Finding Your Calling

A spiritually-minded leader seeks to bridge the gap between her deeper, inner self and her ultimate source of calling. As a leader, he or she should organize followers to strive together for a collective purpose, exemplifying behaviors learned through experience and study.  What is such a sense of calling?

What three successful leaders say about their sense of calling

Sam Walton wrote of his being called to discount retailing.                                                                                            

Having thought about this a lot, I can honestly say that if I had the choices to make all over again, I would make just about the same ones. Preachers are put here to minister to our souls; doctors to heal our diseases; teachers to open up our minds; and so on. Everybody has their role to play. The thing is, I am absolutely convinced that the only way we can improve one another’s quality of life, which is something very real to those of us who grew up in the Depression, is through what we call free enterprise—practiced correctly and morally.”  (Walton, 1992, p. 252)

Nicholas Wolterstorff writes that he is called to academics:                                                                                              

The work of a professor is something to which some of us are called by God—in the classic sense of Luther and Calvin, such that if we did not do it, we would be acting disobediently. I think I have been called to be a professor of philosophy. Although I love carpentry and am—I think—good at it, I think I would be disobedient if I took that up as a profession. I and all of us are called to do other things.”  (Wolterstorff, 1992, p. 19)

John Templeton felt called to be a financial investor.                                                                                                          

Michael Novak (1996) writes that when Templeton was a boy growing up in Tennessee, he had wanted to be a missionary. But while studying at Yale and Oxford, he met a number of missionaries home from the field and recognized that he did not have the right stuff, that others had much more talent as missionaries than he did. But he also recognized that he was more talented with money, so he devoted himself to helping the missionaries financially.

Testimonies such as these do not prove, but certainly give credence to, the Puritans’ concept of God’s double calling: to repentance, faith, and obedience, and also to occupation.

Protestant Reformers denied that there is a barrier between the secular and the sacred regarding a person’s calling. A shepherd watching his flock is in as honorable a vocation as is a magistrate ruling over his constituents or as a preacher preaching (Perkins, n.d.). And Roman Catholic Priest Robert Sirico (2001) says that businesspeople, including entrepreneurs and leaders in all varieties of organizations, indeed are called to their occupational role. The calling is from God, it helps one to affirm the dignity of the enterprise one undertakes, and it comes with certain moral responsibilities. Each spiritually-minded person is to search out the proper works of his calling and to do them.

Robert Novak (1996), identifies four characteristics of one’s calling:

  • it is unique to the individual;
  • it has certain preconditions, such as one having the right talents, skills, personality for the calling;
  • the individual finds it enjoyable and fulfilling, in spite of any drudgery or frustrations involved; and
  • discovering one’s calling is often not easy.

How can you find your occupational calling?

Examine yourself as to what you are most apt or fit to do. Consider your greatest interests and gifts, the observation and advice of parents or other trusted counselors, and your opportunites, including what jobs you are recruited by others to do. Gift assessment and career counseling are most helpful in this self-assessment.

When might a leadership role be your calling?

A person may sense a calling to leadership when he is legitimately appointed or recruited by a group or organization, when people choose to follow, or when he has a personal desire to accept leadership responsibilities. Of course, some people in their free wills take on leadership roles or are appointed to formal leadership roles to which they may not be truly called. Others may not respond to a calling to lead, whether to a formal position or to lead because the needs of the situation. If you are asked to assume a leadership role, it is important to confirm your sense of calling to that particular leadership role—as to any occupational role—through both natural and spiritual self-assessment.

Within a social organization or group, a person can be designated with an occupational role as a leader. Social scientists say that everyone has potential to lead (Wefald & Katz, 2007) and that everyone can develop leadership skills (Krueger, 2007), although experts differ as to whether all have the same potential to lead. Lussier & Achua (2010) observe that some people are blessed with more innate ability than others. Furthermore, some men and women willfully aspire to lead or have greater opportunities to lead others, whether in formal or informal roles. Other individuals are less willing to take on at least some leadership roles, seeming to prefer being followers in their particular situational contexts or social organizations. Calling presumes having an ability to lead, but it involves more than ability.

Assurance of being in the right calling is a blessing.

Each spiritually-minded person should consider his sense of calling through scriptural meditation and prayer, thereby seeking to confirm his being in God’s will. This is an important aspect of his spiritual obligations, to God and to his fellow men and women. Once in your calling, you should resist leaving it. However, your calling sometimes can change over your working lifetime. If you grow restless or discontented in your job or role, your calling may be shifting and you should be open to a change.


Lussier, R. & C. Achua. (2010). Leadership, Theory, Application, and Skill Development. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Novak, M. (1996). Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life. NY: The Free Press.

Perkins, W. (n.d.). “A Treatise on the Vocations or Callings of Men.” Works, 3: 441-476.

Sirico, R. (2001). The Entrepreneurial Vocation. Grand Rapids, MI: Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Walton, S., with J. Huey. (1992). Made in America: My Story. NY: Doubleday.

Wefald, A. & J. Katz. (2007). “Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge.” Academy of Management Perspective. 21:3, 105-106.

Wolterstorff, N. (1992). “Professorship as a Legitimate Calling.” The Crucible. 2:3, 19-22.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.


Proper Delegation

A good leader has and applies good leadership skills.

Perhaps the most important skill is proper delegation to followers.

But too many are poor at delegation.  Many of my students have admitted that their chronic inability to delegate and empower properly as their greatest, and personally most troubling, weakness as a practicing leader. Poor delegation frustrates one’s superiors and subordinates. As a college teacher, I am hindered when administrators micromanage, instead of allowing me to administer the policies and solve the problems that arise. Perhaps you have similar experiences.

Proper delegation requires a leader to delegate authority and responsibility equally, while retaining ultimate accountability. This is a fundamental—seemingly straightforward—principle: the good leader ensures that a follower assigned a responsibility for a task, large or small, is also given the administrative, resources, information, and other support—and the genuine authority within the organization—needed for successful achievement of the task. Too much authority is unnecessary and might lead to counterproductive abuses of power. Too little authority puts unfair pressure on the person given the responsibility, hindering her ability to succeed. Proper balance is vital.

This simple principle is a matter of common sense and fairness. It goes back—not only to Henri Fayol, the father of modern management theory– but to the dawn of time. Scripture reveals that God showed the proper way to delegate from the very beginning (Genesis 1:27-28). He delegated great authority to humans over all of creation. He did not choose to micromanage, but allowed men and women the free will to choose and act, even if the result were to prove disastrous, as indeed it did, leading to the Fall. As the perfect, compassionate, and gracious ruler, God would rectify the errors of his subordinates through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. But as a leader, He did not intervene with man’s operational decisions, even though He had the power to do so and could foresee the consequences of man’s incorrect choices. Any good leader should refrain from micromanaging and from interfering too quickly. But as ultimately accountable, he may have to step in at some point in support of his followers when the mission is endangered.

The principle of proper delegation applies universally. It works well for all people in various social organizations. For example, we can learn from the example of the Egyptian Pharaoh who put Joseph over all the land of Egypt, subject only to his own power of the throne (Gen. 41:39-42). Pharaoh knew how to delegate.

Are you a good enough leader to learn and apply this lesson? We are not perfect and so cannot expect to be perfect leaders. But the best way to lead is by delegating properly, assigning responsibilities and empowering with the corresponding adequate level of authority. Moreover, we need to retain the ultimate accountability to accept blame for our subordinates’ lapses and to award them the praise and recognition, even in those cases when we have had to make some repairs.

Proper delegation is an essential skill for good leadership. Practice it and make it a habit.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.


Telemachus, Exemplar of Spiritual Leadership


Recalling this story always inspires me.  I hope it also inspires you.

In the fifth century, a simple monk named Telemachus visited Rome, whether as a tourist or on business we do not know.   As he walked the streets, he was surrounded by a crowd that carried him along with them into the coliseum.  They anxiously awaited the day’s gladiatorial contests.

After the gladiators paraded into the arena, they paired off to begin combat.  Telemachus suddenly leaped into the arena and stood between two of the combatants.  He simply said, “In the name of God, stop!”

This surprised and angered the crowd.  They hooted at Telemachus and called for the contests to proceed.  Some probably called for the gladiators to remove Telemachus, and even to kill him.  But Telemachus repeated his objection, “In the name of God, stop!”

A gladiator cut Telemachus down, giving him a mortal wound.  Telemachus fell to the floor and lay in his own blood.  But he continued to say, “In the name of God, stop!”  After a short time, he died.

The contests could now begin.  But someone in the audience stood and slowly left the coliseum.  Then a few more left.  Eventually, all the audience left and the gladiators went back to their quarters.  There were no gladiatorial combats that day.  Moreover, the emperor ordered that the bloody spectacles be discontinued and that Telemachus be enrolled among the martyrs.

According to the historian LaTourette (1975), economic and social forces, such as the growing poverty in the declining Roman Empire and a lack of recruits for the gladiatorial ranks, contributed to the ending of the bloody contests.  But  Telemachus’ bold, sacrificial leadership was the catalyst that highlighted the moral need for the ban.

He was willing to sacrifice, even to die, for something in which he believed.  He was a spiritual leader who saved the lives of others and successfully influenced the culture of his time–and that of subsequent history.

Of course, no rational person wants to give up his or her life; a martyr complex definitely is not commendable.  But are we guilty of being too bureaucratic and too apathetic?  Do we go along to get along?  Solzhenitsyn (1978) laid this charge on leaders in the West.  He was roundly criticized, but his assessment, as did Telemachus’, gives leaders something important to consider as we engage our responsibilities to others in our spheres and throughout our world.


LaTourette, K. (1975). A History of Christianity, Vol. I. NY: Harper & Row.

Solzhenitsyn, A. (1978). “A World Split Apart.” An address at Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, June 30.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.


Self-Interest and Conflicts of Interests

Self-interest is not necessarily a bad motivation.  Indeed, an act can be ethical even if it involves mixed motives; it can be good for the organization’s interests while also serving the leader’s self-interests (Derry, 1991).  Most people’s motivations reflect a complex mix of self-interest, altruism, and other influences.  But when the interests of various stakeholders are in possible conflict, ethical issues often arise.

Conflicts of interests often are easy to recognize.  Why are they so common, even for leaders wishing to be ethical in pursuing good outcomes?  One reason is that humans, including leaders, tend to avoid serious self-examination.  It is thus more difficult for a leader to recognize a conflict of interests in which he or she is involved than it is to recognize the conflicts of others.

Bishop Butler observed in his “Self-deceit” (1726, 398-399):

“There is no anything, relating to men and characters, more surprising and more unaccountable, than this partiality to themselves, which is observable to many; as there is nothing of more melancholy reflection, respecting morality, virtue, and religion.  Hence it is that many men seem perfect strangers to their own characters.  They think and reason, and judge quite differently upon any matter relating to themselves, from what they do in cases of others where they are not interested.”

Does Butler’s commentary still apply?  If you want to be convinced that this still remains true in the twenty-first century, just watch a baseball game–or better, volunteer to be an umpire of a game where the players’ parents are active spectators.   Are leaders under pressure in the board room, office or production facilities not also susceptible to their natural inclination to overlook conflicts of interests?

Leaders thus need to structure checks and balances throughout their organizations so as to reduce any appearance of conflicts of interests.   They are wise also to seek out and listen to the counsel of others, ones they can trust as objective governors.  And they must realize that even the perception of a possible conflict of interests is itself a conflict.  Even if they have no intention of committing the self-interested acts for which others imagine are in their power, leaders should act to minimize any perception of any such opportunity. 

When the problem of conflicts of interests appears to be well-controlled, wise leaders will not simply rest with self-assurance, but need to continue on guard.   Like weeds in the most perfect lawn, potential conflicts of interests can appear suddenly within an organization.  Distrust then sprouts quickly.


Butler, J. (1726). “Upon Self-Deceit: Fifteen Sermons upon Human Nature.” In C. Sommers & F. Sommers. (2001). Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life: Introductory Readings in Ethics, 5th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College Publishers, 397-403.

Derry, R. (1991). “Institutionalizing Ethical Motivation: Reflections on Goodpaster’s Agenda.” In E. Freeman, ed. Business Ethics: The State of the Art. NY: Oxford University Press.

>>This blog post is based on a discussion in Whetstone, J. T. (2013). Leadership Ethics & Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: WestBow.