Incorporating spirituality into our leadership can be powerful for people and organizations. Here’s how leaders can go about it. (Part two in a series on spirituality and leadership.)
Our previous article, “On Spirituality and Leadership—Leading with Heart and Love,” addressed the power and many benefits of spirituality and leadership.
Bringing spirituality into our leadership entails focusing on the human spirit—both ours and those of our colleagues. It entails recognizing our interdependence, connecting with our colleagues, honoring our shared values, and working together toward a higher purpose. It involves focusing on people and their heart qualities and positive actions we can take together in the world through our work.
Adding a spiritual dimension to our leadership may be important in today’s context with the “Great Resignation” and “quiet quitting” and so many disengaged workers disillusioned with their careers. Meanwhile, many leaders report feeling lonely and stressed—or even burned out.
“Organizations are for the most part, in the true sense of the word, soulless places—places inhospitable to our deeper selfhood and to the secret longings of our soul. What makes us leave so much of our selfhood behind when we go to work? There is a conspiracy of fears at play that involves employees as much as their organization.” –Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations
Should we let spirituality inform our leadership? If so, how?
Our focus in this series is on spiritual qualities like love and compassion, not religious teachings or advocating any specific faith tradition. Simply put, spirituality in leadership is based on love, not fear. (See also “The Case for Love-Based Leadership.”)
Leadership Derailers Assessment
Take this assessment to identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness. It will help you develop self-awareness and identify ways to improve your leadership.
How to Incorporate Spirituality into Leadership
In reviewing the literature and ancient wisdom on spirituality, we observe that it has seven aspects that can be applied to leading: inner work, integrity, relationships, care, community, purpose, and service. See the image below.
Below is an initial list of the actions you can take to incorporate spirituality into your leadership, arranged into those seven categories. Consider using it as a checklist to see where you’re thriving and what needs work.
1. Inner Work
- Develop your self-awareness, personal health and well-being, and higher consciousness—in the process setting a good example for others.
- Maintain consistent, daily spiritual practices (e.g., prayer, meditation, sanctuary, contemplation, spiritual reading, savoring nature) to stay grounded in something deeper.
- Check your motivations to make sure you’re coming from a place of peace, serenity, hope, love, and soulfulness—not from stress, worry, anxiety, willfulness, fear, shame, obligation, and control.
“…spirituality in leadership should not be thought of as a ‘device’ for developing positive organizational outcomes,
but must instead be a genuine philosophical belief on the part of leaders.”
-Tim Barnett, writer and teacher
- See the bigger picture and maintain hope and faith even during challenging times.
- Discover and honor your purpose and core values in your life and work.
- Be authentic, true, and coherent across your public and private lives, avoiding the trap of living a divided life.
- Overcome fear-based beliefs and leadership derailers.
- Guard your heart by preserving your hope, gratitude, awe, and wonder—and by avoiding overwork, chronic busyness, burnout, and excessive materialism.
- Offer group meditations or a prayer/meditation room in the workplace.
“If you restore balance in your own self, you will be contributing immensely to the healing of the world.”
–Deepak Chopra, author and spiritual teacher
- Develop your spiritual intelligence.* Richard Griffiths defines it as “a higher dimension of intelligence beyond the ego that has access to the mature qualities and advanced capabilities of the true self, in the form of wisdom, compassion, integrity, joy, love, creativity, and peace.”
“When you get your, ‘Who am I?,’ question right, all of your, ‘What should I do?’ questions tend to take care of themselves.”
–Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
- Live and lead with integrity.
- Develop your character.
- Be honest and trustworthy.
- Be accountable for your commitments, never passing the buck or blaming others.
“My life is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another… my life is my message.”
- Get to know your colleagues personally.
- Be your authentic self to everyone.
- Be vulnerable, sharing your personal stories that reveal your true self, including struggles and flaws.
“Connection is why we’re here.”
–Brene Brown, researcher and author
- Always be respectful to others.
- Be humble, avoiding the traps of ego and pride.
- Honor the organization’s shared values and employ them as a way to encourage behaviors that elevate and deepen relationships.
- Show you believe in your colleagues, trust them, and have their backs.
- Listen deeply and actively to your colleagues.
- Apologize when you make mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
- Forgive people for their mistakes and grant people amnesty for past transgressions to move forward together instead of dwelling on the past.
- Be kind to people. Charles R. Schwab, founder and chairman of the Charles Schwab Corporation, noted that “Kindness is more powerful than compulsion.”
- Show authentic appreciation of people through simple expressions of thanks, celebrations, gifts, rewards, recognition, and more.
- Always treat people with love and respect.
“Relationship is the true test of any spiritual state.”
- Show you genuinely care about your colleagues, including their health, wellbeing, family, and outside interests.
- Be compassionate and show empathy for your colleagues.
- Listen closely to what they’re saying and read between the lines to attain deeper insights.
- Be fully present with people in conversations and meetings.
- Protect them from needless hassles and bureaucracy.
- Give them opportunities and invest in their development.
“Great leaders genuinely care for and love the people they lead more than they love leading itself.” –Rick Warren, pastor and author
- Build a sense of community in which people feel a sense of connection, inclusion, and belonging.
- Make time for renewal, fun, and play.
- Create a culture of psychological safety in which people feel comfortable raising concerns, admitting mistakes, floating new ideas, and taking risks.
- Celebrate your collective accomplishments with your colleagues and praise them frequently and publicly.
- Elicit a shared purpose for the team or organization—its deeper “why.”
- Pursue the purpose with discipline, communicating about it often.
- Help colleagues build meaning into their work and feel a sense of significance.
- Ask your colleagues for their ideas on how to pursue the shared purpose more effectively.
- Trust people and give them autonomy and the tools they need to do the things that matter most.
“Ultimately, it is not our credentials but our commitment to a higher purpose that creates our effectiveness in the world.”
–Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
- Be a servant leader, putting those you lead ahead of your own interests and ego.
- Help your colleagues succeed and be their best selves by coaching them and investing in their growth and development.
- Be a giver, not a taker. (See our article, “Bucket Filler or Bucket Dipper?”)
- Honor and create value for all the stakeholders your organization impacts.
“True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”
-Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership
In his book, Faith in Service, Rev. David E. Gray talks about “inversion” as a spiritual practice. He notes the many problems associated with selfish leadership. Its conceptual model is a pyramid of ambition with the leader on top striving to succeed for the sake of status. By contrast, with a “service centered psyche,” you can invert the pyramid and think first of the needs of others. In doing so, you can find fulfillment by honoring your God-given gifts.
Personal Values Exercise
Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.
Much leadership these days is transactional and fear-based. Incorporating spiritualty into our leadership can make it transformational. When we lead, why can’t we honor people and call them to do noble work, whatever their tasks are? Why can’t we enable them to create meaning in their lives and feel fulfillment? Why can’t we infuse our work not only with effort and challenge but also with connection, compassion, purpose, joy, and love? How we lead is up to us.
- Are you tapping into the power of spirituality and leadership?
- How are you doing on the checklist above?
- What’s going well?
- What do you need to work on?
- What will you do to deepen your practice of spirituality and leadership, if you choose to?
Tools for You
- Leadership Derailers Assessment to help you identify what’s inhibiting your leadership effectiveness
- Personal Values Exercise to help you determine and clarify what’s most important to you
- Alignment Scorecard to help you assess your organization’s level of alignment
When organizations aren’t aligned, it can reduce performance dramatically and cause frustration and dysfunction. With this Alignment Scorecard, you can assess your organization’s level of alignment and make plans for improving it.
Related Articles and Books
- “On Spirituality and Leadership—Leading with Heart and Love”
- “Spirituality and Leadership in Action–Historical Examples”
- “Spirituality and Leadership in Action–Modern Examples”
- “The Case for Love-Based Leadership”
- “How to Bring Love-Based Leadership to Your Workplace”
- “Love-Based Leadership in Action”
- “How to Become a Better Servant Leader”
- “Renewing Yourself Amidst the Chaos”
- “The Problem with Neglecting Our Inner Life”
- Kelly Byrnes “What Does It Mean to Be a Spiritual Leader in the Workplace?” Forbes, September 15, 2022
- J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Moody Publishers, 2017)
- Deepak Chopra, The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness (Harmony, 2010)
- Gregory Pierce, Spirituality at Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life on the Job (Loyola Press, 2005)
- William J. Grace, The Spirituality of Leadership, (Center for Ethical Leadership, 1999)
- Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Wisdom, (Hyperion Books, 1995)
Postscript: Inspirations on Spirituality and Leadership
- “The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man’s life; and until he has realized it, he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers.” -Evelyn Underhill, English writer
- “Look at the world as a reflection of your inner state.” -Deepak Chopra
- “You’re in business to spread love… The key to a successful career is realizing that it’s not separate from the rest of your life, but is rather an extension of your most basic self. And your most basic self is love.” -Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
- “The wise leader models spiritual behavior and lives in harmony with spiritual values. There is a way of knowing, higher than reason; there is a self, greater than egocentricity.” -John Heider, The Tao of Leadership
* In her book, ReWiring the Corporate Brain, Danah Zohar coined the term “spiritual intelligence” (SI). Griffiths notes, “Spiritual intelligence uncovers a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, and improves a wide range of important life skills and work skills.” Emmons (2000) noted that SI has five components:
- the capacity to transcend the physical and material
- the ability to experience heightened states of consciousness
- the ability to sanctify everyday experience
- the ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems
- the capacity to be virtuous
(Source: Robert A. Emmons (2000) Is Spirituality an Intelligence? Motivation, Cognition, and the Psychology of Ultimate Concern, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10:1, 3-26.)
“Spiritual intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the intelligences,
because it becomes the source of guidance for the others.”
-Stephen R. Covey
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Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, and award-winning authors (and son and father). They are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, a winner of the International Book Awards. Check out their Leadership Derailers Assessment or get their monthly newsletter. If you found value in this, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!