Friday, June 9, 2017

Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical

In this essay, I provide a synopsis of my booklet on spiritual leadership in business. In the text, I suggest that while it may convenient in the business world to conceptualize spiritual leadership as being essentially ethical in nature, this convenient tactic does not do justice to the distinctly religious basis and connotations of spirituality. By religion, I do not mean only theism, or even just organized religion (i.e., religious organizations); rather, I have in mind religious experience—whether through prayer, meditation, worship, or another means that is oriented to yearning beyond the limits of cognition, sentiment, and perception—as if an inherently limited human brain were nonetheless “hard-wired” for beyondness itself whether or not a transcendent religious object (e.g., a deity) exists. Rather than expunging spiritual from its native terrain and reconfiguring it to fit within a secular context as ethics, we can relate the religious sense of spirituality to the secular world of business with due deference to their respective natures rather than muddling them into something murky.[1]


The question would then be whether the sacred and profane can co-exist at such close quarters. The vaunted, high-perched stature of leadership in the business world has a veneer approaching sacredness, while the practice of management is regarded as quite pedestrian, even profane.  “Management tasks are intellectual and skills-based tasked asking the team leader to learn how to manage others and know the laws, rules, and procedures, and the tools, needs, and requirements for program success.”[2] In contrast, leadership “is a complex of spirit, intellect, and physical skill in action, and leader acts out of this complex.”[3] The spirit aspect of leadership—as distinct from spiritual leadership—likely has to do with charisma, a word that comes from charismata, which means a power gifted by the Holy Spirit. Charismatic leaders tend to have a presence more deeply rooted than the designated role and the context. My focus in regard to spiritual leadership here is not on charisma; instead, I want to highlight the effects of religious experience—not beliefs—on spiritual leadership in business.

I begin with spirituality in order to find cleave distinctive nature off any reduction to ethics. In distinguishing spirituality from ethics, I look at religious experience of transcendence as a more suitable basis for spirituality. Next, I’ll look at the business literature on spiritual leadership—scholarship that conflates such leadership with ethical leadership. I extract residue from that extant literature that can serve as a launching pad for an account of spiritual leadership that is grounded in transcendent religious experience. If my account is correct, spiritual leadership is really much subtler and less motivational or goal-oriented than the literature lets on. 

The spiritual business leader who searches for personal and professional integration is the chief beneficiary of this booklet, which can also be taken for a way to promulgate meagerly a new theory on the phenomenon of religion that stresses its uniqueness and distinctiveness. It is as if religionists have historically spent so much time in other—albeit superficially related—gardens, such as those of the Houses of Ethics, Astronomy/Cosmology, Metaphysics, History, Psychology, Law, etc., that in the neglected garden of religion the native fauna can scarcely be recognized from the thicket of weeds that have thrived in the absence of the wandering, aggrandizing religionists. The Christian Gospels were not written to be historical accounts, a scientific treatise, or an ethical theory. Religious faith is sui generis (i.e., of its own type) in being oriented to a referant point or religious object that inherently extends beyond the limits of cognition, sentimentality, perception, and even gut-level intuition. The first task back to this basis of religion is to get the religionists back to their own garden from directing other sectors’ gardens; then religionists can finally set about determining just what is inherently and uniquely religious so weeding may proceed. This text is just a part of getting the religionists out of other gardens by distinguishing religion from ethics and laying down some broad brush-strokes on the core of religiosity and even spirituality.

Spiritual Leadership in Business: Transcending the Ethical is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.




[1]. By analogy, the notion that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine—a theory coined at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.—involves taking the human as human and the divine as divine rather than reconfiguring one term to suit the other. Just as one essence, or ousia, has a human element and a divine element, spiritual leadership can be reckoned as having a religious and a secular element. One essence can contain a notion of spirituality that is religious in nature and a theory of leadership that is been derived in a secular context.
[2]. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997): 152.
[3]. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart, 152.