By Ichak Kalderon Adizes

I once had a client whose behavior was typical of thousands of other executives: He was managing a very successful empire, taking risks, working harder and harder.

“What for?” I asked him. “You have all the money you may ever need.”

“So I can get myself a bigger plane,” he said with a smile. Eventually he owned the biggest, most luxurious private jet. Then he bought an expensive beach compound for the summer, and a lavish 182-foot yacht, and a compound in the mountains, and began looking for an even bigger mansion with a helicopter pad.

It reminds me of a woman who has hundreds of shoes and still buys more. She shops for more and more clothes, more and more jewelry…what she has is never enough.

What is she missing?

I suggest that she is missing true meaning in her life. It is as if she has a “hole” in the middle of her chest she is trying to fill with material possessions.

When we lack a spiritual center, we try to fill it up with possessions, which never suffices because a spiritual “hole” has no bottom.

When people have spiritual meaning in their lives, their interest in material possessions takes a back seat. For instance, material needs have no meaning whatsoever to those who are candidates for sainthood.

What I am suggesting here is that the executive I described above has no spiritual meaning in his life. He has a “hole” and until he fills this “hole” with meaning, he will continue building a material empire and no mater how big his empire might become, he will still feel unfulfilled.

Now imagine that there was a finishing school for young ladies where they were taught to measure their success in life by how many shoes they had, how expensive the clothes and jewelry that filled their closet was. You would feel aghast, no?

But that is what business schools do. They teach students to measure success exclusively by measuring EBITA, earnings per share, and how much stockholders’ equity has increased.

We are creating a class of rich, unhappy people. To find peace in their lives they need to develop their spiritual lives independently, because they sure don’t get it from business school.

Many people confuse spirituality with religion. Big mistake. Some religions, or the fringes of that religion, have lost their spiritual orientation; they preach killing and destruction. ‘Spiritual,’ to me, means feeling part of something bigger than oneself by adhering to moral principles that are absolute and timeless.

Let me give you an example from my consulting experience:

Years ago I had a client that produced respiratory equipment for hospitals. They had a quality-control problem. The discussion was how many new quality control people they should hire.

I suggested an alternative solution: Take the people from production, those that everyone looked up to, to the neighborhood hospital and have them visit children who had a respiratory diseases. Imagine these kids are your own sons and daughters. Take pictures of these kids breathing using the equipment the company was manufacturing. Bring those pictures back to the company and hang them everywhere. What might that do to the quality of the equipment?

We teach our future business leaders numbers, concepts, and theories. We fill their heads, but their hearts might be empty. Schools of management that prepare the future powerful leaders nurture the head and neglect the heart. True, these people might pay attention to their hearts at an older age and donate their accumulated “shoes and jewels” to charity, but it is like atoning for a wasted life.

I have a suggestion to make: No one should be admitted to a school of business or get accredited as a professional leader unless they have exhibited that they care for the world beyond themselves. Today, leading business schools require that the applicant have prior business experience. In the future, I suggest that in order to be admitted, they must also have community experience. For instance, they must show that they have worked as a community organizer, or served in the Peace Corps, or volunteered for a not-for-profit organization. And during their management education they must take a summer internship helping people who need help: Build houses with Habitat for Humanity or work in poverty-stricken neighborhoods or raise funds for neighborhood medical centers that provide free care for those who cannot afford medical coverage, etc.

Without spiritual meaning life is empty; No mater how much we have, we still will not feel complete.

Management and business schools are doing a disservice with their incomplete programs. It is time for schools to train leaders with heart and brain, for the sake of society and our own happiness.


-Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes

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