“What would Jesus do?” Spiritual leaders do what HR people dream about.

Oldnormal leadership relies on unilateral command & control + structure & rules to set the direction and organize people. Newnormal leadership engages the whole community to define direction and organize for the future. How to do that? Pruzan & Mikkelsen present us 31 cases of spiritual leaders from all over the world in their book ‘Leading with Wisdom’*. I was curious. Is spirituality part of the answer for successful newnormal leadership?

Some basic info on the 31  entrepreneurs or C-level managers who are spiritually grounded and economically successful:
– The average age of the interviewed leaders is 53 yrs.
– 7 Europeans, 11 Americans, 5 South-Americans and 8 Indians. Of the 11 American leaders, 4 have Indian roots. No Chinese or African spiritual leaders in the book.
– 24 of the interviewees are actively religious. Only few are spiritually ‘rebirthed’ after a more mundane life. The vast majority are spiritually educated through childhood.
– 25 of the interviewees mention explicitly daily spiritual practice. They pray, meditate or read spiritual texts.
– Half of the interviewees are entrepreneurs and define themselves their business. The other half report to  CEO’s or to shareholders.

So far no surprise. Spirituality (and wisdom) comes with age and is more likely to be found in religious societies and households. The most striking finding of the 31 cases for me was that only 4 of them introduced spirituality explicitly in their organisation. Francisco Canada discusses spiritual texts with his employees. James Sinclair introduced meditation in his organisation. Flordelis Aguenza organized spiritual retreats for the bank’s employees. And Ashoke Maitra teaches his employees how to control the body and mind. That’s it.

So even these exemplary spiritual leaders keep spirituality to themselves at work. As Magnus Vrethammer puts it: “I want to be implicit, because… if it is implicit, it stays, if it is explicit, it goes… The minute I put spirituality as the explicit part, people will look at me as an organizational priest. This will kill spirituality.”

So spiritual leaders are above all professional leaders and their spirituality works in implicit ways. Two core elements unite the 31 very diverse cases. First of all, spirituality is about introspection. These leaders turn inwards to gain strength. Secondly, their spirituality is about feeling part of a larger whole. They are servants for the greater good. Being servant implies a strong value set: respect, love, honesty, non-attachment, discipline, compassion, selfless action. Simply put, they ask themselves and their employees: “What would Jesus do?”

Spiritual leaders don’t talk about god. They don’t expect their employees to believe in a super being. But they all put values first explicitly and lead by example. They do what HR people dream about: maximize the potential of all employees,  do good for the employees, trust in stead of control, focus on the process, not on the mistakes…

In that sense, spiritual leadership is newnormal leadership a fortiori. Newnormal leadership implies self-awareness and serve humbly the larger whole as a basis for setting direction and mobilizing people. Spirituality reinforces both. It’s not the easy way, as Nilofer Merchant puts it: “Being a spiritual-based leader is much like falling off a cliff. It takes a certain act of faith to believe that you can lead differently than what the outside world might reward.”

Framed like this, spirituality is not so special as I believed it to be. It’s everywhere. Most of the employees and leaders in organisations are guided by their values. Each day we make value based choices about how to treat each other and the customers. And we use the moral compass that we developed along the years of childhood and experience. We try to be honest, to respect each other, to be helpful. Being spiritual is being human. Newnormal leadership is human leadership. The challenge for newnormal leadership is to make organisations more fully human.

Any Comments?

*PRUZAN, P., & MIKKELSEN K., (2007). Leading with wisdom. Spiritual-based leadership in Business. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing Ltd., 329 p.


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About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 16. Spirituality & sustainability, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “What would Jesus do?” Spiritual leaders do what HR people dream about.

  1. Verschueren Frank says:

    I agree with your conclusion: spiritual leaders are (or try to be) human leaders and do so for a great deal through introspection. By introspection you will get sooner empathical and in that way sooner and more easily you will be and feel to be “part of a greater whole”.

    Greetz , Frank

  2. Pingback: Leadership thought 16: “Not being the best of the world, but for the world.” (Kurt April) | Thefutureleadershipinitiative

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