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Spiritual leadership – and why it’s not what you think it is

What is a spiritual leader? A prophet? Guru? Preacher? The world has seen many spiritual and religious leaders: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama. They have set a precedent for leading with rich spiritual greatness. I would argue that in the spirit of diversity and inclusion today, a 2020 definition spiritual leader is rather different. […]

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Victoria Rothe The Leadership Blog
Victoria Rothe, podcast host and founder, theleadershipblog.uk

What is a spiritual leader? A prophet? Guru? Preacher?

The world has seen many spiritual and religious leaders: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama. They have set a precedent for leading with rich spiritual greatness. I would argue that in the spirit of diversity and inclusion today, a 2020 definition spiritual leader is rather different. Rather than defining a spiritual leader as one driven by a creed or doctrine, it’s a leader with a sense of meaningful inner purpose; one that acts not only in the service of themselves, but the world.

What is spirit? It refers to a deeper meaning, essence or significance of something. It’s a calling. A leader driven by spirit is one that is not driven by charts, statistics and the bottom line alone. It is a holistic view of leadership that goes beyond attainment of goals and into achievement of wider purpose. By definition, a leader is also one that can inspire the spirit of change in others.

What behaviours does the new spiritual leader demonstrate?

The new form of spiritual leadership is about the application of greater, inspired values in the workplace and helping others find purpose in their work. It is also about creating real and sustained change beyond the team, business or even industry sector and into the wider world.

Let’s take a look at 5 behaviours of modern spiritual leadership:

1. Inspiring meaningful contribution

The difference between transactional and transformational leadership lies in the size and ambition of the goal. Whereas transactional leadership strives for success measure by measure, e.g. 10% revenue growth target, transformational leadership sets its aims much higher, e.g. transform client relationships and the ethos by which revenue is earned.A leader leading spiritually has to instigate the same vision and desire for change in others. They have to ensure that their team members feel seen, valued and irreplaceable for who they are. They activate the hunger for meaning and meaningful achievement that is irrepressible in human beings.

2. Ability to sustain change

A team-building challenge in the Bahamas; a two-day professional seminar with a topic motivation coach; a snap pay-rise.

All of the above may instigate short-term change that moves, animates, even whips into a frenzy. However, outside of the bubble environment or sensation created by the experience, the spirit of change can dissipate quickly.

Spiritual leadership is one that stands the test of time and survives outside of the conference environment. It’s a way of leading that implants directly into the mind and character of a person and changes who they are and how they think more fundamentally.

3. Unwavering commitment to a goal

A leader striving for change is a rebel with a cause. That cause has to sound and feel real. A leader becomes fused with their raison d’être. Their message must be consistent and true.

There is no faster way to destroy trust than wavering from a commitment made. In order for the leader to be effective, followers must have 100% certainty in the direction they are moving to in order to trust the leader.

4. Creating a culture

Work is more than a means to earn. Work is where we spend most of our time, give most of our energy, devote most of our attention. Many meet their friends, mentors, even life partners, at work.

One aspect of applying spiritual leadership to today’s workplace is to treat it like a modern temple, with the environment and rituals that sustain the belief. Think Google office: bean bags, white boards and time dedicated to pursue projects of passion.

Culture has far more passion to drive people than remuneration or virtually any other benefit. A spiritual leader can create a community and a sense of belonging that drive results way beyond the bottom line.

5. Leaving a legacy

A summary of all the above is a drive to leave a mark of change in the world that lives – and survives – beyond the leader.

When one thinks of great leaders, they rarely think of a human being. More often, a name brings to mind a quality. Malcolm X, Malala Yousafzai, Richard Branson. These names are totems to a spirit that lives and extends beyond their physical selves.

A key theme for a leader leading spiritually must therefore be the legacy they wish to leave behind. Without this, their mission, vision and achievements will never be greater than the individual themselves: small.

The bottom line

All great leaders and spiritual leaders. Far from being ‘alternative’, appreciating the spirituality and the inner world of a human being is the only way to instigate real, lasting and visionary change. It’s a force that every great leader knows how to tap.

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