intuition, three rare commodities. Inspired leaders, though, have something extra, the commitment to everyone else being a source.

In other words, they are committed to being a source of sources. This is how spirituality is translated into action, getting others to be highly motivated to contribute.

Hendricks and Ludeman concluded that successful businesses require a type of mystical leadership in which the leader is grounded at least as much in the spiritual as in the physical and they also believed that such a characteristic is crucial even in an environment where changes occur at a very fast rate.

Speculation as to why both authors used “corporate mystics” was because it might have referred to a society which the conventional paradigm embraced by all was that a successful business was often viewed as a competitive, numbers-driven game, and relied on hard facts, financial analysis, and exploitation and manipulation of the people and markets – dealing with cutting overheads, downsizing or meeting the following quarter’s budget and then showing wonderful bottom-lines at the end of every financial year.

Such a paradigm was based on the notion of “greed” and “fear” brought about by capitalism.

Business leaders aligning themselves with novel spiritual values and becoming successful with such value would most certainly leave many baffled.

Hence the term, “mystic”, came into being.

Muslims in particular – leaders, workers and subordinates alike – should realise how even more of a mystery it would be if we did not embrace the 12 characteristics discussed by Hendricks and Ludeman, as they are far from alien in the Muslim liturgy.

For 17 times a day, seven days a week, the following seven all-important Quranic verses are practically an anthem: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment, Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight path, The path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray (The Opening Chapter: 1-7).

Evidently, we need to seek Divine help to show us the way He condones, as previously led by His Prophets whose main attributes were, amongst others, siddiq (truthfulness), amanah (trustworthiness), tabligh (advocacy), and fathonah

(wisdom). Indeed, the four distinctly echo the 12 listed in The Corporate Mystic.

Hence, it is incumbent upon Muslim individuals, for praying and not merely regurgitating The Opening Chapter for the umpteenth time daily, to internalise and practise its essence so that one’s immediate family, community, organisation, nation and the entire humanity can benefit from us.

Indeed, Hendricks and Ludeman’s assertion that successful businesses require a type of “mystical” leadership, grounded as much in the spiritual as in the physical, strengthens our thoughts on how to nurture Great Leaders of tomorrow for our nation – be it in business, government, community and family – not only in equipping them with excellent qualifications, experiences and physical attributes, but also with the highest spiritual quality.

Mohamad Azhar Hashim is a Fellow at Ikim’s Centre for Economic And Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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