What Are the Five Capitals? An Interview with Josh Leatherman
What would you say if I told you that we all have significant valuable assets? What if I told you that you possessed abundant capital that you could invest wherever you chose?
Some of you would probably laugh in my face. Terms like “investment,” “capital,” and “assets” can often seem reserved for only the wealthiest individuals.
But this narrow view of these terms fails to take into account that capital and wealth are not just measured in financial terms. There are other kinds of capital that we can (and should be) leveraging for creating a life of significance.
In their book Oikonomics, Mike Breen and Ben Sternke outline “The Five Capitals” for building a rich and satisfying life. These Five Capitals, which I further describe below, have shown time and time again to be the key building a successful life, family, company, etc.
Although Breen and Sternke come at it from a faith perspective (one to which I personally adhere), the framework rings true no matter where one is on their faith journey. Specific to business, the Five Capitals framework can help you prioritize, invest well, and get you to where you want to be.
What Are the Five Capitals?
1. Spiritual Capital
When it comes to business, talking about “spiritual” things can often be frowned upon. I see it differently. Businesses are made up of people. People are spiritual. Why not let the “spiritual” into our business discussions?
For many companies and leaders, spiritual capital is the most valuable resource. It far outweighs any “wealth” we could gain elsewhere in the world.
Spiritual capital is simply the amount of faith we have to invest. The return on this investment is wisdom and power. Instead of being hoarded away, this most valuable capital is available to anyone and everyone.
For a company, it’s described in terms such as “mission,” “vision,” “reason for existing”, etc. A company’s values and “true north” will come from the leader’s investment in spiritual capital.
2. Relational Capital
Relational capital is measured in both the quality and the depth of our relationships. The quality of relational wealth you build is directly related to the depth of investment you’re willing to give to others.
Today’s economy is slowly but surely waking up to the realization that investing in relational capital is a more effective way to long-term growth and stability. “People over profits” seems to be an emerging mantra. I can tell you first hand, it works.
3. Physical Capital
Physical capital is simply how you invest in taking care of your body and how you manage your time. The return on this investment is energy and efficiency.
We all know that managing our time and taking care of ourselves physically will generate positive results. But as my wife likes to say, “It doesn’t matter WHAT we know—it only matters WHAT WE DO with what we know.” We have to intentionally budget throughout our days and weeks to make sure we’re investing and managing physical capital well.
4. Intellectual Capital
Intellectual capital is the intellect and competency one possesses. The return is insight and ideas. Investing intellectually will yield creativity, innovation, concepts, and improvement.
We all possess valuable knowledge and ideas born of our unique experiences and perspectives. Sitting on these, however, will allow them to become stale. Investing our intellectual capital means we are never satisfied. Instead, we commit to becoming life-long learners.
5. Financial Capital
The capital that first comes to mind when we start talking about “investments” and “assets” is usually financial capital. It’s ranked fifth in priority because, if the other four are maximized, this one seems to take care of itself. However, financial capital is still a legitimate resource that we have a responsibility to manage well, no matter its size.
Applying the Five Capitals: An Interview with Josh Leatherman
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Josh Leatherman, Chief Marketing Officer at Service Express, for several years. In our time together, we’ve covered many topics, including the importance of work-life balance, the Enneagram, and the need for prioritization through the Five Capitals.
I sat down with Josh to ask about his experience implementing the Five Capitals framework in his workplace. Here is our conversation (edited for length and clarity).
Several years ago, you and your team learned and began applying the Five Capitals. Can you give us an overview of what the Five Capitals are?
The Five Capitals has become a great framework to help me take inventory of how I’m prioritizing my life and how I’d like to order it. The phrase work-life balance has a lot of “buzz” around it, but few understand what it actually means or how to balance work and life. For me, it’s become less about managing work and life and more about building a balanced life based on the Five Capitals.
Why did you decide to put yourself and your team through coaching around the Five Capitals?
I read Oikonomics and walked through the relevance and application of the Five Capitals with Jay. After applying it first to my life and seeing the impact it had on me, I wanted to share the framework with my leaders with the hope they would see the same effects. It’s become a great way that we challenge and check in on one another personally and professionally.
What difference has using this framework made with your team?
At Service Express, our core value is to “cultivate a culture of growth that empowers our people to achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals.” I get to have regular Vision talks with my leaders to discuss their personal, professional, and financial goals. Because we read the book and walked through the framework together, the Five Capitals gave us a shared framework and common language for them to talk through how they’re prioritizing their capitals personally and professionally.
How has using the Five Capitals affected your leadership?
The Five Capitals, along with Service Express’ Core Value and SR5 performance measurement system, has helped me to be a better leader. Leaders can only develop others if they’re developing themselves first. Every six months or so, I take time to go through the exercise of taking inventory of how I’m prioritizing my capitals, and then write out a plan for how to better balance them with specific areas of focus. I’ve learned that imbalance is okay, as long as it’s a season and I take steps to bring everything back into balance on a regular basis.
Can you give us a story on how applying the Five Capitals was a challenge for you?
The biggest challenge for me was making the time. We live in an “always on” world where the beeps and buzzes of our devices demand our attention, and my brain and my habits have become finely attuned to that noise. It creates a very reactive state.
To be proactive, we need to prioritize growth in areas like the Five Capitals. After reading the book, I scheduled a long weekend to go up north to take inventory and build a plan to reprioritize each capital for the next 90 days.
After working under the Five Capitals framework, what would you say is your number one takeaway?
Walking through the prioritization of my Five Capitals isn’t a one-time deal. Life moves fast, and I need to walk through the Five Capitals on a regular basis—at least annually.
It isn’t until I pause to do it that I realize how much it was needed. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong—that’s the natural state of things. What’s wrong is not taking time to pause and be uber intentional about the things that really matter.
In light of the Five Capitals, if you could turn back the time and talk to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?
At 20, I focused on the financial and intellectual capitals. At 40, I’m finding a deeper joy in life by focusing on the spiritual and relational capitals.
I would tell myself to focus on experiences and memories more, and less on material. The Five Capitals was a simple but powerful way for me to figure that out!