Chapter 6.1 Spiritual doctrines and practices in managment education

The growing interest in spirituality and religion in management and management education is evident in the foundation of an interest group on spirituality and religion at workplace within the yearly Academy of Management conference and the many academic journals that have published papers and special issues on management and spirituality, e.g. Journal of Management Education (2005, 2006), Journal of Organizational Change Management (1999, 2002), Leadership Quarterly (2005), Organization (2003, 2004), Journal of Social Economics (1996, 1998), Pfeffer annual of Training and Consulting (2004), Journal of Managerial Psychology 9(2), Journal of Organizational Change Management 7(1). In reflecting on the papers they received for their special issue on Spirituality, Management and Organization in Organization 2003, Marta Calás and Linda Smircich wrote:

“What we found […] were some shared concerns regarding the limits of science as a mode of understanding, laments about the lack of meaning in work and a sense of lack of purpose in the workplace, and an interest in connecting work with love and social justice. Altogether, it appears that the ‘spirituality and organization’ discourse is conceived as a means to counteract self-interest at a time when all other messages seem to point in the opposite direction” (Calás and Smircich 2003)

Like art-based methods, spiritual doctrines and practices in management education have been used, directly or indirectly, in many ways and for many purposes. For example, Short (60-90 seconds) sessions of focusing on breathing have been used to focus students’ attention at the start of class (Crumleyn and Schutz 2010). Meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices have been used to counter the negative impact on managers’ health that can come from working in stressful, fast-paced, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous environments. Seeing management as a vocational calling or a service (Greenleaf 1970) to customers, employees and other stakeholders or simply for the common good, has been used to infuse business with a sense of meaning, value, purpose beyond mere production of goods and services and accumulation of capital. Scholars working in this area work to show that one can lead profitable businesses that are dedicated to working for the common good. Techniques for cultivating Christian virtues have been suggested as a way to protect leaders (and consequently their organizations) from the pitfalls of human vices and unethical behavior as they rise to power (Delbecq 2000; Delbecq 2016). The Buddhist concepts of compassion, mindfulness, no-self have been suggested as practices that supports the management teacher in delivering high quality teaching (Kernochan, McCormick, and White 2007). The Christian view of humans as simultaneously created in God’s image and fallen from grace has been suggested as a more nuanced alternative to the two views of human nature that managers according to McGregor generally use to guide their management efforts (Daniels, Franz, and Wong 2000). McGregor proposed that managers use either theory X or theory Y (McGregor 1960). Theory X assumes that humans (or at least the average employee) are lazy, unintelligent and egocentric and only work to secure a steady income. This view leads to strict managerial control. By contrast, theory Y assumes that humans naturally enjoy improving themselves and enjoy responsibility. This view leads to a more hands-off kind of management. The Christian view of humans as both fallen and created in God’s image combines these two views and leads to a management style where managers both trust the angelic aspects and control the devilish aspects of humans. William Isaacs’ work at the Dialogue Project at MIT is based on David Bohm and the spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teaching (Isaacs 1999). Similarly, the Native American medicine wheel (Cowan 2007), Jung’s concept of synchronicity (Jaworski 2011) and archetypes (Moxnes and Moxnes 2016), and many other spiritual and religious doctrines have been used in various ways in management education.

It is not uncomplicated to take elements from a tradition, which aims at bringing about profound transformations in the way humans experience and relate to self, other, and life and use these elements for the purpose of creating better managers in organizations. Consequently this is done with varying degrees of depth. Spirituality in management ranges from substantial leadership practices described by leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi, who were deeply grounded in spiritual traditions (Gandhi 2011) to superficial practices, which are little more than management consultants using spiritual lingo to market their products.

In the remainder of this chapter, I will focus on practices of cultivation of virtues in manager education. I have chosen this focus for two reasons. First, this work is one of the more developed streams within the field of spirituality in management education. Second, looking at such practices in some depth offers an illustrative example of how spiritual doctrines and practices can be understood as methods for developing and adopting sensory templates, which leads to better management practices.

André Delbecq was a scholar of complex decision-making at senior management level, the Eighth Dean of Fellows of the Academy of Management, and one of the pioneers in the Management, Spirituality and Religion (MSR) movement. Delbecq writes that this movement began among practitioners and later spread to academia. Referring to Paul Nutt’s research on strategic decision-making, Delbecq presents a strong case for why future managers should care about religious and wisdom traditions:

“… 50% to 70% of the time strategic decisions—the most important, the most complex decision challenges leaders face—fail largely not because of an absence of information or an absence of analytics. Rather, it is a lack of psychological maturity on the part of the people engaged in the decision-making. There are dark variables like venality, greed, and hubris, but a lot of the failure is much more innocent. It’s impatience and unwillingness to explore all the dimensions of the problem; insufficient ability to be sensitive to alternative or nonconfirming voices. Therefore, psychological, and in my view, spiritual maturity are required when you deal with those decisions that are most significant to the calling of the senior leader. At the senior level, decisions aren’t “expert decisions” where you connect means and ends within a complex but predictable paradigm. The problems that come to the senior leader are the ones that seem unsolvable, covered with emotional and political intrigue, having greater uncertainty, and that require a discovery process. You have to discover the nature of the problem, you have to discover the elements of the solution, and you have to involve a variety of stakeholders holding disparate points of view while doing so. It requires a patient, sensitive process of deep listening, and the willingness to involve all of the stakeholders. You can’t do that if you’re anxious, fearful, self-centered, impetuous, authoritarian; so if you’re a moral dwarf, it’s unlikely you are going to be a successful senior executive. Spiritual maturity makes a difference” (Allen and Williams 2016, 4)

Before I turn to the exploration of development of virtues in management education, it is useful to address two distinctions, the distinction between spirituality and religion and the distinction between doctrines and practices.

In the field of Management, Spirituality and Religion there is a debate around how to distinguish between spirituality and religion. I will not go into this debate here, but simply clarify that I will use the word “religion” to refer to the doctrines and practices of the major world religions Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. I will use the word “spirituality” to refer to doctrines and practices aimed at improving the spiritual life of humans, which has been developed through the process of distilling the essence of religious teachings and separating it from what can be considered religious ceremonial epiphenomena. Sometimes this distilling is arrived at through comparison between religions or between religions, psychological theory, and/or non-religious philosophy, including scientific theories. Spiritual teaching can be found in the teaching of individuals who may or may not see themselves as part of any particular religion, such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Claudio Naranjo, etc. Whether it is possible to separate religious teaching from the ritual practices without loosing something essential is an important discussion, but one I will not go in to here.

I will use the word “doctrine” to refer to specific beliefs or sets of beliefs. Examples of Christian doctrines include the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh and the belief in the existence of original sin. The four noble truths and the doctrine of dependent origination are examples of Buddhist doctrines. I will use the word “practice” to refer to exercises through which the doctrines can be understood, communicated to students and adhered to. Contemplative prayer and confession are examples of practices used in Christianity. Zazen (belly meditation) and visualization of Buddha figures are examples of Buddhist practices (belonging to Zen and Tibetan Buddhism respectively). Doctrines are ideas one can believe. Practices are activities one can engage in to investigate those beliefs or activities and/or activities, which makes sense to perform once one has accepted the beliefs. In the vocabulary of sensory templates, one can say that doctrines points to a particular way of organizing experience and practices are methods the student can use to realize and adopt these ways of organizing experience.