Business Lessons Learned from Trappist Monks

Put a business book in front of me that doesn’t promise to teach me the same thing other books do, and I’m intrigued. Put a monk holding a handful of mushrooms on the cover, and you’ve got me as a reader.

When I was invited to review Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning and Authenticity by August Turak, I knew little about Trappist monks, nor what business secrets I could glean from them.

Turns out: I learned a lot.

For the unfamiliar (that included me), Trappist monks make their living through activities like farming and crafting. And while their focus isn’t overly commercial, they have to get a formula down for making it work. Don’t we all?

Operate Your Business from a Place of Service and Selflessness

If you’re having flashbacks of being an altar boy when I say “service and selflessness,” bear with me. It’s easy to see how monks could accomplish this, but what about businesses like yours and mine?

Turak uses the example of the company Truliant Federal Credit Union. Rather than simply focus on getting as many customers as possible, the company conducts regular “checkups” with customers to ensure that their “delight index” remains high.

What’s a delight index, you ask? It’s the measure of how well a company does in making customers happy. Truliant polls members to see if they feel that the company has their best interests at heart, and that they’re satisfied with the service. If they’re not, the company takes measures to change that answer. They’re providing service and being selfless in delivering the best customer experience possible.

You can also ensure that you’re being selfless by providing useful content online. Help customers and others solve problems with the help of your knowledge. There doesn’t always have to be an ulterior motive.

Be Excellent 

It may seem easier for Trappist monks to strive for excellence. After all, with a higher power as their boss, they ultimately answer for their actions in the afterlife. Turak opens a chapter on excellence by talking about Brother Joseph, a monk who saves table scraps to feed orphaned wild animals. He also throws himself into work around the monastery.

The author uses this example to point out that there doesn’t always have to be a purpose in doing your best; sometimes simply the act of being excellent is enough. Turak illustrates this when he is tempted to slack off when pitching in at the monastery:

“Every time I am tempted to cut a corner or fall back on a ‘that’s good enough’ attitude, I am reminded of why I go to Mepkin [monastery] in the first place and ‘offer it up’ instead. After all, why bother to make the sacrifice of getting up at 3 a.m. to pray if I’m just going to goof off at work?”

You Could Learn a Lot from a Monk

Whether these Trappist monks realize the connection between what they’re doing and the bigger business world or not, there are lessons you can learn in this book.

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