As we know only too well, during the credit crisis, banks that had passed the rigid stress tests set out by the regulators nearly all went to the wall.
The directors and staff cleaning up the mess are under great pressure to react to the demands of regulators for even stricter controls and to shareholders who want their lost capital back. Stress-related enforced leave is affecting many including Hector Sants, the executive charged to sort out the regulatory problems at Barclays. This hit news last week along with a new international report as featured in The Evening Standard.
We are right to criticise the former bank directors who blindly oversaw what was happening under their noses, especially as 'saying sorry' or 'falling on the sword' with honour is no longer de rigeur. However there comes a point when we need to apply the hardest spiritual teaching of all: 'Hate the sin and not the sinner.' It's too easy to dehumanise politicians and bankers alike and blame them for the actions of a few. If we do this, we will lose the employees and leaders who are moral, ethical and who care. A strong economy needs strong banks and strong banks need great leaders who rule with love and not the fist of fear.
Stress is an all too common factor in the modern world. The amount of people on anti-depressants, now dished out by doctors like sweets, is staggering. Recent UK government figures tell the story: 50 million prescriptions for antidepressants issued last year. Meanwhile therapy is still a dark secret with most choosing to suffer in silence so as not to show weakness. As someone who spent his life in finance working 12-14 hour days and often weekends, I have worn the T-shirt. Luckily I was rescued by a magic remedy: Meditation. It changed my life.
Change came to me
I started my career in the once noble profession of merchant banking, traded eurobonds through the 1987 crash and was CEO of a finance house in a serious recession with interest rates at 15% . House prices halved in one year. By the time I hit my thirties, I was completely stressed out. Then, out-of-the-blue, I had a spiritual experience: a healer cured a year-long back problem literally overnight. This stunned me. I was rational but this was not.
Life then changed at a pace - healthy food, meditation, less alcohol and then no alcohol. I was being driven in a new direction - I met dubious 'new age' types who told me that "we are all one", had Dan Brown type of experiences in Egypt and met a 91-year-old guru from India. This guru taught me Kriya Yoga, which in modern day speak is the ancient meditation technique of breath mindfulness, taught to Gandhi and lauded by Steve Jobs.
The master told me that "with sincere practice of Kriya Yoga I could reduce my stress levels and extreme calmness would come in two minutes time!" I was sceptical but decided to believe him and invest just 1% of my hectic day in meditation. It was the best investment I ever made. I was amazed by the result. When stress came now, I had a powerful healthy antidote that actually worked. Meditation gave me an advantage that everyone looking for success is after - more focus, more endurance and drive to achieve their goals.
Be assured I am not a touchy feely new age yogi. I stumbled across meditation and used it to support my career. If it helped a cynic like me it can help you too.
Time to change and bring a spiritual attitude to business leadership
As I meditated more I realised that real success and contentment comes when we are calm and apply the spiritual qualities of love, faith, sacrifice and sincerity in our daily lives.
Having a spiritual attitude in business makes perfect business sense. We all feel good when business is going well - when clients and staff feel loved and wanted, they respond positively. The result is long term sustainable profit and reward for all - spiritually and materially.
Real satisfaction comes if we do business honourably. The line is crossed when greed and naked ambition take over without caring about the consequences.
Of course Gandhi was the original Change consultant, telling us to change ourselves and lead others to change by example.
In India, there was the golden era of Kalinga in 265 BC, when the respected businessman was highly revered and addressed as sadhava on a par with a sadhu or a holy man of the highest esteem. The sadhava carried out business with honour and conscious love and consideration for others.
So can this golden era come again and help overcome this new stress test? Only if we change course. Perhaps meditation breaks will soon become as common as cigarette breaks? Now there's a thought.
David Green's new book, The Invisible Hand: Business, Success & Spirituality, shows how business and spirituality really do go together. www.the-invisiblehand.com