Organizations as Places of Becoming (Spiritual Leadership Lecture Reflection)
Organizations as Places of Becoming
Assistant Professor, I/O Psychology | Leadership Coach
Over the course of leadership history, some of our salient questions about leaders have included: What types of traits should leaders have; what types of behaviors should leaders engage in; and does this depend on the kinds of situations in which they lead? While these ideas continue to preoccupy research, the more critical question today centers on values. Specifically, what values should leaders strive to embody and live out in their desire to help organizations and workers?
This question of values was the focus at the November 9 event, “ServiceMaster as an Exemplar of Spiritual Leadership,” hosted by the Center for Faithful Business. Dr. Susan Brownlee presented her 2022 Pollard Scholars winning paper, highlighting aspects of spiritual leadership as a framework that identifies people’s need to flourish by experiencing calling (meaning or purpose in work and life) and belongingness (membership with others in a healing community) (Fry & Nisiewicz, 2013, Maximizing the Triple Bottom Line Through Spiritual Leadership). In this way, spiritual leadership focuses on the concept of wholeness and provides a radically new way of measuring organizational success.
Dr. Brownlee’s paper prompted me to think about leadership as part of the solution to the societal crisis of disconnection, which U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy has underscored. Even before Covid-19, about 50% of U.S. adults reported experiencing loneliness. If organizational leaders could help “intertwine engagement and well-being and bring about human flourishing” (Brownlee, 2022), could burnout and disengagement be mitigated? It is my conviction that organizational leaders have a moral responsibility to foster conditions for collective and individual flourishing, so that people can have a safe working environment, earn fair wages, develop their skills, build relationships within a community, and experience dignity and meaning in their work. Organizations are not merely places of productivity; they can also be places of becoming.
For decades, the values of servant leadership informed ServiceMaster’s management practices, manifested by intentional development of employees. The founder of ServiceMaster, Marion Wade, likened people working within the organization as shingles on a roof. Bill Pollard, fourth CEO of the firm, elaborated on this idea in his speech (1993, “Speech at Laity Lodge”):
It is only people who have the ability to learn to do and to be. It is this process of becoming that is uniquely human . . . It is the process of relating within the context of the firm that we learn to develop and build upon individual strengths and also cover individual weaknesses like shingles on a roof. It is those shingles on a roof that bring value to a firm, a compounding multiple overlay of people growing and developing in their individual and combined effort. (p. 3)
It is time to reimagine the purpose of leadership, not as an end unto itself but as a means for collective growth and development. If leadership is a process of influence rather than a formal role or title, all individuals in an organizational community can choose (with discernment) values to embody with consideration of how these explicit values shape and generate psychological, spiritual, and material benefits. What is different for leaders? In my mind, leaders will be held to account for “the true measure of success of an organization…the way human lives are transformed, enriched, and healed through their work” (Sisodia & Gelb, 2019, The Healing Organization). This is the kind of organization that the 21st century world needs.
Dr. Helen Chung is an industrial-organizational psychologist. She teaches courses in organizational behavior, motivation, leadership and teams, and history and systems of psychology. In addition to teaching, Dr. Chung is co-founder and principal of Pathways Coaching and Consulting.
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