Spirituality and Leadership: the conscious attitude of leaders 

Spring 2020, humanity’s twilight moment: leading in the change

Special Issue June 2020
Basic Leadership Skills course – Traveling together in oneness

  • 1 leadership journey:  semester Spring 2020
  • 3 communities: Butterfly – Eagle – Snake
  • 1 title: Spring 2020, humanity’s twilight moment: leading in the change
  • 3 articles:
    #Spirituality & Leadership: the conscious attitude of leaders
    #Business & Leadership: approaching an emerging future for business
    #Technology & Leadership: blending technology with humanity, the importance of balance in the digital era

Spirituality and Leadership
The conscious attitude of leaders 

Student-Authors of the course Basic Leadership Skills – Spring 2020
Community ”Butterfly”

Arina Chubukchi (Russia),  Csenge Csabai (Hungary),  Anna Kaiser (Germany), Mona Knoll (Germany), Katharina Kohl (Germany), Karoline Huber (Austria), Anna Pavlova (Russia), Mattia Santolini (Italy), Jani Tuoriniemi (Finland), Sin Wai Lung (Hong Kong), Anna Weinand-Härer (Germany), Marcella Zoccoli (JAMK University of Applied Sciences)

Student Editor-in-chief Spring 2020: Mattia Santolini

If you want to accomplish the goals of your life, you have to begin with the spirit”
                                                                                                                                     – Oprah Winfrey


Living in a world that cares mostly about economic growth, it is the rule to spend 40 hours each week in an office without reflecting on the meaning behind the work. We see the sense in the working life, living for the weekend, working hard for the pension to finally do what we are passionate about. Could spiritual leadership help us to recognize our true potential once we start enjoying our everyday tasks? As Oprah Winfrey said it is essential to watch our environment and work with our own spirit to inspire others and to reach our personal goals. In this article, we will discuss what the connection between leadership and spirituality is and how this connection can benefit the motivation of employees. Additionally, we want to focus on the work-life balance which plays a large role in developing the personal spirit of a leader and how leaders could integrate spirituality in their work life with their employed people. Lastly, we will propose solution tactics on how individuals can find spirituality in their lives.


Defining Leadership & Spirituality

Leadership is a widely used term and often applied alternatively for management (Dubrin, 2007, 5; Kotter, 1990, 3). However, there are differences and the terms can’t be used synonymously. Further, no single definition of leadership can be found and agreed upon by various researchers (Bennis, 1959,260). Gary Yukl (2013, 23) defines leadership for example as “the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives”.

In general, leaders are perceived as inspirational and motivational people (Kotter, 1990,3, 5), whereas managers stand mainly for stability and control (Zaleznik, 2004). Managers are viewed as administrators within the business organization compared to leaders who are distributing visions and thus motivating their employees (Kotter 1990, 5). Actually, both leadership and management are needed in organizations and can be experienced in a typical individual’s working day, but their nature is different and sometimes not so evident to people.

Recently, spirituality in working environments has been discussed intensely compared to the past. Anu Dandra (2013) pointed out that one of the reasons for the spirituality trend is that more and more people care about their personal work-life balance, so individual satisfaction in work-life has become more important. As a concept spirituality cannot easily be defined. Most people think that spirituality means following religious doctrines of some specific religion. However, this is not the only definition of spirituality (Sheng 2012).  In connection with the work-life Petchsawang & Duchon (2009) defines spirituality as having compassion toward others, experiencing a mindful inner consciousness in the pursuit of meaningful work and that enables transcendence”. Thus, spirituality enables people to reflect on what is the most important point for them and sharing these values with others. Giacalone & Jurkiewicz (2003) define spirituality as “those aspects of the workplace, either in the individual, the group, or the organization, that promote individual feelings of satisfaction through transcendence”.


Motivation, Effect & Benefits for Employees by Spiritual Leadership

Spiritual leadership is an appropriate leadership theory if someone intends to reshape and change the organization. The main intention is to motivate the employees through spiritual guidance and thus improve the general working climate (Fry, 2003).

This type of leadership aims at intrinsic motivation, which ensures that a person is motivated by himself/herself and does not need fringe benefits, such as a free luxury holiday as further motivation.  Spiritual leadership contains three main aspects namely (i) vision, (ii) hope/faith, and (iii) altruistic love. A clear vision makes employees feel like their work has a meaning for them and they know what they can achieve with their daily efforts. If the manager provides hope and faith in the achievement of the vision, then the employees will also develop this attitude. Altruistic love describes the behavior that managers should show towards their employees. They should show appreciation and respect for them and at the same time give them the feeling that they are understood (Wang, Guo, Ni, Shang & Tang, 2019).

Through spiritual leadership “Spiritual leaders enable their employees to feel the part (member) of the larger whole” (Samul, 2019, p. 5) and managers can make their employees feel comfortable at work, which further implicates that employees can trust their superiors, and their motivation can be maintained and increased.

The intrinsic motivation conveyed by spiritual leadership involves many benefits for the employees. Spirituality is known for connecting people with each other. This means if spirituality is applied in leadership roles, the connection between leaders and their employees can be positively strengthened (Samul, 2019,4). Moreover, some studies demonstrate a higher performance potential of people with intrinsic motivation. They learn continuously new working methods and their creativity increases constantly. Furthermore, employees with intrinsic motivation are more self-confident and work more independently (Wang et al., 2019).


Work-life balance

The unbalance of work and life leads to lower productivity, illness, and absenteeism; work-life balance is a “state of equilibrium in which the demands of both a person’s job and personal life are equal” (Lockwood, 2003, 2).

Therefore, workplace spirituality is an experience that has the goal to improve the work-life balance of the employee. This creates additional value for the employees enabling them to better connect with their job and their workplace. This is not only a benefit for the company but also for the employees. It can reduce their stress and anxiety levels due to work and they can find a more efficient way to perform their work (Moitreyee, Dutta & Saha, 2015).

Other methods of creating a positive work-life balance could be to reduce rigid schedules providing the employees with more free and flexible time schedules, to encourage social activities and social work. Further, to work from their home office might be an additional benefit. However, these methods do not create a better workplace in terms of hours worked but improve the quality of work. Employees feeling more relaxed and connected to their job, resulting in better work products, increasing efficiency, and in harmony with their colleagues and the company (Guest, 2002, 262).

Tencent, a Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company, is a good example of such a work-life balance concept. The working environment in this company is not constructed like the regular office space, but it looks like a pleasant, comfortable, and innovative office space, providing e.g. for a gym in the office. The company also offers a lot of cultural programs for their employees, like a walkathon and volunteer programs (Tencent, 2020).


What could an employer do to apply spirituality in the work environment?

 A leader who wants to introduce spirituality in the working process has to understand the network of the people involved in the working process and be aware of the inner power each individual is driven by. Consequently, the leader has to create a motivational environment enhancing team performance and preserving team harmony. In any case, a work environment of fairness, encouragement, and appreciation should be established (Marques, Dhiman & King, 2005,87).

There are many ways companies can cultivate spiritual practices in the work environment. Pfeffer (2003) has proposed the following four principles companies could use at their workplaces: (i) the organization allows its employees to learn and develop their competence through interesting work process; (ii) the organization provides meaningful work; (iii) the organization establishes significant social relationships among coworkers; and (iv) the employees are trained to live, as a human being, an ‘’integrated life’’. The spiritual factor usually results from finding meaning, understanding, and awareness behind the respective job task. When you ask yourself why you are doing the job, it is important to be able to lean on some spiritual experience.

The benefits for the company of applying a spiritual mindset in a work environment are higher innovativeness and creativity which can increase productivity resulting in a better performance of the whole company.  Practical strategies for promoting a spiritual mindset for leaders include e. g. ensuring coherence in work and supporting a cooperative climate among the employees (Marques, Dhiman & King, 2005, 90).

For example, the company called Flixbus provides yoga classes every Tuesday for its workers and it is free to participate. It also offers sustainability talks to their employees that can help them to understand what is going on nowadays. The employees can also talk with different kinds of people, from different fields to get more inspired. A few months ago, they were also allowed to leave the workplace in those dedicated Fridays to participate in the demonstrations about climate change. The company cares about their employees’ mental health and also about their free-thinking (Anna Kaiser, Jyväskylä, March 28, 2020).


Practices for the individual to stay balanced

In order to be effective, creative, and successful, self-awareness becomes a concept for keeping the mind, body, and soul in balance (Eurich, 2018). There are several practical techniques to help to stay in balance. They are divided into self-awareness practices to increase the understanding of one’s own personality and to increase understanding about how one is seen by others.


Figure 1. Practices to stay in balance. Own illustration based on (Davis, 2019; Eurich, 2018; Howes, 2015; Tjan, 2015; Trent, 2019)


Self-awareness practices help to get closer to one’s own personality teaching how to observe one’s own thoughts and body. Practices for self-awareness reduce fears and relieve tensions (Sutton, 2016). It is an escape from everyday life, a chance to enjoy favorite things, to relax and clear the mind from the disturbing thoughts. Another practice is increasing self-knowledge through communication. The feedback of others, in particular friends, helps to know and develop strengths and weaknesses (Eurich, 2018; Tjan, 2015).

While these practices are important, their true effectiveness lies in the honesty to oneself. The application of these practices requires an element of being receptive to all of one’s senses – supplementing one’s conscious, rational mind with one’s feelings of the body, and with one’s emotional state. The main objective is to remember that you are performing them to develop your own self-awareness. Therefore, they should be performed slowly and mindfully, to help one identify one’s internal cues and signals.



In particular, considering the current worldwide crisis, which affects all businesses, is it necessary leaders support their people. Spirituality is becoming increasingly important in leadership concepts and every leader should be aware of what this means and how it can be implemented. It is also important that every individual knows how to integrate spirituality in their work environment. A good balance between work and life is a key factor for the efficient fulfillment of jobs.
To remember Oprah’s words, one has to begin with the spirit to accomplish the goals.



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