The "Business" Rule? An Unlikely Guide to Business Principles

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

Business books crowd the shelves in bookstores and libraries, with an estimated 11,000 new titles being published every year. One of the best business books of all time is not shelved in the business section, though. It’s shelved in Religion, Christianity and/or Spirituality.

Written 1,500 years ago, the Rule of Saint Benedict counsels monasteries on how to work together and in peace for the greater good. As it turns out, St. Benedict’s advice is appropriate for businesses, too. 

Several authors have tapped into the Benedictine business theme. For example, Craig Galbraith and Oliver Galbraith’s The Benedictine Rule of Leadership: Classic Management Secrets You Can Use Today identifies an applicable, “and quite modern set of guiding principles,” including the need for humility and a willingness to lead by example (Forbes Magazine 11/9/2004). Meantime, in Doing Business with Benedict, Kit Dollard and Anthony Marett-Crosby explore how the Rule can help today’s business enable and manage change.

In an article in the June 10, 2011 edition of Business Insider titled The Rule of Saint Benedict: Learn About Corporate Survival from the Master, Elizabeth Bogner writes, “The good leader must be able to hear the well-articulated issue (or argument).”

Bogner continues, “The best manager needs to and can be a different boss to different kinds of people.” Her citation is from the Rule: “Let him so adjust and adapt himself to everyone - to one gentleness of speech, to another by reproofs, and to still another by entreaties, to each one according to his bent and understanding.

Regardless of their place in an organization, all staff members stand to benefit when Benedictine values are embraced. From those who greet customers and guests to those who run the show, the values of hospitality, listening and stewardship – among others – are invaluable all day long.

As far as the Benedictine Sisters are concerned, there is no Benedictine value that doesn’t apply to every part of life, including their ministries. Here, they reflect on a few of the values that they call on every day.


Hospitality is fundamental to all interactions in life, whether with a stranger at a store counter or with our own family members. It calls us to welcome one another as we are; to make room in our hearts and minds equally for all.

“Everyone – everyone – is received as Christ,” Joan Chittister, OSB writes in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily. “Everyone receives a warm answer – on the phone, at the door, in the office. Sarcasm has no room here. Put-downs have no room here. One-upmanship has no room here. Classism has no room here.”

Sister Jackie Walsh, OSB says the practice of hospitality is key to her ministry as administrative assistant at Benet House Retreat Center.

“Hospitality means welcoming our retreatants completely,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic or Jewish. We are all God’s people. Whoever they are, they are welcome here.”

Sr. Jackie says it’s also important to extend hospitality to fellow staff members.

“Everyone’s role is important, from housekeeping to maintenance,” she says. “Each of us has a set of gifts that we bring to the table of life. We are called to reverence that.”

Sister Stefanie MacDonald, OSB says the principle applies in her classroom as well.

“Every child, parent and teacher who enters my classroom is welcomed completely,” Sr. Stefanie says. “That is true no matter what’s going on at the time. I believe we need to be open to interruption and inconvenience. It’s part of the call to hospitality.”


The Rule begins with the word, Listen, and Benedictines take it quite seriously. Listening leads to understanding and patience, among other outcomes. It is essential to creating an atmosphere of trust and collegiality.

But deep listening requires patience, especially in the sometimes hectic and often competitive environment of an office. It’s much easier to make reflexive assumptions.

“It is easy to know what is good for someone else,” Chittister writes. “It is difficult to listen and let them define themselves. … It takes a lot of listening to hear the needs of those around us before they even speak them.”

Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB says deep listening reveals much about others that is, to use a popular business term, actionable. In her case, it promotes student development.

“Of course, listening is what I do most during my piano lessons,” Sister Mary Jane Wallace, OSB says. “But I listen to the students’ words, too. Understanding their needs helps me to know and accept the students where they are, both as people and musicians. I can encourage them to believe in themselves and to gain confidence.”


As one of the three Benedictine monastic promises, stability refers to rootedness in a monastic community. But beyond that, Sister Bobbi Bussan, OSB  says, it’s about having a settled heart. Sharing that settledness – that peace and steadfastness – can affect those with whom she comes into contact.

 “Homeless women are often caught in a cycle of poverty that begins with the death of a spouse or dissolved marriage,” she says. “They are left with no finances. They often have dependent children. These women can have profound esteem issues. Their lives are unpredictable and chaotic.

“We try to help supply their basic needs for food and shelter first, so they can even look beyond the moment, let alone into their own heart,” Sr. Bobbi says. “But I also try to reflect the calm and peace that comes with a settled heart. It can help defuse the sometimes-volatile situations that can come with homelessness. It shows them another way to be.”

Benedict in the workplace

In his book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, the legendary management thinker Peter Drucker wrote, "Leadership is lifting a person's vision to higher sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations."

In other words, leadership carries responsibilities toward those with whom you work. The success of the business can turn on it.

Whether or not your business is open to the Christian message that Benedict infuses throughout the Rule, his “little guide” provides countless lessons for working together in peace and for the greater good. Leaders must be good listeners and good followers. They must value and steward their employees with compassion and vision. They must welcome all – housekeepers and top-level managers – as key to the success of the company.

For the Benedictines, the Rule cannot be seen as separate from a relationship with Jesus Christ. But, as several lay books and articles demonstrate, Benedict’s lessons can be teased out from religious – if not moral – references. Because, after all, the best leaders are moral: respectful, compassionate, committed to a greater good.