Q & A With Richard Whiteley,
Author of THE CORPORATE SHAMAN

Q) Your previous books, The Customer Driven Company, Customer Centered Growth, and Love the Work You're With, were straightforward, non-fiction business books. Why did you decide to write "a spiritual fable" this time?

A) Before writing "Customer Centered Growth" in 1996 my co-author and I interviewed over 200 companies on six different continents. When asked to describe the cultures of their organizations we were astonished at how often the word "fear" was mentioned. I was deeply moved by the plight of the average worker and decided to focus on this aspect of business. This led to the writing of "Love the Work You're With" (originally entitled "ReSpiriting Work"). "The Corporate Shaman" is a logical extension of this direction. It is about healing in companies and enhancing the organization's spirit or soul. I still do keynotes about being customer centered, a passion I will always have, and have added spirit at work as another very important plank in creating and operating a successful enterprise today.

Our nation, if not the world, is moving towards the spiritual aspects of life. This was well documented even before 9-11 and that horrific tragedy has accelerated this need. People want more out of work than just a paycheck. As reported in Business Week in November, 1999, 78% of Americans expressed a need for spiritual growth in their lives…up from 20% five years earlier. Today the number is even higher.

The business fable is a very effective method for dealing with this type of topic. I had never written fiction before and it was something I thought I would enjoy. And I did.

Q) What first attracted you to the study of shamanism? To what extent are your own experiences, both personal and professional, parallel to those you attribute to Jason Hand in the book?

A) In addition to building a successful training and consulting business over the past 30 years, much of that time, the last 23 years to be exact, I was engaged in aggressive personal growth activities. In the course of doing this work I came across shamanism and had a natural affinity for the work.

"The Corporate Shaman" represents both personal experience and imagination. I have seen businesses and their leaders deteriorate like PRIMETEC, have attended meetings like the one Leon King ran, and have counseled with employees like those described in the book. Also, I have practiced virtually every shaman process conducted by Jason Hand. Not all of them, however, have been in a business setting.

Q) Most people think of business leaders as hardheaded realists. Why do you think they are now ready to examine the spiritual side of leadership? Is it necessary to have religious faith in order to understand and apply the insights of shamanism?

A) Business leaders are seeking more guidance in non-traditional places. When Tom Chappell of Tom's of Maine states that one of the most important leadership characteristics of the 21st century will be vulnerability and when The Harvard Business Review's "Breakthrough Leadership" issue says, "Soft qualities like openness and sensitivity are as critical to success as harder qualities like charisma, aggressiveness, and always being right," something is afoot. Employees are looking for a human being to lead them, someone who is in touch with his/her own inner being rather than a numbers- pushing automaton.

Shamanism has nothing to do with religion. It is an experience system used for healing and discovering the answers to important questions. I have participated in the same workshops for shamanism with a nun and an agnostic. In fact, in a study by Ian Mitroff, a professor of business at the University of Southern California, it was determined that it is permissible to talk about spirit in the business setting but inappropriate to discuss religion.

Q) What is a power animal retrieval? Are practices like power animal retrievals only effective for leaders or can anyone in a work situation benefit as well?

A) The power animal retrieval is a process by which a shaman will "journey" (a meditative process) to find and return a power animal to you. This animal totem will empower you and, if you use it properly, give you guidance on important life issues. It is the essence of the animal that serves you and they can be retrieved for an individual, project, or organization. It's not a new idea. After all, that is what mascots are. If you think of Merrill Lynch, what comes to mind? A bull. The United States? An eagle. Russia? The Democratic party? A model of automobile? How about your local high school football team?

The power animal for "The Corporate Shaman" book project is a Raven, a messenger, a healer, and one who can do its work over long distances. It seems appropriate.

When you learn how to journey, anyone can find his/her own power animal. And it is a useful process for anyone, no matter what level in the organization.

Q) What is the leading cause of the discontent and declining morale in the current business environment? Why haven't "reinvention," "restructuring," and other recent trends in corporate management succeeded in counteracting this?

A) There are many factors contributing to the discontent and declining morale. A few are:
  • repeated real and imagined lay-offs and the fear that goes with them
  • asking lay-off "survivors" to take up the slack by doing more at higher standards with fewer resources
  • obsessive focus on the "numbers" which creates transactional, "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" relationships
  • reduced supervisory spans of control which leaves increasing numbers of employees unmanaged
  • vision and value statements that are not embodied in the behavior of senior management
  • the real or imagined threat of being merged or acquired
  • few, if any incentives and rewards for actually developing people

    The "reinvention" and "renewal" initiatives fail for several reasons:
  • Leaders don't "walk the talk." (in fact, I asked one leader if he and his team really walked the talk and, quite candidly, he responded, "No, Richard, around here we kind of stumble the mumble."
  • Cynical employees see such initiatives as one more "program du jour" and know that if they look compliant but actually do nothing "it too shall pass….just like they always do."
  • These programs are initiated when budgets are fat but as soon as the business goes south, the costs associated with such initiatives are cut. They are thought of as being discretionary. They are seen as costs, not investments in the overall well being of the company.

  • Q) What behavior patterns or personal characteristics are signs that a manager or CEO has lost touch with his/her power animal?

    A) There are several:
  • they tend to reflect on and talk about "the old days"
  • they feel frustrated and powerless to solve problems
  • they have trouble getting their own people to embrace new initiatives
  • their normal physical state is one of fatigue
  • they have trouble concentrating
  • they are defensive in the face of suggestions for improvement
  • they are short-tempered
  • they have trouble maintaining their focus
  • they avoid conflict
  • they blame others

  • Q) How do the methods of spiritual consultants differ from those of ordinary management consultants? What kinds of problems are they better able to solve?

    A) Typical management consultants are more likely to work from their heads, their minds and intellect. They have models and analytical frameworks that they apply to many varying business situations. And they can be very effective in solving a variety of business problems. Their limitation is usually in the effective range of their models and their dependency on proven logic.

    A spiritual consultant, on the other hand, will help solve problems that exist with the spirit or soul of a company. While they can be very effective in working with some of the "hard" business issues like making critical decisions, it is equally natural for them to operate from the heart and focus on the human side of the enterprise.

    For example, a shaman might advise an executive on how to restore the morale of a work group, or help a person get over a fear of public speaking, or determine the processes required to have a successful company meeting.

    Q) You write that "power animals are more than just mascots, they're specialists in a way, power specialists." Can you give us some examples of the kinds of power different animals specialize in?

    A) Each animal brings forth different essence and strength. Here are a few:
  • BEAR = with its hibernation, represents introspection
  • HORSE = travel and freedom
  • FOX = the magic of camouflage and being invisible
  • ELK = strength and nobility
  • BEAVER = the building of dreams
  • BADGER = bold self-expression and reliance
  • EAGLE = vision and spirit
  • SWAN = awakening the true beauty of power and self

  • Q) Are the meanings associated with power animals always clear-cut or do they sometimes require interpretation?

    A) One would always do well to study the animal totem they receive. Most people have misperceptions about animals and finding an authoritative source like the book "Animal Speak" or the Native American Medicine Cards will help avoid this. Snake, for example, is often associated with evil or misdeeds when in reality it has to do with healing (the caduceus is the medical symbol that features two snakes entwined around a staff) and transformation (shedding of skin).

    Q) Can people have more than one power animal? Should they tell other people what their power animals are?

    A) People can have multiple power animals. I have seven and have found that they are like healing specialists. One is great at soul retrievals, another helps me do remote healing, another guides my work with audiences, while still another helps me find a healing song for a client.
    Whether you tell others what your power animal is is really between you and it. Some shamans will never reveal their animals while others do so. Mine are okay with it if I do in the course of the healing work. The key here is to not be frivolous, for that is disrespectful. For example, you wouldn't go to a singles bar and say, "Hi, I'm a tiger, what are you?"

    Q) Is it necessary to take a shamanic journey like the ones you describe in the book in order to retrieve the spirit of a power animal? Can individuals make the journey on their own? How long does a journey usually last? What advice would you give readers about preparing for and getting the maximum benefits from their journeys?

    A) It would be rare that a power animal were not retrieved via the journey. And virtually anyone can be taught how to do the journey which will typically last between 8 and 20 minutes. "How to Take a Shamanic Journey" is the addendum to "The Corporate Shaman" and offers instructions for this process.

    As for preparing for and benefiting from the journey itself I would offer the following:
  • Take it seriously. If you can't see your way to having an open mind then it is unlikely the guides will be willing to meet you
  • Always have a clear intention before you start your journey
  • Be situated in a quiet place devoid of distractions
  • If there is a potential distraction (a phone ringing, a siren on the street) rather than letting it upset you, use it to go deeper into your journey

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    For more information contact richard@whiteleygroup.com
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