Why I think that St Benedict is a modern management guru

October 13, 2000

Angela Rae. Senior tutor and director of development. St Chad's College. University of Durham

The writings of the 6th-century monk St Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order, are just as relevant to the 21st century as they were in his day. My research into these writings has triggered a response that has often been quite spiritual. Benedict provides a linchpin for workers who believe that there is more to work than meets the eye.

I knew St Benedict's Rule existed, but it was only last year while staying at Ampleforth that I became interested in exploring how his spiritual and commonsense guidelines could benefit larger commercial organisations. Historically the Rule has provoked many commentaries and translations, but these have generally been of a theological nature. I believe that I am one of the first to look at its relevance to modern business and institutional communities.

I was fascinated by the fact that Benedictine monks have to take a vow of stability and change. This apparent contradiction illustrates the force and wisdom of the Rule. For Benedict, only by developing one's inner self, by training or self-knowledge, can one develop and contribute to the community and thus be stable enough to encourage growth. Such lessons are invaluable for today's workplace.

Divided into three main sections on formation, administration and renovation, the Rule deals with many aspects of work. Smaller organisational decisions should be taken by senior individuals but larger strategic plans should be decided as a group. This, Benedict advises, avoids backbiting. Other salient points include his writings on the division of labour for the common good, greeting people, taking decisions wisely and interacting with each other and the outside world. This takes us one step further than 1990s "empowerment" to the concept of "having a say".

I have had a huge response from interested parties after inviting groups to take an active part in my research. They range from management consultancies and church dioceses to a small chip shop and a gymnasium. Anyone who has responsibility for other people at work should be aware of St Benedict's teachings. I would like to think that the Rule will soon be on every manager's desk.

If you would like more information or are interested in taking part in the research project, please email a.m.rae@durham.ac.uk Interview by Helen Davies

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