Putting the ‘Spirit’ in Spiritual Leadership

This article recently appeared in the January, 2018 edition (Vol. 57, Number 1) of the Catholic Cemetery Magazine.

As we read the November issue of the Catholic Cemetery Magazine, we were struck by the multiple examples of those that give so much of themselves, their spirit, to this ministry. We read about the Cemeterian of the Year, Giving Thanks for Family Time and were treated to the wonderful pictures of a community coming together at the Annual Convention. This list just names a few of the many wonderful examples. With this background, we wondered how Spiritual Leadership could provide another framework to help you continue to be effective leaders, maybe even improve your effectiveness!

We, briefly, touched on this leadership approach in the School of Leadership at last summer’s School of Leadership and Management Excellence. In more depth, Fry (2003) defines spiritual leadership as, “comprising the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership” (p. 838). This type of leadership relies, heavily, on vision/mission, altruistic love and hope/faith.

  • Vision clarifies the direction and what we are striving toward. This helps to align and coordinate the efforts of many. The vision should reflect high ideals and assist in the creation, and achievement, of high standards of excellence. A clear vision helps followers see how their role contributes to the ‘whole.’
  • Altruistic love is about building trust, expressing forgiveness and gratitude and demonstrating both courage and compassion. “Altruistic love serves an important mission by removing ‘(my)self’ among people and putting ‘(our)selves’ instead” (Kaya, 2015, p. 600).
  • Hope/Faith help us persevere, do what it takes, and challenge ourselves, and our teams, to set demanding goals. “Hope/faith makes people more optimistic about life and their expectations, which helps people create their own vision and prepares them for obstacles or hardships” (Kaya, 2015, p. 600).

For many of you, the material above is, probably, met with a resounding, “Yes, this is what I do!” The research on Spiritual Leadership suggests that you are on the right track. Spiritual Leadership has been positively linked to promoting high levels of positive Organizational Citizenship Behaviors which include, altruism, conscientiousness, sportsmanship, courtesy, civic virtue, and purpose. One study (Shaw, 1999) suggests that workers who are in a positive spiritual mood demonstrate higher work performance.

Closely related to the topic of Spiritual Leadership is that of Spiritual Intelligence. Spiritual Intelligence is the ability to associate meaning to the everyday life activities of human existence. Zohar and Marshall call it the ‘ultimate intelligence,’ the necessary foundation for the effective functioning of IQ and Emotional Intelligence. They indicate that Spiritual Intelligence allows us to assess whether one course of action or one’s life path that is more meaningful than another (Zohar and Marshall, 2000). It is a higher level of intelligence that enables individuals to establish meaning to their rational and emotional thought processes.

While various researchers have defined Spiritual Intelligence from their own unique perspectives, we can bring the similarities together to define it as the ability of individuals to realize meaning in everyday life, both personally and professionally, and to be intentional in every situation they encounter. The ability to enhance knowledge and learning through successes and failures and be aware of self during these processes with humility and care (Nelson, 2010; Vaughn, 2003).

As we close, to assist in your reflection on your demonstration of Spiritual Leadership and Spiritual Intelligence, we leave you with a couple of questions:

1. What is your vision? When/how have you articulated this to your team?
2. How are you promoting greater community in your team?
3. In what ways are you creating an organization that helps others realize their potential?


Fry, L.W. (2003). Toward a theory of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(6), 693-727.

Kaya, A. (2015). The relationship between spiritual leadership and organizational citizenship behaviors: A research on school prinicipals’ behaviors. Education Sciences: Theory & Practice, 15(3), 597-606.

Milliman, J., & Ferguson, J. (2008). In search of the “spiritual’ in Spiritual Leadership: A case study of entrepreneur Steve Bigari. The Business Renaissance Quarterly: Enhancing the Quality of Life at Work, 3(1), 19-40.

Nelson, A., (2010). Spiritual Intelligence Discover Your SQ. Deepen Your Faith. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI.

Shaw, J.D. (1999). Job satisfaction and turnover intentions: The moderating role of positive effect. Journal of Social Psychology, 139(2), 242-244.

Vaughn, F. (2003). What is Spiritual Intelligence? Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 42(2), 16-33.

Zohar, D & Marshall, N. (2000). SQ: connecting with our spiritual intelligence. St. Martin’s Press, NY, New York.

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