08 Oct Lessons from the Way of St Francis for Business
If I had a dollar for every time someone likened being in business to being on a journey, I would be much wealthier than I am now. Expressions such as the road ahead, the way forward, the journey to change, and the path to organisational goals have become such hackneyed expressions that people are thoroughly sick of hearing them. However, I’ve come to realise yet again how inevitably true these clichés are.
This happened when I recently had the privilege of walking the Cammino di San Francesco in Italy between Florence and Rome. Even though I have hiked in some pretty serious mountains, I had never tackled anything like this before. The approximate distance covered on foot: 550 Km. It was an experience that altered me in body, mind, and soul. On this quest, I came to the realisation of how similar it was to so many aspects of a life, including business.
What is the Way of St Francis or Cammino di San Francesco? When one mentions the word “Camino” people almost inevitably think of El Camino de Santiago. That’s the pilgrimage people do from France, over the Pyrenees, through the north of Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela. The Way of St Francis is similar in that it is a pilgrimage. However, it is a constructed route that visits areas associated with the Saint. This means one walks from Florence to Rome, the journey ending in the Vatican. One passes through La Verna (an alternative starting point) Assisi, Rieti, and many little places even unfamiliar to many Italians.
When considering business, which elements need a closer look? There are a number of things that occurred to me as I was walking. The journey of doing business, or life in corporations, have a lot in common with walking a path such as The Way of St Francis, and possibly any other pilgrimage. In many ways it is a quest in which one needs to deal with the following:
- Purpose: Why are you walking this road? What is your quest? Why keep going? What is the meaning of this endeavour? How committed are you and your fellow pilgrims to walking the road?
- Routes, maps and directions: What do you need to ensure that you get to your destination? Are there any instructions? Do you have the knowledge and information to help you to stay on the path?
- The path: Are you walking an established road, or do you have to beat your way through thick undergrowth? Are you someone who already has an existing organisation, or are you a pioneer? When you come to dead ends, crossroads and forks in the path, what next?
- Signs, waymarks and directions: What tells you that you’re on the right track? Do you have a book or GPS by which to navigate? Can you believe what you see and hear?
- The pilgrims: – or workers at all levels. How prepared are they? How are you leading and managing them? How are you and they experiencing the pilgrimage? Are your workers fit enough? What do you do when they can’t walk anymore?
- What’s in your backpack? Are you carrying unnecessary weight? Where and how will you eat? Are you carrying water? What technology does the journey require?
- Weather conditions: In what kind of environment do you expect to operate? What will you do when it rains? And rain it will! How will you deal with the blistering heat?
Mindful walking and working mean that these questions require consideration and action. All the issues related to the workforce, environment, resources and technology come into play.
I could easily describe walking the Way of St Francis as one of the most powerful experiences in my life. In this series, I shall apply the lessons I learnt to the world of work, which can guide you to doing better business, or simply working better.
Photo: Piazza della Libertà, the first landmark after starting on the St Francis Quest – © Henri Craemer