UNDERWOOD: How do you sustain in business and in life?

-A A +A

By Rick Underwood

Sustainability is a fairly new concept in business and life. Until recently, most of us assumed that life and business would always proceed as usual. Concerns about the future of our country and the world’s economic condition, the lack of predictability in the stock market, making a decent wage, retirement, and the future of our environmental sustainability were subjects for science fiction books.

If we started a small business and made it work for five years, we could depend on a financial success. Jobs in corporations and large businesses were thought of as secure and lasting. However, our world has experienced unprecedented change. The national debate is over which leaders can provide the kind of sustainable leadership that will be able to address these overwhelming concerns.

Sometimes it seems that persons motivated by lower-level needs such as greed, anguish, fear, craving and anger are destroying our culture as we have known it.

Business today is killing business because it is locked into a short-term, problem-solving and profit-maximizing mentality. Our greatest economic leaders can’t find solutions to our problems mentioned above.

Apathy is taking hold, and the primary issue many of us fight is a loss or lack of meaning. Anxiety, panic attacks, depression and suicide are growing by leaps and bounds. Many of us are asking the worrisome question: Is there a way out?

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. Danah Zohar, Ian Marshall and others are pointing in a new direction. They suggest that a new paradigm is desperately needed. Rather than focusing all of our energies on building monetary capital, they argue that the only sustainable capital is spiritual capital: a values-based culture in which wealth is accumulated to generate a decent profit while acting to raise the common good. “Spiritual capital is our shared meaning, our shared purposes, our shared vision of what most deeply matters in life – and how these are implemented in our lives and in our behavioral strategies. It is capital that is increased by drawing on the resources of the human spirit.” This may be the only kind of capital that does endure and is sustainable.


The background

Until a few years ago, human intelligence was equated with IQ. This rational, logical, linear intelligence was used to solve problems and to perform strategic thinking. In the mid 1990’s discoveries in neuroscience confirmed that human emotion also played an important role in intelligence. A healthy awareness of emotions and how they affect relationships enhances one’s ability to make great decisions.

Although IQ can’t be improved that much, EQ can be developed and integrated into a process that leads to good social intelligence. Toward the end of the 1990s, neuroscience suggested the brain has a whole third “Q” or kind of intelligence.

This is the kind of intelligence with which we have access to deep meaning, basic values  and purpose in our lives, and the role that these play in a person’s life, strategies and thinking processes. This spiritual intelligence (SQ) enables persons to ask the big questions: What is my purpose? Why am I devoting my life to this relationship or this job or this cause? In other words, it enables a person to see the big picture and to draw from the depths of wisdom and move toward more productive sustainable behavior.

Current business and life strategies are often based on IQ, which is rational and realistic thinking of what should be done.

As life and business proceeds, a little EQ thinking is used to meet the basic human needs of belonging and connection. And finally, a bit of SQ thinking and feeling is activated when things get off track or stuck.


The challenge

During my many years as a therapist, people came to me asking for rational answers to the struggles of life. Most wanted to know how to get out of the mess they had created for themselves: bad marriage, dysfunctional relationship, depression, anxiety, etc.

Likewise in the past nine years as a performance consultant for businesses, leaders have asked for quick, reasonable, concrete solutions to problems that had developed because of a failed rational strategy, ineffective emotional intelligence and in some cases a complete lack of spiritual intelligence.

What if the process of planning and conducting our personal lives and businesses were inverted? What if we were to start by asking basic spiritual IQ questions like: What do we value most in life?

When this life is over what would we most like to be remembered for? What difference would we like to make in our own world if we could?

What if, rather than jumping to the next business plan or action steps for accomplishing our personal goals, we spent some time clarifying and developing age-old transformational aspects of our true selves like self-awareness, spontaneity, creativity, personal values, compassion, celebrating diversity, asking why instead of how, reframing by looking at the bigger picture, using adversity in a positive manner and humility.

After this fundamental work is accomplished, workable planning and decision making systems can be employed to set action plans and find ways to extend the bottom line of our lives or work.


The conclusion

It is not necessary to be president of the United States, basketball coach at UK, CEO of a vast global enterprise or even an aid worker in some poverty-stricken country. We just need to stay true to our on deepest ideals and values and make what difference we can, at whatever level we operate in life.

This quote by Mother Teresa sums up what I have been trying to say. “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight. Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. But give the world the best you have anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is all between you and God (of your understanding); it was never between you and them anyway.”

I believe this kind of leadership is sustainable, accountable, empowering, and needed.

What do you think?


Rick Underwood is minister at Hempridge Baptist Church and a performance consultant and managing partner of the Leadership Management Institute. He can be reached at nextlevelinstitute@insightbb.com.