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.