Business has a habit of taking words and re-engineering them to suit its own needs. So it is with “guru”. Test this out by asking a colleague to name two gurus who have made an impact on the business world. The odds are that they will come out with Peter Drucker, Charles Handy, Tom Peters or, if they are feeling patriotic, Sir John Harvey-Jones. You’ll cast around in vain for a mention of the Baghwan.
But recent developments suggest all that might be about to change. A growing number of unashamedly spiritual philosophers – real gurus, if you like – are making inroads into the business world.
When an organisation as traditionalist as the Chartered Institute Personnel and Development in Britain can make room at its conferences to discuss the impact of shamanic techniques on morale and performance, you know the issue has become a significant one.
What is at the root of this growing quest for spirituality in the workplace?
No doubt it owes much of its momentum to Western society’s wider adoption of Eastern meditation and self-improvement techniques.
As the boundaries between home and working life blur, an overspill of some kind is inevitable. As many US organisations demonstrated in the 20th century, companies can often flourish on a common set of ethics frequently grounded on a shared system of spiritual belief.
But the real problem with gurus will always lie in sorting the wheat from the chaff. No-one needs reminding that this is an area in which charlatans flourish.
In recent years, some decidedly questionable organisations have specifically targeted the corporate world in their recruitment campaigns. They have managed to capitalise on the blurred ground between management “self-improvement” techniques and something more sinister.
Here, we offer a potted guide to some of the more obviously benevolent gurus that have emerged in recent years. Enjoy the karma.