Jackson Mississippi calls itself the City of Soul. On a recent visit, it got me thinking about this word ‘soul’. What does it mean? It is often referred to as something within you, a part of you, a part of you but detached from your physical being. Many believe that the body is the physical being where the soul resides and when you die, your soul goes to another place. When we walk into a building, we know whether it has soul or not by the feeling we have about the place. An empty building has no soul but a building that has things in it can also be described as ‘having no soul’. So we know what a lack of soul is like but what does it mean to have a soul? What is this ‘soul’ that we talk about? Soul music was distinctive for its earthy expressiveness and often passionate, romanticism or sensuality. It moved the emotions of people at a deep and fundamental level. As a young man I met Percy Sledge who was often referred to as the ‘King of soul’. He was not ‘soul’ but he was a personable character and able to deliver the musical notes and use the words in a way that moves the emotions of the listener. However, there is a difference between ‘Soul’ music and the soul of a piece of music. The soul of a piece of music is the ability of the music to relate to a person. It is in the beat, the words and the relationship it has with a person’s emotions. Soul in an organisation is similar. It is the beat, the heart, the energy that makes the physical surrounds be more than bricks and mortar. When a doctor measures the pulse of a human being it tells him/her about the heart rate, which is a quick view of the heart and ultimately the well being of the body. Many people worry that Virgin, Apple and many other highly successful organisations will survive if their leader goes. Why? These leaders are not singularly doing everything in their organisation. There are thousands of people working in these organisations, but Branson and Jobs are seen as the soul of the business. They are the soul that people relate to and have a relationship with. What is the pulse of your business? The pulse can tell you whether the body has a heart that is functioning well and ultimately the soul is alive and well. The soul of British Airways has largely been lost and it struggles to find itself in the modern world. Why? Willy Whitelaw is a dynamic and personable man, but he has been unable to develop that personable aspect to the people at every level of the business. No amount of advertising is giving British Airways the soul it needs to relate to people in the way Virgin has done. Is it coincidence that Branson was in the music business before the airline business? Measuring the pulse is something leaders should do. To some it comes more naturally than others, but is still important. What is the condition of the heart of your business and do you know how to measure it easily? If the soul is how personable your business is to your customers, then you need to know if people at all levels are moving to the rhythm of the organisation. Anyone not moving to the beat is destroying the soul of your business. Worse still, they may be moving the soul away from your core customers to customers that you don’t need or want. So this month I am asking you to consider:
If you want to know how energy levels, heartbeat and rhythm effect an organisation, then go into an Apple store, stand and watch. If you want to see it in action, take a flight with Southwest Airlines, which still sustains it after over 30 years in business. Your favourite restaurant is probably an example of what personable is to you. Now ask yourself, is that soul what your business needs to attract the customers it is looking for? If your favourite restaurant is quiet, reserved, old fashioned and the music is found at funeral homes, then maybe you are not the leader needed to run a mobile phone company or even work in one!