The Athonian Management
By Thodoris Spiliotis, MBA, Founder & CEO at ESURVEY; Author; Founder Athonian Management
In this article, I present key concepts from a recent study published in the book “The CEO-Monk” (Spiliotis, 2017) on the management practices that Monasteries in the Holy Mountain of Athos in Greece are run. The millennium-old method of managing economics, operations, communications and human resources in these establishments has withstood the test of time while it has contributed to a thriving community with characteristics that closely resemble powerful international corporations.
An insightful case-study is offered, where personal and professional ethics align, and private and communal ethical development is intertwined around a formal citizenship code of equitable conduct and actualized being that has remained unchanged since the 9th century despite the eclectic modernization of the remote monastic community. The present exploration raises pertinent questions and proposes areas for further study with far-reaching implications regarding corporate culture formation.
Holy Mountain of Athos
- A self-administered part of Greece, λlocated in the Eastern part of Chalkidiki peninsula.
- The longest-lived community of monks in the world, with over 11 centuries presence
- One of UNESCO’s monuments of worldwide cultural heritage
- In terms of spiritual governance, it belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchy
- All the monks receive the Greek citizenship
- The land is divided among the 20 monasteries. No new monasteries can be established
- The management of the monastic community is conducted by the representatives of each monastery forming the Holy Community
- Their Charter is compiled by all 20 monasteries and approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchy, and the Greek Parliament
- Holy Mountain of Athos has a special tax and duty regimen
- Justice is being applied locally only for religious matters. Criminal cases are held upon at civil courts in Thessaloniki
- All the monasteries are self-managed
- There is a ban on women entering the area
- Entrance to the Holy Mountain is possible only via the sea
- Time is being measured by Byzantine standards. Each day starts with the sundown
The 7 Ethical Principles and their matching Corporate Ethics
The impression somebody has when visiting Mount Athos is that every single monk feels at peace with themselves, as well as with others, thus leading to intrinsic harmony and well-balanced relationships. This is the cornerstone of effective collaboration, a prominent feature of successful enterprises. By considering the monks as the employees of a company, we can benefit from their way of action, and we can reveal their secrets of success in relation to the art of Management in an ethical context.
Here are these secrets / ethical principles:
Secret #1: Simplicity – Modesty – Humility
All the monks, even though in their majority are learned and disciplined spiritual scholars, they are always modest and humble. They always listen carefully, never interrupt, and treat one with respect.
In a similar way, these are the characteristics a company looks for in candidates during the hiring process. This is as true for entry-level employees, as much as necessary even for seasoned executives. Lack of arrogance is a virtue as it boosts the coherence of the team, whereas success is always attributed to teamwork thus enhancing its resilience.
Secret #2: Obedience – Discipline – Consistency
Obedience is a very important issue for the monks, and its application is very helpful for obtaining a smooth coexistence in the monasteries. Obedience has discipline as an outcome, and together with this comes consistency. Obedience and selfishness are incompatible and never associated. That is why the Athonian Community tends to be like a family with close ties among all its members. Trust and respect are its highly valued characteristics. This is one of the reasons monks demonstrate high levels of productivity.
When selfishness is eliminated in a business environment, and there is a discipline of actions guided by obedience to personal and corporate goals, this brings consistently successful results. This is a way for advancement that permeates all levels from the personal and the team, through to the corporate.
Secret #3: Faith – Passion – Love
These three characteristics are probably the strongest that monks have. In this case, “Faith” does not refer to a religious context. It has to do with self-confidence and Faith to each person’s actions. This, combined with a Passion for everything they do – no matter how small it seems – gives them the strength to overcome adversities, and strive towards fulfilling their goals.
In a company, leadership has to inspire employees, by providing clear vision for them. This will generate passion and love for whatever they do. A great example is the start-up culture. The main motive for their people is not money, but the feeling of belonging to a team with a great vision and common goals topped with sharing a love for what they do.
Secret #4: Goals – Measure
Goals and adherence to them is the force that keeps monks going. Their goals, from the simple every-day ones to the long-term and significant, like spiritual advancement, are pursued with persistence and endurance. Everything is within certain limits, simple, clear and measurable.
In the business world, goals are precisely the fuel that makes people going forward. Measuring them puts everything into perspective and provides feedback on progress.
Secret #5: Less talking – More action
Monks are laconic in their speech. They focus on actions more than words. Actions are the proof of their thinking and feeling. And they talk to each other in the first person. This is because they know each other well, cooperate on equal terms, and have faith in each other.
In the business environment, it is a virtue to be able to concentrate on the substance instead of superficiality. Being to the point, thinking before talking, listening more than speaking, usually are characteristics of effective persons.
Secret #6: Ethics – Integrity
All the monks work for the common good within their monastery and Mount Athos as a whole. They contribute without any personal agenda in their mind. They do not judge, nor criticize the others. This is part of their ethics. This system of Ethics consists of:
- Perceptions (The way somebody is raised to see and translate various situations in life
This system determines their character, their stance towards life and the way they deal with various situations.
There are two kinds of Ethics for the monks:
Intrinsic Ethic : This is the way they behave to each other. Nobody goes after anybody, there is no jealousy, and everything runs under a democratic way of action.
Extrinsic Ethics: This is the way they interact with visitors. When the monk possesses integrity, everything comes to place naturally, and all is balanced. If -in rare cases- a monk does not conform with this form of ethics, he is naturally expelled from the monastery.
Corporate ethics is the cornerstone for a business to survive and thrive. Ethics is -or should be- the yardstick with which a company and all of its employees should measure every and all decisions for its operation. For this to happen ethical statements should come down off the wall and get in the hearts and minds of the employees, across all the hierarchy levels.
Secret #7: Lifestyle (nutrition – exercise – rest)
The Monks’ lifestyle in terms of nutrition, exercise and rest, is the epitome of a healthy way of life. The practice of this discipline keeps both the body and the mind healthy. Monks eat twice a day, their meals are light but nutritious, they consume only organic products they cultivate or collect from the wild forest, and fish from the sea surrounding Mount Athos. They do not eat meat, and they cook in a simple and healthy way.
They exercise naturally by performing all the work that has to be done in the monastery and its vicinity. Even though these jobs are mostly performed manually, their nutrition keeps them fit and able to perform very well.
Although their day starts at the sundown, and they rise to pray at 3:30 a.m., they spread their rest during the 24 hours, so that to be able to be both well rested and alert, physically and mentally.
This lifestyle keeps them disease-free, and most of them pass away after their 85th year, while many reach their 95th year without any problems. There are some cases of centennials.
This lifestyle could be proved to be a productivity tool for any company. Healthy eating, and especially when is done in the corporate premises, boosts stamina, clear thinking, and collaboration among employees. Having a gym on the premises is proven to increase performance together with the health benefits it has for the individual. If not inside the company, a substituted plan for the employees to a nearby gym is a good alternative. Balancing hard work with enough rest, and avoiding burnout, is of paramount importance for top performance.
Words of Wisdom
Favorite dictums that monks share with visitors:
“We are responsible for how others will treat us”
“The brain is a body part. The mind is the energy of the soul”
“There should always be a strive for self-improvement”
“By confronting all the matters as a team, we succeed in having better relations, and preserve our unity”
“Measure your value with your courage to accept your failure”
“Trying is more valuable than winning”
“In order to reach your goals, personal freedom and teamwork are the requirements”
“Humans must place duty above wishes”
- “Constitutional Chart of Athos Holy Mountain”; Holy Mountain of Athos, 1931
- Ministry of Culture and Athletics http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/gh351.jsp?obj_id=2367
- “The Holy Mountain. Monasteries and their treasures”; Kadas, Sotiris, Athens Publishing House, Athens 1994
- “Operating Manual of Holy Mountain”; Papastathis, Charalambos, Sakkoulas Publications
- “Management: Organizational theory and behavior. The scientific basis of Management”; Bourantas, D., Team, Athens 1992
- “Job Rotation as a Learning Mechanism”; Ortega, Jaime, Department of Business Administration, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
The book is available currently in Greek in all good bookshops, including WHSmith and Public at the Athens International Airport (El. Venizelos). Many of the Greek bookshops (Public, Ιανός, Πρωτοπορία, Πολιτεία) can ship copies abroad.
The book is expected to be published in English soon and euGreeka will keep you posted.