Reading List: Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 25, 2013

By August Turak



Columbia University Press; $29.95

Transformation—the human desire to better oneself—is at the heart of this genuine, perceptive and often moving exploration of ethics, authenticity and effectiveness in life and business. August Turak is a former corporate executive, consultant, sought-after speaker and part-time monk (minus the vows). Over the past 17 years, he’s worked with the Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey in North Carolina, which runs an array of profitable businesses without compromising its integrity or principles. Turak wondered how “a couple of dozen aged monks working part time in silence achieve such extraordinary business success.” So he returned year after year, eventually learning how to translate the monastery’s business techniques for secular corporations, families and individuals. Turak mixes storytelling with strategy, and throws in Joseph Campbell, hero mythology, The Matrix and Groundhog Day. His occasional meanderings aside, Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks is full of valuable lessons.

For example, Turak points out that in the monastery, trust is critical. It’s the oil that keeps the machinery moving. Here, a few pieces of good advice:

1. Always honor your promises—even small or trivial ones. People will gauge your reliability on the big things by how you handle the little ones.

2. Keep promises to yourself because doing so correlates with willpower and self-control, virtues that are essential to trustworthiness. Willpower is like any other muscle; it needs daily exercise to stay in shape.

3. Under-commit and over-deliver. Only make promises that you know you will be able to keep. The quickest way to lose respect is to bail on your promises.

4. Protect your personal brand. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “How will this decision affect my personal brand?” In the long run, your reputation is your most valuable asset.

Going Down Abbey Road: Check out the other book that covers a manager learning valuable business lessons off the beaten path on