Is Spiritual Leadership Incompatible with the Workplace?

Updated Over a Week Ago


Does the idea of spiritual leadership have any place in business? Some would say absolutely not. Why? They fear a thinly veiled introduction of religious views into a realm that should be based solely on the logic of the marketplace.

While I am sensitive to that concern, I am not one to say that spirituality and business are incompatible. Quite the contrary. I believe that many business ideas are rooted in the action of the spirit in our lives.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

It’s a commonly accepted fact that all human beings have a physical body. It’s not universally accepted, however, that we have a soul. Yet, that is exactly what we are sensing and feeling when we say that we were moved, or that something stirred in us. Okay, the realists ask, where is the soul? I would posit that, if the mind is “in” the brain, then the soul is “in” the heart.

From this point on, the anti-spirit crowd may want to simply drop out. For those with an open mind, read on.

Secular (non-religious) spirituality (a phrase that may strike some as an oxymoron) is simply based on the idea that the sacred and the transcendent are real, and they are not bound by traditional religious frameworks. If the sacred and the transcendent are realities, just as real as water, wood, and stone, then what are the implications?

One of the implications is that how we live our lives really matters. Our choices really matter. How do we know that our choices are right? To answer this question, we need values. Values are guidelines for right action. We must articulate our personal value system, our group’s, and our organization’s.

What Values, You Ask?

We must have values such as respect for each other, support for one another, and concern for the impact we are having on one another and on our surroundings and neighbors.

My colleague in Canada, Jan Yuill, has a saying that should be repeated:

“Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.”

Such a value is, for me, a great expression of a secular spirituality, one that recognizes the importance of values-driven choices.

Consultant Danie Eksteen, based out of South Africa, wrote an article about some research that was done at MIT on spirituality in the workplace. Prof. Ian I. Mitroff, the co-author of the MIT study, recently contributed to Marshall Goldsmith’s HBR Blog and said that spirituality in the workplace is about recognising that when people come to work, they do not leave their ‘spiritual sides’ at home.

While the ‘whole person walks in the door every day’, people are often forced to fragment themselves into many disconnected pieces. We would agree that (irrespective of how you describe or understand spirit) organizations have to allow people to bring their complete selves to work in order to have optimally engaged and effective employees.

Metaphors We Live By

In a recent interview with Vineet Nayar, India-based CEO of HCL company, he spoke about how management’s job is to enthuse and encourage employees. Take a deeper look at the metaphors we live by in our words and thoughts:

  • Enthuse =  to be possessed by a god within
  • Encourage = to put (something) into the heart
  • Inspire = to breathe upon or into

Take a moment to become more mindful of our language. It is a reflection of our deep cultural wiring.The spirit is in there.

What Do You Think of Spiritual Leadership in the Workplace?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Terrence Seamon
Terrence Seamon
Terry is the author of To Your Success! a motivational guide for those in career transition and a leadership development trainer and coach based in central New Jersey.
  • Geraldine Bown says:

    I agree with you entirely Terrence. I make no secret of the importance of the spiritual self on my leadership programmes – in fact we start with that! Once people realize that spirituality is nothing to do with religion but more about connection to their highest, deepest, most authentic self they are much more open to looking at how to access their authentic self – and authenticity is a value all leaders subscribe to. I believe that we can access our authentic self through the doorways of the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual self but it is the spiritual self doorway that is most often closed. The most inspirational leaders don’t only open that doorway – they stride through! I think developing the spiritual self is an integral part of leadership growth. Thanks for this post.

  • Tim Cummuta says:

    Great and courageous article Terry. I wonder if we would have seen so many financial and management fiascos in this country in the last decade if more emphasis were placed on such issues as spirituality. Spirituality does not just have a place in the organization; it is needed in the organization. Spirituality brings with it ethical and moral guidance.

    Over the past decade we’ve watched as more and more leaders in this country fall due to lack of ethics and/or morals. When there is no guidance how do you find a path to move forward on? I like your term spiritual secularism because everything is based upon a belief system. Therefore, secularism is also a belief system. All belief systems function by faith in that system. The problem with secularism is that the system is based upon a changing philosophical look at life driven every which way by the wind of popular or personal beliefs and desires.

    In reality there is no secular system. It is rather an evolutionary moving target that is based on individual personal desires and objectives. Ethics and morals become a vehicle driven by the philosophy that the ends justify the means. The ends are also determined by situational and personal perspectives. There is no real standard but rather anything goes as long as we accomplish the every changing objective.

    There is a crisis of leadership in America today. That crisis is based upon the fact that there is almost no moral compass for business or governmental leaders to be directed by. I believe, and I think you do Terry, that the moral compass is spirituality.

  • Ron Whitaker says:

    You hit a nerve Terry! Excellent article. Geraldine and Tim’s comments are right on in my view.

    I hope both you and Tim write more about this topic.

  • Terrence Seamon says:

    Geraldine and Tim, Thank you for your comments and praise for my posting.

    In an online forum recently, where this posting first started to take shape, there were very strong feelings shared by others who opposed my position about spirit and the workplace.

    Hopefully we can disentangle religion (which divides, sadly) from spirit (which can unite us all, I believe).

  • Terrence Seamon says:

    Ron, Glad to hear I have “hit a nerve,” although that phrase makes me squirm a bit. A few years ago, I had a pinched nerve and the pain was excruciating.

  • Greg Martin says:

    Good post. It gave me a different perspective on organizational values and how a leaders job is to communicate those values. With that being said, I think it is important the leader is efficient in conveying the values

    that will hit home with the followers and not push them away. i.e.… . It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

  • Terrence Seamon says:

    Values are key, Greg. And you are correct in that What you say and How you say it are both required ingredients.

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