What Do Leaders Leave in their Wake?

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by Jim Funk

body mind spirit balance hand drawing on blackboard

We learn a lot about leadership from reporting to different bosses. Some inspire us and our teams while building trust, commitment and engagement. Under their leadership, people thrive. Other bosses drive people into the ground to get results, punish mistakes, and create fear. Under their leadership, talented people leave. So if we really look at the wake that leaders leave behind, we can decide what kind of leader we want to be and then aspire to become that.

I like to challenge leaders to evaluate their own leadership by pausing to reflect on what it is like to work for certain types of leaders. In one of my workshops I divide the team in two and ask one group to imagine working in an organization led by fear and a philosophy that only results count—not people. In this scenario, employees are simply resources to be used to get to the desired outcomes. The other group is asked to imagine working in a place where leaders put people at the center, and where creativity and teamwork is encouraged. In this scenario, people are truly valued.

After some discussion, each group then shares what it is like to work in their respective organizations. The fear-driven group typically describes the working environment this way:

  • Distrust and anger
  • Dysfunction, rumors, blame
  • Punishment for taking risks that don’t work out
  • A feeling of powerlessness, helplessness
  • A negative atmosphere, tension, disorganization
  • Less engagement and commitment

And the person-centered group? Their working environment is quite different:

  • Energy, creativity
  • Personal, timely and open communication
  • Freedom to take risks and learn from failures
  • Empowerment to help others succeed
  • A family atmosphere
  • A desire to make a personal contribution to the vision

These are nearly exact opposites. And I also found it very interesting to watch the passion that the two groups display when sharing their reports, probably because they are speaking from real-life experiences. To some degree, they relive their experiences just by talking about them. The fear-driven group has sullen faces, a tone of voice that exudes anger and frustration, and they even seem to be anxious. Conversely, the person-centered group speaks with enthusiasm, excitement, and they can hardly stop talking about how engaging and satisfying the work environment is.

What is the difference? In my leadership development work I describe person-centered leaders as “holistic” because they bring their whole selves to their leadership role—body, mind and spirit.  In doing so, they treat others as whole people too, rather than just resources.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how this plays out in the real world. What is it really like to work for a person-centered leader?

Merle Tebbe works for John Mundell, president of Mundell & Associates, an environmental consulting firm and Economy of Communion business. He tells a story about Mundell’s leadership that demonstrates how he puts into practice the person-centered principle of Economy of Communion businesses. Some time ago a former co-worker from another company was out of work and recuperating from a significant medical issue. He wanted to start his own business and get back on track as soon as he could, but he didn’t have a place to work. Mundell offered him free office space in the building so he could successfully start the business, and he allowed him to use it for several months. Later on, the company landed a project that actually required the skillset of the former employee, so he was offered his first paid work in quite a long time. The result of Mundell’s person-centered leadership? Tebbe points out that this was truly a win-win, which resulted solely from the generosity of Mundell in giving the former employee the break that he needed without expecting anything in return.

In another example, Lori Shannon reports directly to Blake Dye, president of St.Vincent Heart Center. While the Heart Center is not an Economy of Communion business, they are part of Ascension Health, the largest Catholic health system in the country. Ascension also has a principle of being person-centered, and in particular providing for those who are poor and vulnerable. Shannon says she quotes her boss frequently because she admires his style. One of her favorite quotes is a statement he made to her when she first started in her role as an executive. He said, “You know what you are doing, Lori. I am getting out of your way so you can do it. Let me know if you need anything from me.” His trust in her skills and abilities was a real compliment. She also points out that he expects his entire team to manage their work-life balance, and he sets the example himself. The result of this person-centered leadership? An engaged executive team—both individually and collectively—that successfully leads facilities that provide the best heart care in Indiana, and explore innovative technologies that are helping to establish new standards of care.

We can see in these examples that person-centered leaders like John Mundell and Blake Dye inspire and motivate others, not only because of their leadership capability, but because of who they are as people—and how they treat others. I refer to this as holistic leadership.

Do you work for a holistic leader, or have you in the past? What was it like? What difference did it make to you, to your team, and to your organization? I invite you to write about your experience in reply to this blog, or e-mail me at jim@jlfunk.com with your story. I would like to hear from you!

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

9 Characteristics of Holistic Leaders

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by Jim Funk

Holistic Leader Competencies Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 8.01.49 AM

Traditional leadership competence has been about behavior—what a leader is capable of doing in the workplace. That approach describes desired actions, but it overlooks the character traits that are crucial for guiding those actions. A more complete model of leadership competence goes beyond actions to describe who the leader is as a person. I refer to this model as holistic leadership.

Holistic leaders know how to integrate their character and values into their leadership, and they understand that they bring their whole selves to their leadership role – body, mind and spirit. In observing these leaders, I have identified the following nine key characteristics that I believe set them apart from others.


Virtue is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as, “Conformity to a standard of right; a particular moral excellence.” It is not only the holistic leader’s behavior that is virtuous, but his or her disposition and attitude toward the good; toward what is right. When virtues become part of who a person is, the person is in turn more disposed toward virtuous actions. These show up as behaviors and decisions, which are guided by moral excellence. One particular virtue that is critical to holistic leadership is that of humility. The humble leader is able to admit faults, to ask forgiveness, and to be vulnerable and authentic.


Leaders are frequently faced with making decisions when circumstances aren’t black and white. Critical thinking skills and an acute sense of right and wrong are paramount to being able to consistently and reliably evaluate possibilities and make ethical choices before moving forward. When it comes to the ethical treatment of people, it really boils down to treating others the way he or she would like to be treated—known as the golden rule.


Holistic leaders are open, honest, direct and forthright in the way they act and communicate. This doesn’t mean they are indiscriminate with the timing and information that is shared. Rather, they understand when people are impacted by certain situations and they willingly share the information that matters at the appropriate time. Transparency is also linked to the virtue of humility, because holistic leaders are willing to be vulnerable and admit when they don’t have all the answers or things don’t go according to plan.


When leaders are truthful and follow through with what they say they will do, they build strong relationships with their colleagues. This becomes the foundation for trust, which at the end of the day also enables getting work done efficiently and effectively. It is also important to recognize that trust comes not only from one’s character, but also from competence, or capability. It is one thing to make a promise, but the leader needs to be able to follow through with more than just good intentions.


This characteristic is about being able to functionally get the job done. Effective leaders must be able to craft a vision, engage others in following that vision, create a plan, execute the plan, and drive results. While character matters to a very great extent, a leader will not be effective without these competencies that deem him or her capable.


Holistic leaders have a balanced view of others, work, teams, and themselves as a composite of body, mind and spirit. These leaders take good care of themselves while supporting others in self-care as well. This plays out in a positive work-life balance, but also as avoidance of any negative “isms” that can be extreme (e.g., workaholism, absolutism, dualism, egoism, and hedonism.)


Awareness is a critical characteristic of holistic leadership, because it is required for emotional intelligence. As described by Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, awareness of self and others is key to being able to manage one’s emotions and relationships. Leaders who are not open to feedback, do not ask for it, or do not know how to receive and process it with an open mind, continue to have blind spots that can derail them. Self-awareness also requires humility—the ability to see ourselves as we really are, even when we don’t care for some aspects of that picture.


Much has been written in recent years on the topic of Servant Leadership. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”* This dynamic is similar to what I described earlier for Virtuous. When being a servant becomes part of who a person is, the person is in turn more disposed toward service. Holistic leaders are servants first because they are focused on people and their needs. They know that work gets done through people, and when their needs are met they are more likely to be engaged and be at their best.


I once got into a debate with a colleague about whether holistic leaders are inspired or inspiring. Which comes first? I believe it is both. The leader’s own inspiration becomes inspiring to others. When the leader brings inspiration along with authenticity, people can sense that the leader is genuine—the real deal. There is also an aspect of inspiration that is linked to faith. While this may or may not be religious faith, it is when leaders recognize they are part of something larger. They know that inspiration comes not only from within, but from outside oneself as well.

How Can You Develop Holistic Leadership?

If you aspire to be a leader who embodies these characteristics, or if you would like to adopt this leadership model in your organization, there are several things you can consider. Individual leadership coaching can be a very effective way of gaining self-awareness and building holistic leadership practices. And organizationally, creating a leadership competency model that spells out the expectations and development opportunities for the 9 characteristics of holistic leadership is a good place to start. But in the end, a leadership program will only be effective if it also addresses who the leader is as a person and not simply what he or she can do. That is the key to holistic leadership.

In my next blog I will talk about what it is like to work for holistic leaders who have the characteristics I am describing, including some compelling stories from members of their teams.

*Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant Leader, 1970

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

2016 EoC Conference Featured in The Catholic Spirit

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Journalist Maria Wiering authored a nice article on the recent Economy of Communion meeting for The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan paper of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

You can read the article at the following link or by clicking at the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 4.11.40 PM

Changing the Economy is Possible: Hope in Action

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Maddie MalteseBy Maddie Maltese

At the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, MN, entrepreneurs, economists, business people and students from North America and Cameroon design new models of leadership and business inspired by the principles of the Economy of Communion (EoC).


13413177_10208511199130057_8946536738711211526_nThere are some conventions that you attend out of duty and some with brilliant speakers that enchant an audience. And then there are gatherings that might not draw large numbers or are not widely advertised, but change your way of thinking and acting because the agenda is founded in real life stories and reflections, full of conversation about how social justice and business go hand in hand. I attended one such gathering June 9-12 at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, MN, and experienced that change is possible, desired, and shared by many; by a billionaire as much as by a business professor, by a priest heading an entrepreneurial university and by students that have left their country for an internship in businesses animated by economic principles founded in communion.

160609-12_EoC_Meeting_2016_16_ridAmong the participants at the 2016 North American Economy of Communion gathering were a group of academics from the Catholic University Institute di Buea (CUIB) in Cameroon. This university, which was founded in 2010 to foster entrepreneurship inspired by the principles of the EoC, already counts 2000 students. You’d expect classrooms, offices, laboratories and big screens. Instead, the university is made up of seven round ‘villages’; cement platforms where the pillars support a tin roof that hosts students across the schools of engineering, organic agriculture, economics and computer science. Father George, the president of the University explains that the “poor in developing countries are not objects in need of aid but subjects of change. We have wasted time accusing industrialized countries or in judging ourselves. Instead, our energies should be channeled into a true development of our communities, where the environment, business, spirituality and culture coexist side by side and develop businesses, schools, and community services. No student of the CUIB graduates without spending weekends over the course of a year volunteering and launching an entrepreneurial endeavor in their home community. The secret of CUIB’s success lies in the 30 minutes a day dedicated to Mass for Christians, in the prayer for Muslims, and in a time of spiritual reflection for the others. Without values you cannot provide direction to change.”

160609-12_EoC_Meeting_2016_04_ridPoverty, Inc., a documentary that was presented at the EoC meeting by its director Michael Matheson Miller, challenged the work of humanitarian organizations that operate with paternalistic assistance in poor countries and that do not produce desired development outcomes. Examples include indiscriminate shipments of food in parts of Asia and Africa that cripple local agricultural production and alter the diet of entire villages as well as donations of clothing that can lead to crisis in local textile industries. “There have been two possible ways to act in humanitarian interventions: give people fish or teach people how to fish. Today, the developmental model must be one of ‘fishing together’. In other words, ‘fish with the other’ and listen to the real needs of the people, without out-of-context interventions that can cause unintended damage”, commented Miller. He encouraged the adoption of the EoC paradigm for development projects.

160609-12_EoC_Meeting_2016_09_ridThe EoC demands a new form of leadership, one that is capable of combining market expertise, innovation and care for others. A workshop led by Jim Funk, a management consultant, included role plays on how to solve complex conflicts within business organizations by applying the ethics of communion in which both management and employees are fully appreciated for their talents, intuitions, and ideas that can help the business and the person grow in a logic of shared social justice.

The experiences of various entrepreneurs and managers, who opened up and shared both successes and failures at the meeting, were key to demonstrating that change is a door through which one can see that even mistakes can lead to progress. In the entrepreneurial logic of the EoC, successes and failures can become opportunities to innovate and change.
13434824_10208511199210059_978511461531895014_nThis was demonstrated by the experiences of Anne Godbout, founder of a travel agency that specializes in pilgrimages and spiritual journeys; of Emery Koenig, who led hundreds of managers at a large global firm; of John Mundell, owner and CEO of an environmental services company who has succeeded in combining business, well-being and care of the environment. This very theme, addressed by the recent papal encyclical Laudato sì, was at the center of another presentation. The candid discussion that ensued reflected how little attention is paid to concrete action we can take individually and collectively to address environmental concerns and safeguard creation.

The story of Robert Ouimet, a successful Canadian entrepreneur in charge of a global food company, was particularly moving. When Ouimet met Mother Theresa in 1983, he offered to give awa160609-12_EoC_Meeting_2016_06_ridy all of his goods for a social cause. The saint of Calcutta answered that he didn’t possess anything, rather that everything was lent to him and that his life needed to be at the service of his family, of his employees and of the environment, following the life style proposed by the Gospel. His human and financial capital were gifts received by God to be shared and put to good use. The choice to follow her words has not been without pain as his children and his financial backers did not always understand his decisions. Ouimet’s journey gave birth to a set of nine core business principles that guide his entrepreneurial actions. For example, one principle is to “Meet with terminated employees twice within six months following the termination”. Putting it into practice requires courage and readiness for emotional interactions. Ouimet stated, “I had to do it, because I wanted the persons to feel that, despite the reasons that led to the termination, I continued to value them, and that I would have helped them to find a path or occupation more suited to their talents. In all these years, only two persons refused to meet with me.”

13346293_10209401261770547_4179767570539872884_oProf. Michael Naughton, director of the Center of Catholic Studies at the University of Saint Thomas, and Prof. John Gallagher, who teaches management at Maryville College, analyzed the cultural underpinnings of economic actions driven by communion. Naughton underlined that the principle of subsidiarity embodies the logic of gift; that every member of a business brings their gifts to the productive process and thereby produce not only products but also build community and hope. Gallagher confirmed the need for a new anthropology and of prophetic voices in the economic arena that can take risks in the name of hope and a sense of responsibility for future generations.

The economy of communion and its 25 years if history show that Chiara Lubich’s vision on the role business could play in connecting with people in need, encouraging a life of communion, now has solid roots in North America. Profit at all cost is not the sole motivator for all business activity. Many entrepreneurs, such as those involved with the EoC, are chasing a bigger vision made up of the gifts each person has to offer, putting hope for a better tomorrow into action.


Three Ways Holistic Leadership is Different

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By Jim Funk

Leadership Development Blue Grey Square Elements

What does leadership mean to you? Is it a style? Behavior? Charisma? Engaging others? Getting results? Leadership is all of these things to some degree, and more.

But holistic leadership is different. Holistic leadership recognizes that people are multi-faceted by nature. Whether they like it or not, everyone brings their whole person to work—body, mind and spirit. Acknowledging this fact changes the way people lead, the experience for their teams, and perhaps most notably, meaningful business outcomes such as retention, productivity, and profits.


There are three main differences between holistic leadership and other leadership models, all based around the leader’s understanding of:

  • the purpose and dignity of work
  • the workplace community
  • self

Understanding the purpose and dignity of work

A job is important to people not only because it enables their livelihood, but also because it gives them the opportunity to make a contribution. People want and need to feel useful. Whether it’s contributing to producing something or helping people in some way, there is dignity and value in having a purpose. Holistic leaders understand that work enables people to contribute their gifts and talents to something that has meaning, and they help employees see the difference they make every day.

Understanding the workplace community

People are relational beings and have an innate need to connect with others and belong. Recognizing this, holistic leaders work hard to build and maintain positive relationships with others, while also helping people relate to one another. Work is almost never done in a complete vacuum, even when there’s only one contributor in a given role. At multiple levels there is a community of work, whether that community includes co-workers, customers, consumers, suppliers, partners, or even neighborhoods where the workplace is located. Holistic leaders see this big picture as an opportunity to instill a sense of community into the organizational culture, which creates a more meaningful and cohesive environment for employees.

Understanding self

To drive positive change around them, holistic leaders first look inside themselves. They know they are not just a set of leadership skills and behaviors; they also have a body, mind and spirit that they bring to their leadership. They take a holistic approach to their own personal development because who they are as people will impact how they lead, and how others will experience their leadership. Holistic leaders know they are continually on a journey of becoming the best leader they can be, and that they can never truly arrive at that destination. They are lifelong learners, they want and ask for feedback, and they are willing to invest in their own ongoing formation and development. They are courageous enough to face even uncomfortable truths, and are willing to do the “inner work” of continually becoming more self-aware.

When leaders understand the importance of these three elements, they are able to connect the organization’s goals with the goals of individual employees. These leaders make their coworkers and direct reports feel valued as human beings. As a result, people become more motivated to reach their full potential, and to help the organization fulfill its mission and goals.

It isn’t a complicated leadership model to follow, but so many organizations and individuals overlook the obvious. If you want to achieve excellence, lead transformational change and reach goals in your organization, start with these three principles.

My future blogs will more fully describe this leadership model and its characteristics, how leaders can become holistic leaders, and how organizations can select and develop these leaders.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

Spirituality in the Workplace: It’s not what you think!

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By Jim Funk

Spirit Tree / Astonishing light peeks through a tree on the coast.

When we enter our workplace are we expected to bring only our body and mind, and leave our spirits at the door? Much has been written about spirituality in the workplace, and there are many different interpretations of what that means. Some of my clients say there is no way that anything spiritual can be introduced into their workplaces. Others believe that recognizing the fact that the whole person—body, mind and spirit—comes with us to work provides a greater opportunity for personal, as well as organizational, transformation and development.

First of all, by spirituality I do not mean religion. While religious beliefs and faith traditions give us a way of expressing our spirituality and practicing our beliefs, our spirit is something different. The human spirit enables us to have an awareness of meaning, to form values, to have relationships with others, and to make choices through reflection and the use of our intellect. Some believers, philosophers and theologians would say our spirit connects us with God, and reflects our relationship with the Mystery that created us. But whether we believe in God, or are atheist or agnostic, most people will agree that the human spirit does exist, and that it is more than just a part of our physical being, personality and mental state. In fact, the human spirit is what distinguishes us from all other living creatures. It allows us to hope, to dream, and to yearn for a greater meaning and purpose in life.

So how and why should we talk about spirituality in the workplace, and how can it be done? Just as our physical self enables us to complete tasks, and our mind allows us to think, judge and act, our spirit gives us the capacity to bring our passions, deeply held values and motivations into our work. Recently I heard a person reflect on the life of a famous actress when he said, “She brought a wonderful spirit to her work.” What does that mean? I think it means we are in fact able to “see” and experience the spirit of people, which shows up as authenticity. When we invite spirituality to be expressed and nurtured in the workplace, we don’t mean proselytizing or converting people; rather, we simply allow time and space for people to be themselves—to be “integrated” (meaning to have integrity) without duplicity. When we are able to integrate all the aspects of our lives, how we make decisions, and how we relate to others, then we can be at our best and give our best as authentic and whole personsnot just skillsets.

When we invite spirituality to be expressed and nurtured in the workplace, we don’t mean proselytizing or converting people; rather, we simply allow time and space for people to be themselves—to be “integrated” (meaning to have integrity) without duplicity.

Some might think that spirituality in the workplace should be reserved only for faith-based or church-sponsored organizations. I worked for a faith-based organization for many years that I thought did an excellent job of spirituality at work, even in the midst of a very diverse workforce and leaders with different or no faith traditions at all. I also came to understand through that experience that people everywhere have a need for spiritual expression and development, not just in workplaces where spirituality is natural or expected. The spiritual nature of people can be respected, acknowledged and nurtured in any work environment without engaging in religious practices, but rather by making spiritual practices acceptable and normal for anyone who wishes to participate in them.

One of my clients, a for-profit company, has a moment of silent reflection before every staff meeting. During this pause everyone is free to use the time however they wish, and the client feels that it allows people to become more centered and fully present at the meeting. Recently I facilitated an off-site retreat for a government client, and I tried something similar. I invited the group to take a few moments for personal reflection and journaling on their vocation of service to others, as well as gratitude for what they personally believe is the source of that vocation or calling (e.g., how they got there). Was that praying together? No. Was that religion? No. Was that a spiritual practice? Yes. It simply provided space and a way for the spirit in each person to be expressed, in whatever way the person decided to express it.

What can you do with Spirituality in your organization?

Any workplace can recognize the body, mind and spirit of people when leaders are willing to make space and time for the whole person to come to work. Besides the examples I gave from my two clients, here are some additional ways for people to express spirituality in the workplace:

  • Designate and dedicate a space where employees can go for personal reflection on breaks. Wherever possible, offer access to green space, nature or indoor plants.
  • Encourage and give employees time off for service to the community, and/or for retreat days sponsored by their church if they belong to one.
  • Have a memorial service (non-denominational) annually for employees or their family members who have passed away in the last year.
  • Celebrate team and individual accomplishments, and acknowledge the gifts and talents that brought it about.
  • Provide a retreat day at least once a year for the executive team, the entire leadership team, and for all employees in groups.
  • Offer classes in mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, meditation, or other practices that help people experience the connection between their body, mind and spirit.

Implementing these ideas in the workplace might take extra effort, but it’s worth it. Holistic organizations that treat people as whole human beings rather than expendable “human resources” find their employees experience deeper meaning in their work, discover more of their gifts and talents, and grow personally and professionally. I’ve seen firsthand that employees are more satisfied, engaged, and happy because they feel appreciated for who they are on a personal level. Bringing spirituality into the workplace also addresses the problem of duplicity, where people feel they can’t be themselves at work and have to play a role that is different from who they actually are. Duplicity causes stress and an uncomfortable dissonance within a person. The results can range from slight dissatisfaction to actually becoming physically sick. A holistic workplace is a healthier workplace.

A holistic workplace comes from holistic leadership. My next blog post will introduce a model of holistic leadership which brings out the best in people, teams and organizations.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.


Humanizing Human Resources

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By Jim Funk

Years ago, when Personnel Departments around the country were beginning to change their name to Human Resources, I proudly told a friend that my job title at the time was changing from Personnel Director to Director of HR—we were coming into the modern business age. I was taken aback when he retorted, “How dehumanizing to refer to people as resources!” I thought a lot about his reaction, and in many ways he was absolutely right. At least “personnel” had a connotation that the work is about the people. By definition, “resources” means “money, or any property that can be converted into money.” In other words, resources are things we own and/or use. This is not typically the way people like to think of themselves.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify that the purpose of this article is not to criticize Human Resources departments, or the moniker. Companies can call their HR departments whatever they want, but it isn’t the name that’s going to make the difference. It’s how they treat employees. That’s why this blog post raises the big picture question of how companies think about their employees: as usable resources or as people?

I had another friend who told me why he left a good job at a company he originally thought was a great place to work. As a consultant he worked hard and put in lots of time, churned out many billable hours, and did excellent work for his company and their clients. One time his boss said something quite chilling to him, something to the effect of: “You know, you are like inventory to me. When I need you, I take you down from the shelf and put you in service. When I don’t, I put you back and you stay there until I need you again.” It was at that moment when my friend realized he was not in a place that respected him as a person, and so with his highly sought-after skills he quickly found another position elsewhere.

Large group of people

My friend’s story is the perfect example of an inhuman approach to management. His boss treated him as a resource to use up and wear out. And soon enough, he did just that.

Wouldn’t it be better to value your employees, work to develop and engage them, and keep them around? I sure think so. Far too many organizations today need to put the “human” back in human resources.

There is a quote attributed to four sisters of the Daughters of Charity who came to Indianapolis in 1881 to open a new hospital at the request of Francis Silas Chatard, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Vincennes. In speaking of their mission, the sisters said, “We have a mission, a reason for being here. To keep health care human, human for our patients, human for our families, human for our doctors and human for all associates. The poor will come and the rich will come, if they know they are going to be treated as people.” Their philosophy worked, as that was the beginning of what is now St.Vincent, a thriving, successful, mission-focused health system of hospitals and care providers in Indiana. 

When you treat employees as people, you acknowledge that they are more than just their job title. They have a mind, body, and spirit that make them a human being; a person with dreams, goals, and a life outside of work. I believe that whether we can successfully treat employees as people in the workplace depends on the leader.

I was speaking with an executive at one of St.Vincent’s facilities recently, Blake Dye, President of St.Vincent Heart Center. He told me how important it is to have a balanced, holistic view of work, self and others, and to model and encourage work-life balance. When every new leader comes on board, Blake talks with him or her about his belief that we bring our whole selves with us to work, and that who we are is not just made up of our skillsets. He points out that being successful is first about being capable, but it is also about balance. He stresses that he doesn’t want his leaders to just have the appearance of being busy and working hard, but to do excellent work and achieve results within a reasonable workweek. He tells leaders that if they have to work excessive hours to get the job done, then they aren’t doing something right. He acknowledges that leading healthcare is hard work, so he takes an interest in making sure their work doesn’t overtake and exhaust them, knowing they cannot be at their best in any aspect of their life if that happens.

What Can Leaders Do?

Meaningful change comes from the top. As a leader, what can you do to make your workplace more human?

  1. Speak to your employees at the time of their orientation and acknowledge the importance of work-life balance, and share some practices that encourage it. Model what you say, and ask yourself if you are also allowing yourself to be human and practice work-life balance.
  2. Integrate your messages to employees so that excellence and respect for our human nature are balanced. Emphasize that excellence includes learning from mistakes, and if we are too afraid of failure we may not be bold enough to create new solutions and find better ways of doing things.
  3. Create policies and practices that encourage new skill development within your workforce. Plan and budget for employee training and development.
  4. Assess your workplace culture. I have done this with clients using a Cultural Health Indicator (CHI) tool, and have found it to be very revealing about what makes for a flourishing workplace.
  5. Add a “People Report” to the Board agenda—before the Financial Report—to emphasize the important work people are doing to help meet organizational goals and to discuss what could be improved.

Making a workplace human is not only the right thing to do, it engages people because they are able to flourish and be at their best. The sisters who came to Indianapolis to start St.Vincent 135 years ago knew that, and they also knew that patients, families, doctors, associates, and people of all types and socioeconomic levels served by the hospital would be attracted to that kind of place. They were right.

My next blog post will explore what it means to attend to the body, mind and spirit of people at work, and how spirituality in the workplace is not limited to faith-based organizations.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.