The Spiritual Dimension of Transformative Leadership

The Spiritual Dimension(s) of Transformative Leadership – (Adopted from – Some Thoughts on the Role of Spirituality in Transformational Leadership By Helen S. Astin)

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In thinking about transformative leadership that aims to alter the culture and structure of an organization I have come to the realization that such work calls for a personal transformation. How do we change at the individual level in terms of our inner/interior self and in terms of our behaviors and individual actions?

To be able to work collaboratively for organizational transformation requires a great deal of individual work in the cultivation of the personal qualities just discussed: self awareness, empathy, authenticity and so forth. How do we cultivate these qualities? How do we go inward to examine the values that we hold dear to ourselves, being whole and integrated in our personal and professional lives? How do we become more caring toward each other and our environment? How do we cultivate our inner resources? How do we touch bases with our spirituality, the domain of our life that pertains to ultimate meaning and purpose?

Peter Senge and Margaret Wheatley, both thoughtful scholars of organizations and of change in organizations, in a recent article reflected on the interconnections between leadership and spirituality. Senge sees “leadership as being deeply personal and inherently collective.” And it is that personal dimension of leadership that calls, according to Margaret Wheatley, for being aware, listening attentively, and then letting go.

Both of these scholars believe that facilitating change in organizations requires that one is able to understand her own habitual patterns and, if necessary, to be willing to move into a different way of being. To do that demands reflection, a careful look into who we are, what our habitual patterns of behavior are and in turn, a willingness to make a shift in thought and behavior, a shift both in our beliefs and in our actions.

In order to begin to connect leadership and spirituality and thus to understand how our spirituality and its cultivation can enable us to practice transformative leadership, it is important to look at what we mean by spirituality. In looking at a number of definitions of the term “spirituality,” there appear to be two elements that surface: that of inter-connectedness and that of the question of purpose and meaning in life.

For our national study on Spirituality in Higher Education we have adopted the following definition: Spirituality has to do with the values that we hold most dear, our sense of who we are and where we come from, our beliefs about why we are here—the meaning and purpose that we see in our work and our life—and our sense of connectedness to each other and to the world around us. Spirituality can also have to do with aspects of our experience that are not easy to define or talk about, such things as intuition, inspiration, the mysterious, and the mystical.

We believe that there are two important aspects of spirituality — values and a sense of connectedness — that drive leadership for transformation. And while many have argued that leadership is doing, and spirituality is being, it is in connecting what we do with who we are that helps us see how leadership interfaces with spirituality.

Thus, to be able to shape a common purpose you need to have respect for each other in the group, and to believe in the goodness of others. And for the group to work collaboratively, you need to work on personal growth (self awareness), to have integrity, to be authentic, and to feel connected — all critical qualities needed to sustain the collective group effort. And, of course, it is humility that enables one to disagree with respect. All of these qualities, essential to leadership, are qualities that can be cultivated by doing the inner work, by recognizing one’s spirituality, and by nurturing it.

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