The new century has brought with it new societal and organizational changes, particularly in relation to leadership. From its inception, leadership as a field has been the subject of immense attraction for organizational behavior specialists. The attention that leadership has received emanates from the fact that leadership is important to social, moral, economic, and political spheres of the society (Nicolae, Ion & Nicolae, 2013). Moreover, a number of unethical business practices in the recent past have triggered much attention to leadership in organizations; the practices have dimmed the overall public confidence in corporate leadership. Even more critical is that most people are continually discovering the fact that there is more to life than just work and business. This is even as the modern society continues to be under pressure and anxiety to perform at the workplace for improvement of the company bottom line, achieving objectives, and beating deadlines, as well as the quest to climb higher in organizational and social hierarchy. The result of the bottled-up pressure has been an increase in overworking and occupational burnouts, especially for leaders, a matter that invariably leads to family and friends’ neglect by the leaders (Chen & Yang, 2012). For employees, abusive language and violence are likely to occur, with such incidences resulting in the feeling of anxiety and experience of pressure among the employees. Most of these feelings have repercussions on organizational performance, and therefore the need to achieve inner and outer balance within an organization. Largely, the solution to this problem lies on the leadership of the organization. However, it is important to note that the conventional centralized and bureaucratic leadership that is the norm in most organizations can no longer suffice in providing these diverse needs of individuals in an organization. It is for this reason, therefore, that spiritual leadership has recently received much attention, given its potential to meet the needs of employees within the workplace.
Recent changes in the global workforce have had a great impact on organizational performance. The realization of this, more than anything, calls for a change in the leadership of organizations towards a more holistic form of leadership. The call here has been towards a type of leadership that engages the four different, yet essential elements of human existence that include the body, mind, heart, and spirit (Fry, 2003). Fry (2003) attributes these organizational changes to the internet, which according to him brings the forces for change at incredible speeds. To respond to these changes, therefore, Fry states that organizations will require major transformations into learning organizations; essentially, these will be organizations profoundly different from the traditional, bureaucratized, and centralized organizations based on fear (Fry, 2003).
In agreement with Fry, McLaughlin (2009) indicates that the traditional organizational culture indeed brought the unethical business dealings of the Enron scandal. With an organization run based on fear for the authority and following of protocol, it was not only difficult, but also unlikely that any employee could report the illegal business dealings to the authorities. Most of the employees would, according to organizational demands, work to make as much profit as possible regardless of the method used to earn the profits, since it was only the company bottom line that mattered (McLaughlin, 2009).
Much of the leadership in the Enron era was transactional leadership, where most of the directives came from the leadership, with employees expected to follow these to the letter. After this, however, a different type of leadership (transformational) and organization (learning) have become commonplace in leadership literature and studies. Transformational leadership refers to the leader’s aptitude to motivate his/her follower in the accomplishment of more than the follower had initially planned (Givens, 2008). Therefore, the leader becomes the catalyst, inspiring the employee into doing more tasks, and accomplishing them within a given time. A learning organization, on the other hand, refers to an organization wherein “expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured and collective aspiration is set free” (Fry, 2003, p. 694). Employees within a learning organization and under a transformational leader are therefore empowered towards the achievement of a succinctly defined organizational vision.
At the center of such an organization is however a leader, who must play his/her role in nurturing talents, inspiring and motivating employees towards the achievement of set organizational objectives (Fry, 2003). The leader must therefore rise to the occasion of whatever situation he/she finds himself in, with their effectiveness determined by their actions in relation to a particular situation. This is part of the 1960s contingency theories, which posit, “that for a leader to be effective there must be an appropriate fit between the leader’s behavior and the conditions of the situation” (Fry, 2003, p. 696)
Need for Spiritual Leadership
Chen and Yang (2012) inform that spiritual leadership “refers to the establishment of a learning organization through the use of employees’ inner motivation for the purpose of achieving organizational transformation” (p. 107). The aim of this type of leadership therefore is to use strategies, individual and team empowerment in establishing a consensus with regard to organizational values and vision, and, in so doing, improve organizational commitment and performance. The push towards spiritual leadership, therefore, is the fact that it “boosts organizational performance by combining leaders’ attitudes, values, and behaviour. This inspires employees’ inner motivation, and causes employees to recognize the meaning of their work and the call of mission, feeling that they can make a difference, and feel understood and appreciated in their work” (Chen & Yang, 2012, p. 107). Spiritual leadership therefore is instrumental in the satisfaction of followers’ basic needs in addition to satisfying the followers’ high-level needs. With spiritual leadership therefore, employees are able to see beyond the view of work as a transaction of benefits, to the realization of work as a satisfaction of individual inner values as well as provide the workers with a sense of meaning.
Although leadership as a field has attracted immense attention over the years, spiritual leadership has been on the forefront in leadership studies recently. The very meta-concepts of spiritual leadership such as business and morale, profit and spirituality, as well as business values and religious values have attracted the attention of scholars and business people towards spiritual leadership (Nicolae, Ion &Nicolae, 2013). According to Arshad and Abbasi (2014), vision unselfish love and hope/faith denote the three major elements of spiritual leadership. A spiritual leader therefore gives a sense of purpose and meaning to employees through the creation of a common vision. In creating the vision, and ensuring that member of the organization will not only own but also share in the vision, a spiritual leader involves all the members of the organization in creating, organizing, prioritizing and laying down the strategies deployable towards the achievement of the vision. This way, members own, work and remain committed towards the vision created (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014).
As an element of spiritual leadership, vision denotes an imagination of what is yet to come with an intrinsic or extrinsic purpose for the need of attaining the said imagination. Good organizations must create a vision, which helps guide people towards a specific direction (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014). A good vision therefore helps in the motivation of members of an organization towards a higher purpose, imitation of higher standards of excellence as well as work toward better and more improved ideal. A spiritual leader therefore holds an important position as earlier stated towards the achievement of any set vision.
Selfless love is yet another fundamental element of spiritual leadership. Selfless/altruistic love in this case is defined as, “a sense of self fulfilment, harmony and goodness created through true care, concern and gratitude for self and for others” (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014, p. 1272). The act of selfless giving of love and care impacts greatly on the psychology and emotions of both the leader and members of the organization. The sense of mutual understanding and care help in organizational bonding, with a number of studies showing that love is strong enough to overcome negative and destructive feelings with the inclusion of stress, fear and anger (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014). Spiritual leadership therefore help in the alleviation of these negative feelings among employees through the use of the core values of altruistic love that include courage, honesty, patience, compassion, forgiveness and trust among others (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014).
The third element of spiritual leadership is hope/faith. While faith is the strong conviction towards something with no proof, hope is the desire with longing of future fulfillment (Arshad &Abbasi, 2014). The two work together towards making an individual a better person with faith bringing firmness and conviction to hope. At the core of individuals with hope and faith is the conviction and clarity towards where they (as an organization) are going, means of achieving that which they desire as well as the willingness to face obstacles they find in their way towards the achievement of their goals. The role of spiritual leadership herein therefore is to provide altruistic love, fostering this among members of the organization towards their quest in achieving a common objective. By fostering the three elements of spiritual leadership, the leader builds trust and love among members of the organization, which then acts as a source of hope and faith. Hope and faith on the other hand, helps in establishing a strong conviction and action towards work performance for the achievement of organizational objectives and vision. Through these elements therefore, spiritual leadership becomes the source of intrinsic motivation giving members of the organization a feeling of spiritual welfare through membership and calling (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014).
Benefits of Spiritual Leadership
Part of the drive towards spiritual leadership today is its ability to influence membership involvement, faith, and commitment to organizations with spiritual leaders. This is given the belief of the members in the ideals and values of organization with spiritual leadership cultures (Arshad & Abbasi, 2014). Spiritual leadership, through its ideals therefore influences commitment to the organization, influencing members to do their very best in vision achievement as well as continue in their paths of improvements, eventually increasing organizational productivity.
There has been a lot of talk over the benefits of transactional leadership and the need for the creation of learning organizations. With the advent of spiritual leadership, and the realization that there is more to work than just profit and business, transactional leadership has proven not effective enough to engage individuals’ minds at work fully. Through the three element of spiritual leadership however, spirituality has proven to be much better at engaging individual’s mind, body, emotion and spirit. Dandona (2013) explicitly informs, “Spirituality can assist the individual to expand the frontiers of his consciousness beyond the normal boundaries, leading to increased intuition and creativity” (p. 2). Dandona (2013) states that by being spiritual and in offering explication, individuals create a link between their creativity and that of God. This breeds awareness, which then continues a chain reaction by breeding intuition, which eventually sparks creativity.By creating an environment of completeness provided by spiritual enrichment, spiritual leaders allow employees to be happy and satisfied; all factors relatedly relevant to creativity, job satisfaction and financial success (Dandona, 2013).
One misconception of spiritual leadership is on the need to preach the word of God to show spirituality. According to Reave (2005), “An individual leader may embody many of the values and practices associated with spirituality such as demonstrating respect and caring for others, but never consider herself to be a ‘spiritual’ person or need to preach” (p. 657). Thus, spiritual leaders can indeed be spiritual without preaching. By analyzing employee needs, such leaders can inspire creativity and intuition among employees, which are attributes necessary for problems solving. By offering spiritual encouragement, spiritual leaders enable members of the organization to gain better insight, better mental growth and development, thereby providing a wholesome growth of an individual.
The three core elements of spiritual leadership come together for the benefit of workers and the organization. These elements, especially altruistic love, under spiritual leadership, are instrumental in the creation and implementation of policies based on trust. In the current forms of leadership, the prevalence of increasing exploitative and violent behavior at work place happens because of the absence of purpose driven powerful and principled managerial practice and organizational strategy. By implementing policies based on honesty however, it is possible to foster trust among employees and between employees and the management (Dandona, 2013). In an environment of honesty, it is likely that issues of exploitation and violence will diminish. Moreover, honesty helps build trust within an organization so much that even in times of economic depression, employees easily understand the status of the organization, and can therefore not make unrealistic demands. The absence of trust and honesty on the contrary spells doom for the organization stemming from communication problems among employees and between the employees and the management (Dandona, 2013). Through spiritual leadership therefore, organizations can achieve deeper trust, which enhances organizational performance by accelerating decision making, improving communication between managers and employees and providing better focus on customer concerns and improved innovation.
Given the concern for others, spiritual leaders are more likely than other leaders to create environments where individuals in the organization feel appreciated. Moreover, such leaders also ensure that employees work in a comfortable environment. By fostering spirituality among employees therefore, spiritual leadership ensures that employees get personal fulfillment (Dandona, 2013). Such fulfilment is additionally important in increasing employee morale as well as enhancing their commitment to work. It is only through the creation of a trust working environment can employees give their full commitment to an organization (Nicolae, Ion &Nicolae, 2013). Such an environment additionally, encourages job satisfaction, as employees feel a sense of belongingness knowing that the management and fellow employees have his/her interest at heart, at that the employee can count on the management and colleagues for any problem that the employee may have. Even more is that a trustful working environment, apart from encouraging job satisfaction, also improves employee self-esteem. Employees can therefore share their thoughts on ways of improving organizational performance and processes, as well as means of achieving better customer satisfaction. Such an environment also encourages employee personal growth and development, all of which work towards the attainment of personal goals and job satisfaction.
Challenges to Spiritual Leadership
One of the challenges of spiritual leadership is the presence of varied denominations or faith among members. This can be difficult to handle especially if the values and doctrines of different faiths differ. It is possible to be at crossroads in such a situation. However, looking for a common ground in values that cut across the board of the different faiths and denominations helps in quelling any animosities between different faiths. Moreover, the leader should ensure that he/she does not lean towards one faith neglecting the others as this may have counterproductive results.
In a world where results and bottom lines are the norm, most leaders are inclined to achieve goals, beat deadlines and achieve results by any means possible (Nicolae, Ion &Nicolae, 2013). As a spiritual leader, competing under such an environment is not only difficult, but also brings with it the threat of losing one’s job due to underperformance. While the competition may use unethical means to get ahead, remaining steadfast in the ethical path is more productive that following suit. As difficult as it may be, spiritual leaders are required to have patience in handling their affairs. Working with integrity should remain the hallmark of such leadership since only then will such a leadership impact on its employees, stakeholders and the industry at large.
Implications for Corporations
Spiritual leadership transcends leadership to policies that organizations put in place. In creating these policies therefore, corporations should ensure that work policies do not only guide the creation of wealth and profit for the corporation, but also have the wellbeing of consumers and workers in mind. According to McLaughlin (2009), many people today want to invest, work and buy from companies that embody values that these people care about, be they social, environmental or ethical. To attract top talent, investor and customers therefore, there is need for organizations to improve their work environment drawing from spirituality, institute sound policies and processes that resonate with employees, investors and customers.
Further, organizations should take more concern on the type of leadership that is at the helm of the organization. Given that transactional leadership has proven its inability to cater wholly for the needs of the employees, a different approach to leadership makes more sense than sticking to the traditional dictates of transactional leadership (Fry, 2003). Leadership today should allow for conversations and discussion between employees and the management, as well as be open to employee suggestions in addition to being more sensitive to the needs of the employees. To gain employee trust, loyalty and commitment, the type of leadership must be employee centric responding to their needs and involving them in the decision-making process, especially those that affect their wellbeing. Moreover, in articulating the vision and mission of the organization, clarity and honesty is important to the employees, who are indeed the brand ambassadors of the company (Arshad &Abbasi, 2014).
Changes in the global workplace are real and require organizational sensitivity in embracing these changes. While most organisations are largely concerned with the company bottom line, these changes demand that the employee and the environment within which the organisation operates also form part of the organisation’s concern. More and more employees are discovering that there is more to life than work, and it is the responsibility of the leader to notice these changes and act on them at the first opportunity. Spiritual leadership, as a new form of leadership, does not necessarily mean preaching to employees. It only implies that the individual at the helm of the organisation should be aware of the different aspects of life, and in so doing display some compassion towards these aspects of life. When harnessed properly, spiritual leadership not only exposes the leadership to the benefits that come with this type of leadership, but also opens to the possibility of deeper and better understanding and communication with the employees. It also helps in making sound judgement and decisions hinged on the fundamental attributes of spiritual leadership, and therefore take into consideration the implications of the decisions to not only the company’s bottom line, but also to all stakeholders involved. Numerous benefits accrue to organisations employing spiritual leadership; it should therefore be a challenge to those that have not considered this type of leadership. Moreover, it is not too late to start walking in the spiritual path through spiritual leadership.
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