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Book Review: Soul at Work by Margaret Benefiel

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Part of the genesis of The Daily Saint was a desire to find purpose and meaning from daily work.  Having worked with plenty of folks who seemed miserable doing the work that they had chosen, I set out to find a medium for promoting the marriage of ordinary work with personal values.



When I came across Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations, I found what I was looking for- a blend of business success with spiritual focus.   The approach that author Margaret Benefiel uses is simple and direct, providing snapshots of organizations and how they attempt to integrate spiritual principles into everyday life.



What is 'soul at work'?  Quite simply, as Benefiel writes, it is an organization that allows the human spirit to realize its fullest potential.  When an organization provides an employee with the space to accomplish this, great things happen. 



I especially enjoyed the chapter called Leading from the Inside Out: The Inner Life of the Leader.  Benefiel provides a snapshot of four leaders who are principle-centered to the core.  CEO Bob Carlson of Reell Manufacturing discusses his struggle to maintain times of sabbath and rest.  Matching his personal life of faith with his role as the leader of a major corporation, Carlson has found a way to integrate the two.  He and several other executives end their meetings with what they call 'inspirational wisdom'- a period of silence which lasts for seven minutes.  Imagine if Microsoft and Google followed suit!



How do great leaders make decisions?  Benefiel discusses such concepts as listening and keeping grounded in spiritual practices.  She also provides a nice look at what she calls 'corporate discernment'.  This is, I believe, at the heart of what others have called staying power- you don't stick if you can't make the decisions which allow for endurance.  As an example, we all have seen too many universities that were once founded on core principles, only to find that years later they are trying to be all things to all people.



Mercy Medical Center in Iowa features one model for making decisions with a greater cause in mind.  When faced with the opportunity to open a preadolescent psychiatric services program, CEO Jim Fitzpatrick gathered a team in order to discern how the venture would fit within the mission of the organization.  In the end, Mercy made a decision that worked for them and honored those in need, within the framework of the organization's broader mission.



Soul at Work is a solid read.  I highly recommend it for readers of The Daily Saint who wish to keep their faith in sync with their work.  I've made copies of certain chapters for some colleagues in order to encourage and motivate them and I think that would work for your team as well.  In the next month, we'll feature an interview with author Margaret Benefiel herself which should provide a perfect complement to this review.





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