What is Spiritual Leadership?


Beginning from the definition of leadership, it is obvious that there are many definitions of leadership in literature. However, one important repeated characteristic can be observed in different definitions of leadership—it is an ability to motivate and inspire other people. Many traditional leadership theories were conceptualized based on traits, behavior, abilities, or situational factors, while the theory of spiritual leadership is considered as the fifth leadership perspective that focuses attention on the whole soul nature of a leader.

One of the integrated definitions of leadership pointed out that leadership affects the followers to enthusiastically expend spiritual, emotional, and physical energy to achieve the organization’s vision and objectives. Therefore, it can be said that the foundation of successful leadership is the ability to influence others to achieve a goal.

However, the question of how can leaders influence others is still open to answers. Before a definition of spiritual leadership can be provided, one must first explain the meaning of spirituality. The term “spirituality” has been derived from Latin word “spiritus”, defined as “soul, courage, energy”. Spirituality seems to be an abstract term with different meanings and has nothing to do with a sustainable workplace. However, certain definitions of spirituality can be found in management literature. One of the old definitions of spirituality emphasizes the sense of belonging to a greater whole. The others refer to the attendant feeling of interconnectedness with all things in the universe or the need to be connected to something larger than ourselves, something considered as divine or of exceptional nobility.

Some studies indicate that the spirituality connects the human being to each other and the Earth and, in turn, facilitates the effective development of sustainability. Spirituality allows for the feeling of connection with a wider, deeper and richer whole and sees our limited situation from a holistic perspective.

Astin claimed that spirituality concerns our sense of who we are, our beliefs of why we are here—the meaning that we see in our work and our life—and our sense of connectedness to each other and the world around us. Many authors and researchers have pointed out the universal values of spirituality like integrity, honesty, and humility; an attitude of openness, attention and consciousness; love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, personal responsibility, and a sense of harmony; or search for meaning, morality, with a focus on sustainability and credibility, rooted in self-knowledge and the desire for growth and development.

The induction of spiritual values of interconnection and compassion leads to a harmonious living that contributes to the benefits of others, society, and nature. It seems that spirituality concerns only the inner world of humans; however, our values, beliefs, experience, which are components of our spirituality, are manifested in an everyday situation—what we think, who we are, what we do, and how we behave. It influences what we speak, how we build our relationships, and even how we spend our time or money.

Our inner world has an impact on not only our personal life but also on our professional life—how we approach work, how we engage in activities, how we treat others in the work environment. Developing individual values of spirituality of our lives influences how we treat the world and foster our sense of connection to nature that results in more pro-social behaviors and our strive for social justice. Although spirituality is most often viewed as naturally personal, the description of spirituality can be useful to explore how leadership can be inspired by the concept of spirituality.

The combination of spirituality and leadership indicates that certain values and attitudes like those mentioned above can have an influence on a leader’s behavior towards his or her followers. The theory of spiritual leadership allows us to better understand how our internal life affects our abilities to lead others successfully.

Fry explained that it is possible through the creation of a sense of calling for employees and a sense of purpose in what they do in order to motivate workers intrinsically by providing vision, values, hope, and loving relationships. In literature, the term “spiritual leadership” can be found; however, only a few authors gave clear definitions of this in the context of organization.

Definitions of spiritual leadership-

Definition 1: The values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership.

Brings one’s own search for meaning and self-awareness based on one’s own spirituality into their role as a leader.

An effort to involve leaders and also followers to achieve “spiritual well-being”.

“An intimate leadership approach” that aims to create a workplace where meaningful and close relationships exist among employees.


Spiritual leaders enable their employees to feel the part(member) of the larger whole, both universally and organizational-wise. Only in this way can employees be internally, and therefore permanently, inspired and motivated. Leaders, through emphasizing spiritual values, do not so much transform individuals as much as they awaken existing motivation and change the way individuals “see” and “act”.

Some authors have emphasized the values of spiritual leadership. For example, Fry identified three components of spiritual leadership: vision, hope, or faith, and altruistic love. Altruistic love allows “the seeing of others”—not because they can do something but simply because they are humans and, as such, appreciate them. A leader who brings these values to work is able to motivate employees with regard to meaning and purpose.

Spiritual leadership is creating a vision to experience a sense of calling, purpose, and meaning, and establishing an organizational culture based on the spiritual values in order to have a sense of membership and belonging and also to feel understood and appreciated. Workplace spirituality provides a suitable context for employees where they can feel a sense of meaningfulness and connection with others.

Spiritual leadership is especially important for leaders whose main aim is to lead people and create a sustainable workplace for employees in an organization. Ronthy, claimed that “In today’s world, which is characterized by changes, leaders need to find inner security to use in an external environment”. Spiritual leadership is necessary for organizations to develop a clear sense of identity as individuals in workplace relationships, to know the real meaning of events and circumstances, and to identify and align employee values with a clear sense of purpose. Fry and Cohen stated that, “spiritual leadership is the ability to tap into the fundamental needs of the leader and followers; to achieve a harmony of vision and value among individuals, as well as among teams, which would, in turn, improve the well-being and organizational commitment of the employees and improve organizational performance“.

Spiritual leadership is, thus, considered a powerful and courageous management paradigm for the twenty-first century.

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