Corporate Work – Working with the Corporate Heart

With corporate work, Serge brings his ‘Heart Work’ into corporations both large and small. He is an Associate of Complex Adaptive Leadership Ltd, which is a global network with local delivery.


A paper by Dr Serge Beddington-Behrens

There is more power inside the heart than inside an atomic bomb. – Teilhard de Chardin

If business does not change its strategy, business itself may well be at stake. – Fritschof Capra in Steering business towards Sustainability

A changing world

The world we live in is changing very radically. Today we inhabit an age between world views, a transitional era or no-man’s land, where the old cultural vision no longer holds, and yet the new has not yet been effectively constellated.

And of course this impacts very powerfully upon the corporate world where businesses today are being subjected to many new pressures and contradictory pulls and demands. On the one hand, the past is still tugging furiously, seeking to seducBusiness with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate Worke executives into repeating what is familiar and therefore comfortable, while on the other hand a new corporate future is also calling out, quietly whispering that many of the old ways of operating may have reached their sell by date and that new ways of looking at business are being called for.

Leading from the Heart

I have been working with organisations for many years, and increasingly I have come to see that if they wish to be healthier, more effective and successful in these new and challenging times, that they are called to ‘up’ their level of operating. This means that they need to learn to ‘play the corporate game at a new level’ or function more multi-dimensionally, and in my experience the key ingredient for this is to bring the mysterious ingredient called ‘Heart’ more centrally into the picture. Gail McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross, understood this. In a recent paper in the Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘Lead from the Heart’, she tells us that

‘Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose – and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart.’

However, in order to lead from the heart we need first to learn to open our hearts, which is by no means a ‘given’ in our rabidly ‘left brain/analytically addicted’ culture. Indeed, as I have tried to show in my recent book on the heart, having an open heart may take a bit of work to achieve, but it very radically changes everything about our lives, as suddenly whole new dimensions of our humanity and our creativity begin being available to us. Indeed, it has recently been discovered by scientists that our hearts actually possess a brain and therefore have their own ‘field of intelligence’. As Antoine St Exupery put it in his book ‘the Little Prince’:

‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.’

With heart, therefore, we can intuit things that our rational mind alone is simply not capable of. The Latin word for heart is ‘cor’ and so if we choose to lead from our heart, we are allowing ourselves to be guided by the core part of who we are, or by a ‘self’ that is much wiser, can see things more deeply, and consequentially is far better equipped to know how best to operate at any given time.

Resistance to Heart

Business with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate Work

One of the problems we face, however, is that many in the corporate world have a somewhat jaundiced view of the heart. Many ( mainly men) don’t really understand it properly and see it as utterly extraneous – as something purely sentimental and wishy washy – certainly not a part of oneself one should ever allow into the office if one wishes to be professional! Rationality must rule, we tell ourselves, since head is eminently superior to heart, which we need to keep far away from us as its presence has a detrimental effect upon our ability to think logically.

The power of the Heart

In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth and this myth has resulted in so many mistakes being made in so many different avenues, as not only does heart not fuzz out mind, but on the contrary, it compliments it. When intuition and logic fuse, when our hearts and minds work together cooperatively, we are always at our most effective. A great Indian sage of the twentieth century explains.

‘The mind is only a servant. The master is the heart…..all that is valuable comes out of the heart and it is the only possibility for you to be bridged with your being…When you have a heart that is alive, your mind’s quality will also change. Then you can go to the mind; you can function through the mind. The heart will give you a feeling that you are a master.’

Powerful words, eh? And isn’t feeling masterful very important, especially in the office? People who genuinely feel masterful don’t need to put on a show of being tough; they don’t feel they always need to prove things or be in control all the time or feel threatened by people around them also being successful and powerful. At one level, then, what having heart does for us is that it enables us to connect more fully to the world of our being – to our innerness, to a sense of who we really are.

And this is so empowering. We are much more positive, we feel much more whole. We can see things more clearly; become much more embedded in the world and consequently are more confident and centred and naturally omit an aura of strength which others pick up on and respect. With heart, we don’t just get things done; we get them done well. Martin Luther King wrote a great deal about the relationship between the head and the heart and came to the conclusion that what lay behind many people’s mental rigidity or their lack of real intellectual vigour – prevalent, sadly, in certain areas of the corporate world today – is actually a closed heart.

Heart as our great ‘secret weapon’

Business with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate WorkHaving, as I said, worked with the Heart for many years, I have grown increasingly convinced that it is actually humanity’s great secret weapon and that we disregard or suppress it at our cost. I believe that the most effective and successful CEOs today are big-hearted individuals who recognise that only on the wings of an alive and awake and passionate heart are they going to have the strength and chutzpah to move their businesses forward in the right way.

My experience also tells me that those who make it to the top in their various professions, be they sportsmen, explorers, scientists, executives, poets, artists – you name it – don’t do so solely through the power of mind, but are people who have learned to ‘lead through the heart’. In sports, people talk of entering ‘the zone’ and this is very much a place of heart where all our functioning at all its many different levels, becomes beautifully synchronised. Look at Federer or Nadal in tennis. This can also happen in the work place. Look at Bill Gates. Or in the domain of politics, we have the great heart warrior, Nelson Mandela. Could he have achieved what he did without enormous heart? I doubt it. The point is that when we come from heart, we also have passion. And passion is hugely important if we want to be successful.

‘Playing out of one’s head’

It is interesting that in the English rugby team, players are chosen not simply for their athletic prowess and rugby skills but also for their attitude. Knowing someone in this set up, I asked him to explain to me what exactly was meant by ‘attitude’ and was told ‘Oh, they have to have Heart, otherwise they can’t be a proper team player.’

This is so true and today more executives in more firms need to ‘get it’ that exactly the same kind of heart intelligence is needed for success in corporate teams as in athletic ones. What I observe in the world of team sports, is that the more the hearts of individual players open, the more they create a ‘field of Heart’ that is more than the sum of its individual parts and which amplifies the heart resonance of each individual and inspires them to cooperate together for the good of the whole team. For me, the meaning of the phrase ‘playing out of our heads’, denotes a state where players are operating more and more from – or leading more and more from – their hearts.

Interestingly, the more heart we each have, the more we become our own person, yet by the same token, the more we feel inspired to wish to serve the larger whole. What made the English Rugby team of 2003 so enormously successful, enabling them to win the World Cup, was that the heart field of the team had grown to be immense and everyone in it could feed out of it. Whole new dimensions of excellence had became tapped and when that happens, ‘the force is always with one’. When great heart force builds up, it becomes possible to ‘break through’ into whole new dimensions of excellence.

I repeat once more: the same thing also holds true for corporations who, if they wish, are also capable of playing (the corporate game) out of their heads. They can also have the ‘force be with them!’

Many qualities inside the Heart

In order to do a good job of work, then, we not only need wisdom; we also need manyBusiness with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate Work other qualities. Indeed, we need as much of ourselves present in the equation as possible, and as the vaster part of our humanity lies inside our hearts, it follows that if we will have shut our hearts down – we will also have closed ourselves off from large chunks of our own capability.

For example, where does the quality of courage lie if not inside our hearts? Or our capacity to be kind, honest and authentic, to have a genuine reverence for life, to operate out of a space of integrity, to experience joy and happiness, to be intuitive, to persevere and have a vision, to think in wholes and not in parts, to desire justice, to feel gratitude for what is and to relate well to other people? All these qualities reside inside our hearts and are only available to us in a very watered-down way if our heart lives are dysfunctional. In recent years, many corporations and organisations have been accused of acting stingily and dishonestly, of being greedy and of lacking integrity. This is always symptomatic of the corporate heart not yet having opened.

In America there is an Institute called the Heart Math Institute, which has made a big, scientific study of the heart and what they tell us is very instructive.

‘When the heart rhythm patterns are coherent, the neural information sent to the brain facilitates its cortical function and the effect is experienced as heightened clarity, better physical health, improved decision making and increased creativity.’

In other words, the heart is not just a metaphor. It is an information processing centre with all the body’s functions dependant upon it. When activated, it gives us the keys to living a fulfilling life and the electromagnetic fields it generates are transmitted like radio waves and if coherent, can uplift, and if chaotic, can depress the environment around us. When we are around people who pull us down, we can be assured their hearts are not in good functioning order. When our hearts are functioning well – when they will have come to life and when we know how to use them properly – we can think more clearly, feel much better, act more efficiently, relate to others more effectively and generally be far more creative – all qualities required in the work place.

With heart, then, we are more versatile, more incisive, more intuitive, more visionary. From this place we are able to go right to the heart of what our company is really all about and understand what its deeper purpose or deeper contribution to our society might be.

The price we pay for our heartlessness

Again, in my experience, many of the serious mistakes that take place within large organisations – insufficient connection between departments, managers managing unwisely, lack of flexibility, too many unwise, short term decisions, an inability to deal with complex challenges, leading inappropriately, a repressive work culture, dishonesty, racism, sexism, homophobia – you name it – arise, at one level, out of a lack of organizational heart. Indeed, my experience of those executives who never seem able to think outside the box, who tend to relate badly with their peers, who are forever being critical and always have to be right and never allow a space for anyone else’s creativity to surface – is that they have never learned to lead from the heart. As the poet John O’Donohue put it:

Without the heart, the human would be sinister. To be able to feel is the great gift. When you feel for another, you become united with that person in an intimate way; your concern and compassion come alive, drawing some of the other person’s world and spirit into yours….

Heart failure

Unfortunately, you can’t just tell someone to open their hearts or to ‘have more heart’, as this process is not an intellectual thing. A few fortunate people seem to have a natural abundance of heart and never to have lost it, but this is not the case for the vast majority of us. Most of us need to put in some effort to retrieve this part of ourselves since the whole process of our growing up was all too often one where we learned to move away from our hearts and only value the world of mind. Especially if we happened to be male! In other words, being a person who leads from the heart, sadly, is not the norm!

The great African novelist Ben Okri understood the price we pay for our lack of heart, and in a recent article wrote that ‘Our material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy, where the more our society has succeeded, the more its heart has failed.’

And this is precisely what is wrong with so many organisations and institutions today. Heart failure! And while one certainly needs to address the many effects of this, it must never be done at the expense of omitting to explore the causes, and having done so, start doing something about them.


The point is that something can be done. A great deal in fact. Organisations, like individuals, are eminently capable of transforming, if that is, they are willing to see the ingredients that may be missing and are determined to do something about it and see the advantages in this. The good thing also to remember is that our hearts are never lost; they merely have become suppressed and with the right kind of coaxing, may be encouraged to come back in again from the cold!

I have coined a word: enhearten. And enhearteners are people who have worked at Business with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate Workopening their hearts and consequently know how to led from this place and so enhearten their society. They do this by radiating a positive, masterful, life-affirming presence which affects everything and everyone in their path. As a result, everything within their organisations benefits and begins to blossom. Employees are happier. Teams work more closely together. Those at the top feel moved to communicate with those on the shop floor, while the latter also feel free to reciprocate and talk openly about their ideas and concerns.

The quality of the firm’s culture rises, as enhearteners are naturally able to bring out the best in everyone. Indeed, when problems show their head, enhearteners are able to take them into their hearts and work through them, as for them, a problem is always seen as a challenge, a crisis is always a new opportunity, an evolutionary ally capable of stretching one to think more and more outside of the old boxes.

Spontaneity and Intentionality

Indeed, the more executives learn to marry their heads and their hearts, the more capable they become of being both spontaneous and intentional, or of surrendering into the now-ness of events while simultaneously being directive within them. Coaches like to tell us that we all need to think more in a both/and, as opposed to an either/or way, and I fully agree, only I would argue that to have this actually come about, we need actually to experience both polarities converging, which can only occur if viewed through the reconciliatory lens of heart.

Therefore, the more heart there is in the workplace, the more people will start deriving more meaning from what they do, the more successful they will be and the happier will be the spirit of the firm as a whole. When the corporate heart begins to emerge, the whole energy in a business starts to change and people suddenly discover they are able to achieve more – with less effort.

Heart, success, profit and sustainability

Hearts have a natural inbuilt work ethic. People who choose to lead from the heart seem to be ( or to become) naturally honest. No manipulative game playing. They understand full well, as the Medtronic founder Bill George told us, that ‘The purpose of business is to contribute to a just, open and sustainable society,‘ and as the IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. put it, that ‘Companies were not created just to make money but to knit together the whole fabric of civilisation’.

Enheartener executives particularly understand that having their business operate from an ethical base, being sustainable, doing good and having one’s firm make a healthy financial profit, are by no means on opposite sides of the fence. In actuality, firms which emit a healthy aura of honesty and heart are much more attractive to shareholders. In other words, having heart is sexy. It makes you friends, leads to greater effectiveness, people trust you and you earn more money!

Heart is core to a well-functioning business

My thesis, then, is that possessing heart is not just ‘something nice’ so that everyone in the firm feels ‘ happier and cosier together’, but as with a sporting team, it is also a core ingredient for a firm’s success and for making the shift into a new way of operating. It is therefore my profoundest belief that if organisations and corporations want to be successful and profitable and move easily into the 21st century, whereby they may grow from ( as opposed to be destroyed by) all the many  and varied challenges  which they are currently having to face, then  one of the best ways to ensure this is for effort to be put into the business of  recovering lost  heart. And of course, this can only come about if  those who run the businesses, first commit to finding their hearts, as only heart can be moved to uncover heart.

How may we recognise a business which has a healthy heart life? Here are twelve symptoms.

Business with Heart - Serge Beddington Behrens Corporate WorkTwelve symptoms of corporations that embrace Heart

  • Those at the top are integrated human beings who recognise that their firms may also have a deeper purpose or vision – something more to contribute to the planet – and are ever intent on setting a context for this deeper purpose to unfurl itself.
  • The workforce is content. A spirit of empowerment predominates. Nobody works out of a culture of fear. There is competition, yes, but there is also a spirit of co-operation. People on the shop floor experience being recognised and appreciated and therefore feel loyal and much more strongly moved to support the success of their firm.
  • The firm operates out of integrity. There is a minimum of negative game playing and manipulation.
  • There is a healthy top down/bottom up flow. Senior executives are often happy to admit they don’t know all the answers and are willing to listen to the advice from those on the shop floor. Thus, a spirit of openness prevails.
  • People feel free to relate humanly with each other.
  • Communication breakdowns are minimal and if they emerge, steps to remedy them are at once be put into operation. Staff feel empowered to trust one another.
  • A spirit of respect prevails at all levels. Employees will not only respect themselves ( not drive themselves into the ground), their fellow employees and their firm, but also the local environment and the planet as a whole.
  • Staff will no longer see the work place as being separate from ‘life’ but as an integral part of it and therefore as a place also to evolve and grow as human beings. They will also feel ‘allowed’ to take certain risks in the interest of doing things in a new way.
  • All messes, of whatever nature, immediately get laundered.
  • As all organisations have a dark or shadow side, or a dimension to their ‘life’ that gets suppressed or pushed underground and consequently always causes problems, in heart-centred businesses, space will always be made to recognise, acknowledge and ‘work with’ the disowned side.
  • Success is no longer primarily measured by how big an organisation will have become and how much money it makes for its owners and shareholders. It will also be evaluated in terms of the happiness it gives to those who work for it, its capacity to respect the local environment and give work to people who need work, to produce products that are required in the world, support enterprises that it deems worthy and be ethical and honest in all its dealings.
  • Companies are much more capable of intuiting and designing their own blueprint for operating wisely and moving forward collectively as opposed to mainly having to obey ‘orders  coming from  the top’ all the time.

Does your firm exhibit some of these symptoms? If not, it might be signalling that certain radical culture changes may be required.

The following diagram shows some of the shifts which some organisations are challenged to go through in the interest of having more heart.

OLD WAY OF OPERATING             NEW ‘HEART CENTRED’ WAY                                        Analysis  (mind only)                       Synthesis of heart and Mind

Leave your heart at home                Bring your heart to work

Sell your soul to the company store     Expand your heart in the Company store

Feeling stressed( compressed)         Feeling stretched (expanded)

Insufficient respect for  fellow workers    Big respect for  them

Superficial communication              More genuine communication

Fear of chaos                                   Creative embrace of chaos

Seeing crisis as a problem          Seeing crisis as an evolutionary opportunity

Denial of firm’s dark side                 Integration of firm’s dark side

Culture of suppression                  Culture of openness

Seeing work  primarily as  a slog       Envisioning work as joy

Separation of work and life               Integration of work and life

Rigid closed mind                             Flexible  open mind

Cleverness                                         Wisdom

Thinking mainly of what is ‘in it for me’   Thinking of what serves the larger whole.

How may Heart enter an organisation?

Heart doesn’t suddenly ‘come in’. It is already there. As with individuals, so with organisations, it has merely become suppressed or hidden away and thus has grown weak through under usage. Heart, therefore, first needs to be recovered before its many virtues can be discovered, and each organisation has its own unique kind of heart and its own way of bringing it into the light. Depending upon the nature of the organisation and how evolved it is, sometimes the corporate heart may begin opening quite quickly. In other instances, it may take more time.

How to open the corporate Heart

There are five main ways in which I work to help facilitate the opening of the corporate heart. These are:

  1. Giving lectures around the theme of ‘The heart in business’ to inspire executives to see themselves and their firm in a new light.
  2. Offering coaching sessions via Skype.
  3. Working on site with individuals and small groups to help them realise the benefits that will accrue as a result of embracing the world of heart, as well as helping them move through whatever obstacles and resistances may come up and stand in the way.
  4. Teaching one-day or one or two weekend seminars on themes relating to the Heart. These include:
    ‘Awakening the corporate heart.’
    ‘Working with the Dark side.’ (of your organisation’).
    ‘ The art of communicating with Heart’.
    The art of empowering people.’
    ‘Executive courage.’
    ‘Redefining corporate relationships’.
    ‘Treading the path of corporate enheartenment.’
  5. Conducting intensive, week-long ‘Heart-opening retreats’ in Mallorca.

Concluding observations

Engaging in what I call ‘Heart Work’ is often initially challenging due to it being ‘new’, and some employees may feel resistant to engaging in what they don’t properly understand. However, as people gradually move through their resistances and start to uncover little hidden gems inside their hearts, they begin noticing that their home, as well as their work lives, are changing in subtle little ways. They may observe that they begin having ‘in the zone’ experiences where their old stress levels drop away and where being in the office and working on a project, becomes much more pleasurable and less burdensome. Some people describe feeling much more human and more fully alive and tell me that small things which before they hardly noticed, have suddenly started giving them joy.

This is so important. The more we can work from a place of heart and therefore enjoy what we do, the more effective we will be.

I am never presumptuous enough to tell firms how they should operate. I merely seek to create a context whereby a firm’s own collective heart wisdom which, for various reasons, may have been frozen, can start to thaw and so begin revealing itself. When this intelligence starts awakening – which may occur in all sorts of different areas and surprising and interesting ways – people will know exactly what to do, and more and more employees will come to realise that, at a certain level, everyone in the firm is a leader and shares responsibility for their firm’s success.