The former Benedictine monk Anselm Bilgri, along with the monastery of Andechs, managed an enterprise worth millions – following an ancient rule of order. Which leadership values are really successful and what are the key roles they play in employee motivation?
Monk leads a company worth millions
The great interest of the public in the former boss at the monastery-Andechs is easy to explain. At first glance, one does not expect that a monk who has committed himself to personal poverty would lead a large company such as the Andechs monastery brewery. Is he not torn between his vow to forego material possessions, while also being dependent upon the success of such material things? In addition, the monastery of Andechs itself attracts attention. It’s almost like a perfect mini representation of Bavaria: a baroque monastery, still managed by monks on a hill on the Ammersee, surrounded by an idyllic landscape, with brewery, restaurant and beer garden.
As usual with all managers, Bilgri himself needed a few years to perfect his leadership style. He quickly realized: Having extensive knowledge in leadership theory and actually leading are two different things. You can have a good business management degree, but that doesn’t automatically mean you know how to effectively lead people – you have to learn that in practice. During his early years, Bilgri noticed that many modern management methods are actually already contained in the 1,500-year-old Benedictine rule book. Upon noticing these similarities, Anselm Bilgri developed lectures on company management. These were extremely successful and, due to high demand, tailor-made seminars for companies and their executives were later added.
Rules for value-oriented management
At the core of the Benedict’s rules are three defining values that Anselm Bilgri can give to today’s managers: obedience, humility and the gift of distinction. You have to interpret the terms according to today’s modern society, of course, says Bilgri. In a democratic society obedience means remaining loyal and working hard; it is about active listening. Whoever has a desire to lead must first ask, and he must want to listen to the responses received. This is linked to the principle of humility. Managers should not act according to the motto “only I have good ideas and can bring about success”. On the contrary, they should be somewhat withdrawn and willing to listen to, and take, good advice. In the Order of Saint Benedict, it is a three step process, says Bilgri: Listen – Accept – Do. The most important thing is accepting – certainly not an easy task for leaders. The same applies, of course, to the employees.
Executives should serve
The word humility, in a religious context, means “to want to serve”. Humility was a virtue of vassals. This can be seen, for example, in the Prince of Wales’ coat of arms. The English heir to the throne has had a German coat of arms since the Middle Ages that reads, “Ich dien”, meaning “I serve”. This means that someone in a responsible position has the task to serve. The Prince of Wales serves the Queen, but of course also his subjects. Guidance means serving – from top to bottom. In a company, leadership should not be seen as a prestigious position whose success is measured by the brand of company car received, the size of the office or the number of secretaries. Rather, one must understand leadership as a responsible task, says Bilgri. As a manager, I have the job of serving the company and every single employee, so that they can best serve their purpose. The higher level has to ensure that the level below it can work well.
See diversity as a positive value
The third, the gift of distinction, is an important element in the requirement profile of an abbot. It means to perceive employees in their diversity, to recognize their individual talents and characteristics and to value them as a positive addition to the whole – in today’s society this can also be called diversity, says Bilgri. It is important to promote creativity and innovation in the interplay of these differences, talents and possibilities. It is important to employ the employees where they can develop their strengths. This of course requires a lot of time from the executive. Typically, a manager should put 80 percent of his time on leading and only 20 percent on technical tasks.
Work as part of a fulfilled life
In addition, the workplace should be a place of meaning-building. But how do you create such a place? It’s clear that meaning is connected with personal success experiences of employees, through appreciation and praise. This is the highest motivation and what makes a job pleasurable, not the money alone, says Bilgri. This has to do with the gift of distinction, and being able to recognize diverse talents. If my boss succeeds in giving an employee the tasks he likes and does well, both will have success stories. In summation, satisfied, committed employees ultimately automatically promote the success of the company. The increasing shortage of skilled workers is already leading to a rethinking of companies today. Highly talented junior staff of Generation Y want to earn a good salary, however are no longer willing to sacrifice all of their free time for work. That’s what companies have to address in the “War for Talent”, Anselm Bilgri explains. The principles of Benedictine business management might just make an important contribution to this.
About the author
Markus Hofelich is a business and finance journalist who lives with his family in the south of Munich. His journalistic experience includes working as editor-in-chief for the German business magazine Unternehmeredition, and for GoingPublic Media AG. He was also head of the editorial department at DIV Deutscher Industrieverlag and deputy editor-in-chief at Cash. Markus Hofelich has a master’s degree in International and Cultural Business and studied at the University of Passau and the Sorbonne in Paris. After further education in Online Marketing and Social Media Management at the ptm Akademie, he founded the website www.SinndesLebens24.de, an online magazine for philosophy, happiness and motivation and is currently on the lookout for new challenges.