Inner Dimensions of Management

Ethical and moral tendencies are cultivated in individuals only when the ability to reflect inwardly in activated.  This ability to reflect inwardly is part of every human soul; God given.  Sound reasoning is a byproduct of balanced inward reflection. It is only achieved when our intellectual, emotional and physical psyche is balanced.

The Quran, in numerous passages, invites its readers to reflect.  It is thought provoking reflection that connects us to our reflective tendencies.  The deeper the connection we have with our soul the more enriched we are with God-Consciousness.   The Quran describes three distinct states of the human soul and its effects on human behavior.

  • State of Heedlessness (Nafs al-Ammar): A soul that clings to materialistic low base desires. This is the stage where we are completely void of inner reflection.
  • State of Awareness (Nafs al-Lawwamah): A soul in the state of constant struggle against its material self, and
  • State of Contentment (Nafs al-Mutma’innah): A soul that reaches a state of peace due to constant God-consciousness.

The better we understand the human psyche as managers, the better we become at mastering the social science of management and at managing organizational affairs.

To understand the wisdom behind Islamic management principles, we must first understand the inner working of human psyche from a physical, emotional and intellectual perspective. One of the greatest Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic in Islamic history, Imam Al Ghazali, known as Algazel to the west, has written extensively about the inner working of the human psyche.  Al Ghazali identified three systems that encompass the human psyche; an Emotional system, a Behavioral system and a Cognitive system (Crook, 2008).

All three systems are constantly in motion, similar to a pendulum depicted in the figure.  When Al Ghazali’s systems are integrated with the states of the human soul we begin to understand the various characteristics and personality traits within us that help define our inner reflective tendencies.

Heedlessness tends to push the pendulum away from its resting position disturbing the equilibrium state of our reasoning.  Awareness tends to pull the pendulum back to the resting position in an attempt to restore the equilibrium state of our reasoning.  Contentment tends to maintain the pendulum from wild swings in our reasoning thereby creating a sense of calmness within us.

The Emotional System

The Emotional system is where the desire for love and pleasure resides and is responsible for creating a range of inclinations for love and pleasure within us. A balanced and God-conscious Emotional system gives us temperance in the management of our affairs.  An imbalanced one gives us either gluttony on one extreme or lethargy on the other. The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Emotional system.

Excessiveness within the Emotional system creates management systems that are driven by gluttony, where it is acceptable to make profits solely driven by greed.  The US sub-prime market crisis was a perfect example of this type of imbalance. Deficiency within the Emotional system creates management systems that are driven by lethargy where we continue to support bad decisions to maintain status quo. The US government bailout of financial institutes deemed too big to fail, in spite of evidence of gross negligence on their part, is a leading example of this type of imbalance.

The Behavioral System

The behavioral system is where our desire for anger and pain resides.  This system is responsible for creating a range of inclinations toward or away from anger and pain within us. A balanced, God-conscious, behavioral system gives us courage in the management of our affairs.  An imbalanced behavioral system gives us either reckless on one extreme or cowardice on the other. The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Behavioral system.

Excessiveness within the Behavioral system creates management systems that are driven by recklessness, where negative consequences of behavior are completely ignored in order to meet shareholder expectations.  British Petroleum’s (BP) inability to heed the warning signs about safety and health issues at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig is a great example of this type of imbalance where innocent lives were lost, the livelihood of thousands was destroyed, and ecosystems and tens of thousands of miles of coastline were damaged.

Similarly, deficiency within the Behavioral system creates management systems that are driven by cowardice, where decisions are made to correct present deficiencies at the expense of the future.   The reckless benchmarking practiced employed by many state and local public retirement fund managers that have allowed   public entities to draw on retirement funds inappropriately to fill budget gaps over the last decade, is a perfect example of this type of imbalance.

The Cognitive System

The cognitive system is where our desire for knowledge and reason resides.  This system is responsible for facilitating the ability to reason within us. A balanced, God-conscious, cognitive system gives us wisdom in the management of our affairs. An imbalanced cognitive system gives us either deception on one extreme or foolishness on the other.  The following table outlines the various effects of excessive, deficient or balanced psyche for the Cognitive system.

Excessiveness within the Cognitive system creates management systems that are driven by deception, where roles, responsibilities, and information are misrepresented.  The revolving door recruitment polices between the enforcement arms of government and regulated entities on Wall Street are prime examples of this imbalance.  Deficiency within the Cognitive system creates management systems that are driven by foolishness, where common sense is abandoned in the everyday decision making processes.

When we apply Ghazali’s theory to the collapsing economies, financial bailouts, status downgrades, and political/social unrest, we clearly see the imbalance of our collective human psyche, reflected in our societies. The gluttony that exists in our corporate world, the disparity of income between the rich and the poor, the amount of debt we carry, the armed conflicts we have created, the rate at which we are depleting our natural resources, are all clear signs of a deficient collective psyche.    How can the social science of Management be mastered with a deficient psyche?  The Quran states:

“…Surely, God does not change the state of a people until they change the state of their own souls…” (Quran: 13:11)

The fundamental concept of ethics and morality is pre-wired in all human beings.  It allows us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong, equality and injustice.  It all begins with the ability to reflect inward and continually manage the swinging of our psyche’s pendulum. Maintaining such inner balance requires a conscious and sustained effort.  This constant effort is considered the highest form of struggle (jihad) in Islam. It is this constant struggle that gives birth to God-consciousness.