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The New Balance Sheet: The Art of Fine Business

By Michael E. Rock, Ed.D. |

"No one else can do your Dream. ...
And until you decide to pursue your Dream,
you are never going to love your life the way you were meant to.


The fine art of business is the fine art of living with integrity, passion, and purpose. Period.

I have always made the distinction between "jobbing" and "working." At some point in our lives, most of us have had to have "a job." It's something we must do in order to bring in money, feed the family, do all the necessary things. "Working," on the other hand, expresses our gifts – all of them. Medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, put it very beautifully: "To live well is to work well, or display a good activity."[2] In that wonderful book from the 1970s by E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful, he provides a beautiful answer to the question of what we can do to make good work happen: "The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: We can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of [humankind]."[3]

In practical terms the art of business is both managing and leading. Henry Mintzberg writes, "Management without leadership is sterile; leadership without management is disconnected and encourages hubris."[4] Schools of business seem to have perpetuated a very dysfunctional schism between techniques and calling forth, what I refer to as leadership. Leadership calls forth the best in people; management provides the tools, the techniques to fulfill the calling well. We have seen the result of this split over the past several years when we continually read about companies hiring 'leaders' who take their companies to the edges and beyond, but who have no practical skills to build an infrastructure. In some cases, as we saw with Enron (in the U.S.) and Parmalat Finanziaria SpA (in Italy), they didn't just go over the edges, but went so deliberately and unethically.

I would like to outline briefly what I believe are seven important markers for the fine art of business. You will easily see how these markers can also work for the fine art of living as well. I am basing my case on the work that my colleague and co-author, Dr. Michael Cox, and I did with The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership.[5] I would then like to conclude with a short description on courage, the key to sustaining the journey.

First, let us begin with what I call the organizing metaphor. For Prof. Cox and me, this is the Greek Temple (as seen in Figure 1 below). The seven key markers I will highlight as part of the 'fine art of business' come from this organizing metaphor.

Figure 1: Temple of Incubation, Learning, Wisdom

figure 1: Temple of Incubation, Learning and Wisdom

Each of us has an organizing metaphor that guides us in some shape or fashion each and every day. The organizing metaphor is the inner image – or in MBA terms, the "theory" – we hold about purpose and meaning to life. Once you know something about a person's organizing metaphor, you begin to know the individual. It's their philosophy of life, their worldview. As you can imagine, changing one's organizing metaphor is, indeed, quite a challenge because we base our sense of reality on it. We may or may not be aware of why we see the world in a certain way, but each of us does have this organizing metaphor. We are currently witnesses to wars in different parts of the world because one group insists its worldview or organizing metaphor is better than another's. Organizing metaphors can be very tenacious. On a personal level, dating and the engagement period before marriage are practical ways that couples assess the strength and resilience of their organizing metaphors. Parents, as you can imagine, can get very tense when their see their son or daughter involved with certain people. The tenseness is because of their understanding and perception of the clashing organizing metaphors. Parents know only too well that being in love can often be such a 'pleasant psychosis' for the couple that the couple is unaware of the implications of the differing organizing metaphors. In business as well, every manager and executive brings their own organizing metaphor to the task at hand. What I am arguing for here, as I did with my comments on emotional intelligence, is that fluency and resiliency with organizing metaphors – personally and corporately – are the best antidote when conflict arises. We have witnessed such conflicts – as well as exhilaration – when the late Pope John XXIII introduced the Vatican Council II (1962-65). The years since then have demonstrated quite clearly how a conservative organization such as the Roman Catholic Church has been buffeted with change, conflict, confusion, but also with some breakthroughs and new beginnings. Again, the more resilient the organization, the better chance it has of making the right choices and taking the correct steps.

In her book on Rewiring the Corporate Brain, Harvard's Danah Zohar, Ph.D. addresses our idea of the organizing metaphor by contrasting key ideas from Newtonian science (the old paradigm) with key ideas emerging from the quantum science (the new paradigm).[6] I have created Table 1 and slightly edited some notions below to highlight these contrasts.

Organizing Metaphors: Paradigm Shifts

(Newtonian Science)

(Quantum Science)

Organizing Metaphors:




Surprise and change


Collaborative networks

Division of labour

Integrated efforts

Power: top or centre

Power: interacting centers

Employees: Passive

Employees: Partners

One best way

Multiple ways









Table 1: Contrasting Old and New Paradigms

The impact of these differences and contrasts challenges the organizing metaphors of managers and executives today as never before. Jerry Wind, Ph.D. and Colin Crook refer to these metaphors as mental models and show us how to recognize them, address them, and work with them to update them when they are outdated.[7] Their main thesis is as follows: “What I see is what I think,” and they conclude their text with a very readable version of neuroscience research to back up their premise. In short, our organizing metaphors are often quite incomplete because our brains have learned to construct reality based on limited information, as though we were simply seeing reality through the peephole in the door. Counterintuitively to how we would normally assess reality, what I see or what I believe to be reality may only be how my brain packages what I get to see! Obviously, humility is called for; hubris needs to go.

Pillars for the Fine Art of Business

I mentioned (above) the importance of seven key markers in the fine art of business. Let's take a look at each one of them. We can now refer to them as Pillars. (In the image of the Temple in Figure 1 above, these Pillars go from left to right.) I would like to preface the following comments with a wonderful saying from Bob Delaney, CHRP, a former graduate and now a professor and HR practitioner.

The Power of Leadership … Is the Power of Curiosity

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) reminds us that wonder is the beginning of wisdom. The essence of the teaching-and-learning experience, therefore, is the ability to be curious, to ask questions, and initially, to find a mentor who can help us find thoughtful and reasonable answers to our questions. Prof. Noel Tichy, once the right-hand person to Jack Welch of General Electric, reminds us that the experience of business and of leadership is truly a teaching and learning experience.[8]

My thesis, therefore, with the seven pillars of visionary leadership needed for the fine art of business is that managers, administrators and executives must become fluent in moving among and across the pillars and not see them as static and only occurring once. The seven pillars is a process and at each step of the process, key questions need to be asked, addressed, and dealt with. We call this process the Leadership Value Pathâ„¢ (or LVPâ„¢). It is when we can allow the questions to emerge that we begin to see things differently and, as in the paradigm shifts mentioned above, we align and attune ourselves more dynamically with how the world actually works. Aligning addresses the cognitive and rational dimension of our work; attuning addresses the emotive and relational dimension of our work. Call it IQ and EQ, if you will. Both are necessary.

PILLAR I: VISIONING – Spirit of Enthusiasm

The Good Book reminds us that “without vision, people perish.”[9] I would add the following: “Without a healthy and life-sustaining vision, employees will fumble around and the organization will be at a serious disadvantage in its ability to outknow the competition today.” The ability to outknow the competition is THE competitive advantage in business today. As with any learning initiative, knowledge-making depends directly on the health of each person. This step of the process often demands great courage: the courage to look reality in the face and to make choices. U.S. Senator John McCain writes,

Courage is that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve. Courage is the highest quality of life attainable by human beings. It's the moment-however brief or singular-when we are our complete, best self, when we know with an almost metaphysical certainty that we are right.[10]

Key Question: “What new possibilities are there that we must acknowledge, address, and act upon?”

PILLAR II: MAPPING – Spirit of Direction

It is a major understatement to say today that the old map – the old ways – for getting things done is often obsolete and out of date. The old maps can be very beautiful and carry much tradition. This beauty and tradition must be acknowledged; but we must also be able to move on and not stay stuck in the past. What we have learned over these past forty years is that the map is not the territory. Just because an organization is used to doing things a certain way is no legitimacy for continuing in that way. For those managers, executives and administrators with rigid personalities, this time of old vs. new maps can be very disquieting for them. The tendency is to become even more brittle and impose a structure or direction – all of which simply makes things worse. ‘Hanging loose' is probably the best strategy in the new territory. Think how anxious and lost people were after the tsunami hit during Christmas 2004 in Southeast Asia. Organizing metaphors, maps, worldviews and ‘the way we do things around here' were completely smashed for thousands of people. Often we don't have options about the maps that life hands us. This is true for organizations as well as for individuals.

Key Question: “What issues does the new possibility raise for your organization and for your people?”

PILLAR III: JOURNEYING – Spirit of Discovery

Once we realize there is a new map and a direction to take, we must begin the journey. As in the ancient Greek myths when they spoke about “the night-sea journey” or in the terminology of the Spanish mystic, Juan de la Cruz (1542-1591), or John of the Cross, who wrote about “the dark night of the soul,” so, too, must we be prepared for a journey that will have new markers and unknown twists and turns to it. At the beginning of each new year, we wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” So, too, we place that kind of confidence and best wishes for new personal and organizational ‘new years,' irrespective of when they happen in the actual calendar year. A couple gets married; we throw rice or confetti as they emerge from the ceremony; and for the rest of the day until they go on their honeymoon, we wish them well on their ‘new journey together.' Similarly, in the fine art of business, organizations start out on a new journey to reinvent themselves, their products and services, all the while – as it is with the couple – not knowing what the future will bring. We ‘trust the gods,' so to speak, and hope for every good blessing. My favourite passage here is one from James Michener's book Hawaii in which King Tamatoa has to lead his people from the collapse of their civilization as they knew it (collapse caused by a spiritual disintegration of their organizing metaphor and map). They are now in search of a new home:

King Tamatoa realized that there came a time on any voyage when a man and his canoe had to trust the gods and to run forward, satisfied that the sails had been well set and the course adhered to whenever possible; but when all precautions failed to disclose known marks, it was obligatory to ride the storm.

Key Question: “What are steps we must take now to begin the journey?”

PILLAR IV: LEARNING – Spirit of Transformation

As with any new initiative, adventure, or journey, new learning will be required. In business we often hear about “the new learning curve,” an expression that reminds everyone that they need to commit to the tasks at hand and to persevere. I must remind you also here that another word for “learning” is “changing.” In other words, from a social science point of view, “to learn = to change.” When I say I'm going to learn something, I am committing myself to actually changing myself. I am going from a state of ignorance, or not knowing, to one of insight and of knowledge. As I pointed out above, since the ONLY competitive advantage today is outknowing the competition, it becomes very apparent how critical Pillar IV: LEARNING is to the art of business. You will notice also that when you look at the Greek Temple (Figure 1 above), Pillar IV is the middle pillar. English poet, W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), in his poem “The Second Coming,” writes, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”[11] This is ‘the big scare' for many executives and managers at this point in the process: they intuitively or realistically realize that they will have to change as well as the organization. This, too, can be a frightening time as a person comes face-to-face with his mission and purpose and meaning in life. From my own consulting experience, this state of affairs also explains why many well-intentioned change efforts get bogged down at this time: the fright of change, because people know very well that all true change begins inside out. In other words, if I am to lead this organization, I must be the change I expect from everyone else – to borrow an idea from Mahatma Gandhi! There is a wonderful story recounted of a time when a woman brought her son to see Gandhi so that he could get her son to stop eating sugar.

A mother brought her son to Mahatma Gandhi. She said, “Please Gandhi, tell my son to stop eating sugar.” Gandhi looked at the young boy for a long time. Then he said to the mother, “Bring your son back to me in two weeks.” The mother did not understand why Gandhi would delay his instruction to her son, but she did as she was asked. Two weeks later, she and her son returned. Gandhi looked deeply into the boy's eyes and said, “Stop eating sugar.” The mother was grateful, but puzzled. She asked, “Why did you send us away for two weeks? Why didn't you tell my son to stop eating sugar two weeks ago when we were here?” Gandhi replied, “Two weeks ago, I, was eating sugar.”[12]

Key Question: “What must you now change to proceed further?”

PILLAR V: MENTORING – Spirit of Sharing

It is author Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)[13] who tells us that “in a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future.” We can ask, “But what about those who consider themselves learned?” Hoffer provides the answer, “The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Fortunately for us we have fellow sojourners who have experienced all or parts of the same journey we may be on. We can look to them for advice, for help, and for encouragement. They're called mentors. Many managers and executives today have in fact done this; they have hired their own coaches. Again, the Good Book is quite helpful to us here, as we read the words of Jesus of Nazareth, “They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.”[14] The irony with this step of the process (as well as with the other ones, too) is that people in organizations find their own ‘mentors' and ‘visionaries,' etc., but they may not be the right ones or they might actually be counterproductive. While office gossip and office politics can have a positive effect, too often we hear disaster stories. Organizational disaster stories, from my point of view, are stories of organizational messes whereby employees lacked the leadership required (from themselves and from their actual managers and executives) to work constructively and to engage themselves in the process of the seven pillars in a life-giving manner, personally, professionally, financially. Since the currency of the new workplace is relationships, it becomes obvious how important quality employees and managers are to the organization.

Key Question: “What resources are available for you at this time?”

PILLAR VI: LEADING – Spirit of Serving

Possibly the breakthrough idea of the 21st century for organizations is that leading is everyone's responsibility. Lord Byron (1788-1824) wrote, “And when we think we lead we are most led.” In other words, if we try to grasp positional leadership without being a leader from within, as managers and executives we act as empty gongs.[15] Another way to say this is that we are not authentic. As I ponder the essence of leadership, I have begun to see that it is more a presence that an action. We bring who we are to every moment of our lives. This personal presence contains our souls and spirits and, as such, impacts those around us. I always like to point out to my students that the word ‘authenticity' has the word ‘author' in it. Unless we are truly the authors of our own lives, and not simply living out of the psychological pocket of others, then we are not authentic. Being authentic takes hard work, and we can always improve on being more true to ourselves. Executive coach Samy Chong writes,

There is a shift taking place from the old story leadership style that is based on “What's in it for me?” to a new mindset based on “How may I serve and honour your needs?” We are beginning to witness the demise of leaders that used manipulation, greed, dishonesty and fear as ways to lead companies, evidenced by WorldCom and Enron. As leaders we are beginning to embrace a holistic way to move our businesses forward. These new characteristics include authenticity, humility, integrity, honouring our differences, coaching, truth-telling, transparency and love. Business owners who only care about themselves and who continuously squeeze their employees by creating stressful expectations and environments will never achieve long-term success.[16]

Key Question: “What fuels your power of curiosity to be all that you can be?”

PILLAR VII: VALUING – Spirit of Community

We finally come to the last step in our journey with the art of business: Valuing. In short, this is the attitude of gratitude, of thankfulness, and it comes from a posture of personal and organizational graciousness. The art of business, in other words, can truly bless those who follow that calling and, in being blessed, we give thanks; we value our experiences. For a number of years we kept hearing the expression ‘added value.' While I think that that is a valuable sentiment, what I am referring to here with ‘valuing' is something much more personal and rich. Valuing provides a sense of gratitude, but also a sense of dignity, of respect, and of worth. In the fine art of business, managers and executives who truly live Pillar VII create a worthplace in addition to a workplace. In other words, valuing is lived when these same managers and executives have authentically built what I call a future worth going to. Sixteenth century essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) has wisely written, in this regard, the following words: “The value of life lies not in the length of days but in the use you make of them; he has lived for a long time who has little lived. Whether you have lived enough depends not on the number of your years but on your will.” In short, no one can make us live the fine art of business, but we can choose and frame our intentions to be the best we can be.

Key Question: “Who do you intend to be?”

We have now come to the end of our discussion. The fine art of business is precisely that: an ‘art,' a ‘graciousness' in doing business. I mentioned earlier in the article that I would speak about courage more obviously. John A. Byrne, editor of Fast Company magazine, in commenting on Senator John McCain's ideas on courage, writes:

There is the courage to speak and hear the truth, even when doing so can cost you your job. There is the courage to pursue audacious goals, to empower and to trust your colleagues. There is the courage to focus on the long term when everyone else is fixed on the next quarter. And there is the courage to fail, to know when it is wise to quit.[17]

Finally, I conclude with two amazing sentences from Senator McCain's article: “You must be afraid to have courage. . . . Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity of action despite our fears.”[18] May you have the courage to act when you need to – no matter what your fears, no matter what the odds.”

[1] Bruce Wilkinson. Dream Giver. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers Inc., 2003, 198 pages. ISBN 1-59052-201-X

[2] Sum. theol. I-II, q. 57, a. 5.

[3] E.F. Schumacher. Small Is Beautiful. London: Abacus, 1973, 297. I am grateful to Matthew Fox for both these quotes. See Matthew Fox. The Reinvention of Work. A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 342 pages. ISBN 0-06-063062-0

[4] Henry Mintzberg, Ph.D. Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004, 464 pages. ISBN: 1576752755

[5] Michael Cox and Michael E. Rock. The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Aligning Your Organization for Enduring Success (w/CD). Toronto: Dryden (Harcourt Brace & Company, now Nelson Canada), 1997, 211 pages. ISBN 0-03-923117-8. Note: This book is out of print. Our hope is to come out with a new and revised edition, plus an accompanying 7 Pillars Workbook.

[6] Danah Zohar. Rewiring the Corporate Brain: Using the New Science to Rethink How We Structure and Lead Organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1997, 172 pages. ISBN: 1576750221

[7] Jerry Wind and Colin Crook. The Power of Impossible Thinking: Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business. Pennsylvania: Wharton School Publishing, 2005, 274 pages. ISBN: 0-13-142502-1

[8] Noel M. Tichy and Nancy Cardwell. The Cycle of Leadership. How Great Leaders Teach Their Companies to Win. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, 435 pages. ISBN 0-06-662056-2

[9] See the Book of Proverbs 29:18.

[10] John McCain, “In Search of Courage,” Fast Company, Issue 86, 56.

[11] Website: Yeats wrote this poem in 1921.

[12] Rabbi Wayne Dosick. The Business Bible. Ten New Commandments for Creating an Ethical Workplace. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993, p. 89. ISBN 0-688-12237-X

[13] Eric Hoffer (1902 -- 1983) was self-educated. He worked in restaurants, as a migrant fieldworker, and as a gold prospector. After Pearl Harbor, he worked as a longshoreman in San Francisco for twenty-five years. The author of more than ten books, including The Passionate State of Mind, The Ordeal of Change, and The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. Visit website:

[14] Matthew 15:14.

[15] 1 Corinthians 13:1ff.

[16] Samy Chong, “Integrity Is Critical to Success,” FP ENTREPRENEUR, Financial Post, Monday, November 29, 2004, FP9.

[17] John A. Byrne, “Why Courage?” Fast Company, Issue 86, September 2004, 16.

[18] John McCain, "In Search of Courage," Fast Company, Issue 86, 51-56.

Other Articles in this Series
#1: The Ethics of Hope
#2: Leadership as Presence
#3: Emotionally Intelligent Workplaces
#4: The Fine Art of Business
#5: The New Balance Sheet

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