The Aim and Foundation of the Spiritual Leader
The leader’s aim should be to excel in ethical leadership behaviors in his organizational or social role. He must be proficient in applying leadership techniques, styles, and models. This requires work and study to learn how to improve and grow as a capable leader, one who can earn the respect of his followers and others in the world. In this, he will err in boasting or presuming success. His more appropriate attitude is that of humility; he may honestly feel that he never becomes more than a work in progress.
Spiritual-mindedness points a person to seek purpose and meaning to life and in all of life’s spheres, including the workplace. The person’s spirituality is foundational; he or she must first of all be spiritually faithful and obedient in order to integrate spirituality with leadership behavior. Indeed, a person with leadership responsibilities does not become a spiritually-minded leader simply by tacking a spiritually onto his leadership approach.
The Need for Character Strength
Leadership is enhanced by natural endowments and traits of personality, such as intellectual capacity, force of will, and enthusiasm. But, according to Oswald Sanders (1994, p. 20), the real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience.
To succeed, leaders need to develop their inner strength and character. They also seek fruitful development of their followers, including skill development and improvement in decision-making ability, as well as increased collaboration, a feeling of support and challenge, and greater productivity and character. Good leadership depends on good followers who respond creatively to leadership and are productive, creative members of the team (Crockett, 1976). Honesty and trust are to be priorities among leaders and followers.
Good Leadership Practices
The Bible abounds with lessons and examples of good leaders. These can help today’s spiritually-minded leaders, regardless of their religion. A good leader should use power appropriately (especially power over himself) (Pr 16:32). He is to exercise proper control and discipline (Philemon). He must acknowledge his accountability to proper authority and others (Lk 20:25) and motivate others without manipulating them (Ps 40:1-8; 2 Cor 5:14-15). He is to communicate carefully—honestly and clearly–while listening to others (1 Tm 4:11-16).
Practical applications abound, and the leader can learn from a variety of sources. He needs to weigh all relevant information, different viewpoints, and competing interests in making sound judgments. This involves the Greek virtue of phronesis, or practical judgment, which is developed through experience. For example, a veteran Army sergeant taught this author never to bow to the use of profane language. His experience taught him that one’s troops, though often profane, look with disrespect on the officer who employs such degrading language. Why indeed should followers respect a leader who shows a lack of honor for his family and his God?
A leader needs to assume the responsibility for establishing structures and culture that will promote ethical behavior and lessen temptations and pressures to unethical practices. This requires good communication use of means appropriate for the context. For example, he should seek to deter sexual or other forms of harassment and he must discipline offenders. He should strive to see that strategic and budgetary objectives do not pressure employees to engage in unethical practices. He should establish incentive systems rewarding group and organizational achievement rather than destructive interpersonal competition. The properly humble leader does not manipulate his followers nor abuse his position. Rather, he should refrain from overworking and exploiting others for his personal career success. He is wise if he seeks to bless his followers and strangers in need (Is 58:7), serving as an exemplar of concern for others.
And the leader must always remember that all eyes are on him. He or she cannot expect to hide long from exposure through the grapevine. He and other leaders must comply with organizational and professional codes of ethics, policies, and procedures. If any code is to be effective, it requires the support of the consensual cultural values of the organization’s members and consistent application of code requirements throughout the organization, from top to bottom. If the leaders are not monitored as closely as employees on the firing line, or if they are given exemptions not understandable to others, then even the best code or policy quickly becomes merely window dressing. Even the most well-intended structures and culture cannot withstand hypocrisy, which Rochambeau described as “the tribute vice pays to virtue.” The leader should pray that he will provide his followers no justification for charging him with dishonesty or hypocrisy. And he should regularly pray for the welfare of his for his employees, superiors, customers, and competitors.
Leadership Influence by Those in Junior Positions
How can a person in a subordinate position be an effective spiritual and ethical leader? Does any person have any realistic hope of changing the culture when he is in a middle management or junior position? The reality is that a person will not be able to perfect or even to quickly reform his organizational culture if it is not already inclined toward spirituality. Nor should he struggle to do so to the point of frustration. Nevertheless, he can demonstrate his character through his consistent behavior, obeying his boss and serving his organization (Eph 6:5-9; 1 Pt 2:18ff). Moreover, a spiritually-minded person at any organizational level can be optimistic that he can eventually make a positive difference by being winsome and setting an example of excellence.
As a person matures and gains respect from employers and coworkers, she may well gain influence in technical and ethical matters. She may earn promotion to more responsible organizational positions. In the meantime, she can remember relational and other workplace experiences and their lessons so that she can draw upon them to create a more ethical culture when given greater executive or administrative authority. The Jewish tenet of tikkun olam reflects considerable practical wisdom: a person should not strive to perfect the whole world but merely work to leave the place and the people she meets a little better than she found them.
Crockett, W. (1976). “How to Be a Good Follower.” Industry Week. (November).
Sanders, O. (1994). Spiritual Leadership. Chicago: Moody.
>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.