Monks, Moguls & Managers: a book review

There was a time when the church mined the business shelf for wisdom on managing ministries, leadership and growing your church. In some circles, this is still the rage. August Turak appears to be attempting to do the reverse. Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks recounts Turak’s experience of working alongside the monks at the Mepkin monastery. For seventeen years, what he has learned from the brothers’ example, and  that has  helped him be a better, more successful CEO.  Of course, the monks are not Turak’s only source of spiritual insight. He studied Zen Buddhism with some guy in West Virginia and apparently has watched the Devil wears Prada a lot.  His association with Mepkin came through a connection he made  the Self Knowledge Symposium (a group of college students he leads, where he shares  his spiritual insights).  He went for a weekend retreat after a student of his had been spending his time volunteering there. That began his long relationship with the monks.

So what is it exactly that Turak has learned from the monks? The content of this book is not significantly different from any other business self-help book. Turak attributes the monk’s success to: their commitment to quality, their commitment to community, their selfless service, loyalty, the opportunity their life together makes for personal transformation, integrity and their commitment to a higher purpose.  Because Turak is writing for the widest possible audience, his appropriation of the monk’s insights are applied far beyond their particular Christian, monastic commitment.  He wants to help business people translate monastic style commitment to their organizations.

What makes this book a fun read is Turak’s blend of monastery stories with stories of his own business success and challenges. His spiritual commitments (and personal commitments to running the SKS) has often meant that he has had to forgo  opportunities. However these commitments served to pave the way to the particular shape of his success.  Hearing his story is part of the fun and of course he makes you wish you knew a bunch of Trappist monks.  The Trappist’s Benedictine heritage ensures their commitment to the sacredness of work, as one component of the spiritual life.  So it seems natural that Turak can appropriate their insights and experience to the workplace.

I enjoyed this book but I am not sure what I will take from it.  Secularizing the insights from the monastery means reducing the spiritual insights and religious commitments of the monks into something useful for everyone. There is something good about this, but it is also part of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ lowest-common-denominator impulse. The monks have a vocation. So do business people. They can learn from each other, but their distinctive call is their greatest gift to the world.  I think Turak gets this, but when he talks about getting business’s to commit to their organization’s purpose, this will always be a different order of commitment to me than a Trappists commitment to God, community and prayer. The former may be worthwhile, but is temporal. the Godward life connects us to the Transcendent.  I would have difficulty committing to my current organization (in the business world) with the same tenacity that monks devote themselves to God. I don’t think I should, even while I agree that commitment to a common purpose will lead to greater corporate success (in general).

I give this book four stars and think that if you like quasi-spiritual business books, you likely will love this one. I liked it. 😉

Thank you to Speakeasy for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.




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3 thoughts on “Monks, Moguls & Managers: a book review”

  1. Thanks for reviewing my book. Interestingly enough I thoroughly agree with your “critique” that the monk’s “higher purpose” is of a “higher order” because unlike a business higher purpose it is not merely temporal. I think you are also correct that I “get this.” This is the thinking behind my concept of “aiming past the target”. The ultimate target to aim past is the temporal in favor of the transcendent. It was and is my hope that anyone reading my book with “ears to hear” would realize that in my own life and philosophy “seeking first the Kingdom” is best taken literally rather than metaphorically. Thanks again for a very interesting and thoughtful review.

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