Spirituality & Leadership

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The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005) 625 – 653 Spirituality and leadership: An empirical review of definitions, distinctions, and embedded assumptions Eric B. Dent a,T, M. Eileen Higgins b, Deborah M. Wharff a a University of North Carolina, Pembroke, United States b Frostburg State University, United States Abstract Spirituality and its relationship to workplace leadership is a compelling issue for management practitioners and researchers. The field of study is still in its infancy and as suc
  Spirituality and leadership: An empirical review of definitions,distinctions, and embedded assumptions Eric B. Dent  a, T , M. Eileen Higgins b , Deborah M. Wharff  a  a  University of North Carolina, Pembroke, United States  b  Frostburg State University, United States Abstract Spirituality and its relationship to workplace leadership is a compelling issue for management practitioners andresearchers. The field of study is still in its infancy and as such is marked by differences in definitions and other  basic characteristics. Much of what has been written on this subject has appeared in general, rather than academic publications and consequently may lack rigor. The purpose of this study is to analyze known academic articles for how they characterize workplace spirituality, explore the nexus between spirituality and leadership, and discover essential factors and conditions for promoting a theory of spiritual leadership within the context of the workplace.An emergent process was used to identify and validate eight areas of difference and/or distinction in the workplacespirituality literature: 1.) definition, 2.) connected to religion, 3.) marked by epiphany, 4.) teachable, 5.) individualdevelopment, 6.) measurable, 7.) profitable/productive, and 8.) nature of the phenomenon. Eighty-seven scholarlyarticles were coded for each of these areas. Findings conclude that most researchers couple spirituality and religionand that most either have found, or hypothesize a correlation between spirituality and productivity. The emergent categories offer provocative new avenues for the development of leadership theory. D 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.  Keywords: Spirituality; Leadership; Organizations; Definition; Religion; Assumptions 1. Introduction The notion of spirituality in the workplace has attracted a considerable amount of attention in the last decade. The popular literature on this subject has also flourished (Gibbons, 2000). Many best-selling 1048-9843/$ - see front matter  D 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.07.002 T Corresponding author.  E-mail address: eric.dent@uncp.edu (E.B. Dent).The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005) 625–653   books on leadership and management have b spirit   Q  or a comparable word in thetitle; the topic of workplace spirituality is beginning to appear in organizational behavior textbooks (Robbins, 2003a,b)indicating that it is now being taught in a mainstream manner in both graduate and undergraduate business programs; and many conferences on this subject are now scheduled around the world(Biberman & Altman, 2004).Within the past decade, the concept of spirituality and religion in the workplace has gained enoughstrength and interest that the Academy of Management has created a new special interest group for itsmembership. This group, Management, Spirituality, and Religion, has grown to more than 500 memberssince its inception (Robbins, 2003a)and is helping to legitimize within academia the study of spirituality in the workplace while simultaneously paving the way for introducing this emerging concept into theleadership research agenda (Academy of Management, 2004). Yet, the field of study is marked by all of  the typical characteristics of paradigm development including a lack of consensus about a definition of workplace spirituality and a lack of clarity about boundaries of the subject in context of leadership. For example, some writers include ethics or team spirit within the boundaries although others do not, andsome claim a nexus between spirituality and leadership practices while others treat workplace spiritualityasan individual phenomenon.Goertzen & Barbuto (2001)in their empirical review of the literature on individual spiritualitycontend that spirituality is addressed through several paradigms: self-actualization and spirituality, purpose and meaning in life and spirituality, health and wellness as outcomes of spirituality,spirituality in the workplace, and spirituality and leadership. It is the last two treatments that are thefocus of this paper, specifically dimensions of spirituality in the workplace that appear most frequentlyin the literature and portend to have a significant contribution to the further development of leadershiptheory.The pace of theory development of leadership has progressed slowly (Yukl, 2002), yet over the last  two decades significant advances have been madein integrating the theories of leadership and humandevelopment (Cook-Greuter, 2002; Wilber, 2000a). While empirical research on leadership remains narrowly focused on leadership behaviors, power dimensions, traits and skills, and situational contexts, promising new areas of research have emerged that recognize leadership as the manifestation of aleader’s spiritual core (Fairholm, 1998), leadership as a collective phenomenon (Drath & Palus, 1994), and leadership as concerned with an individual’s thinking, inquiring, perceiving, valuing, and acting in acommunity rather than an individual context (Eggert, 1998,p. 223). These lines of research suggest the spiritual domain as an integral component of leadership and put forth spirituality as one variable of an integrated leadership development model (Cook-Greuter, 2002;Sanders, Hopkins, & Geroy, 2003; Thompson, 2000; Wilber, 2000a). The premise of this integratedmodel is that as development occurs there is a transcending of worldviews and a shift to higher levels of internal locus of control (Sanders et al., 2003), and human growth is achieved through the interplay of  individual, community, and environment. At the higher stages of development, leaders are deepeningtheir intuition and inner knowing through a shared consciousness with a higher power or transcendent (Cook-Greuter, 2002; Wilber, 2000a). The theory development of workplace spirituality and its relationship to leadership is in its infancy.Reichers & Schneider (1990)call this emerging stage of construct development  introduction and elaboration . This first stage is characterized by (a) attempts to legitimatize the new construct, (b) acascade of articles that attempt to bestow legitimacy on both the research and researchers, and (c) thekeen attention of scholars trying to define the new term. The second and third stages ( evaluation and   E.B. Dent et al. / The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005) 625–653 626  argument  , and consolidation and accommodation ), as explained by Reichers and Schneider, consist of first, debates and critiques around the research and findings, and second, the waning of controversiesabout the topic and the general acceptance and standardization of one or two definitions.Typical to the first stage is the developmental history of the constructs of spirituality in theworkplace and spiritual leadership. That is, in the first stage, there is scant empirical research, and critics point to this dearth as evidence of lack of legitimacy.Hunt (1999),using theReichers & Schneider’s (1990)framework for Culture and Climate, traces the evolution of leadership over time.He notes that when an emerging construct such as charismatic/transformational leadership isintroduced into the leadership field, which had matured to the third stage, the field is thrown back intothe first stage to undergo a new search for a common definition and to develop legitimacy of theconstruct through rigorous empirical research.Many authors and scholars link spirituality to organizational leadership (Fairholm, 1998; Fry, 2003;Strack, Fottler, Wheatley, & Sodomka, 2002) as well asother organizational factors suchasabsenteeism,  productivity, turnover, ethicality, stress, and health (Giacalone & Jurkiewicz, 2003).Giacalone & Jurkiewicz (2003)state that workplace spirituality can be either active or passive and that thesesupposedly contradictory elements must be blended together in order to define it. Their definition, whichfollows, attempts to integrate these conditions: b Workplace spirituality is a framework of organizationalvalues evidenced in the culture that promotes employees’ experience of transcendence through the work  process, facilitating their sense of being connected to others in a way that provides feelings of completeness and joy  Q  (p. 13). While this definition is only one of many that has appeared in thescholarly literature on the subject, we believe it is broad and explicit enough to serve as a starting point for developing theory.Spirituality is believed to enhance organizational learning (Bierly, Kessler, & Christensen, 2000), unify and build communities (Cavanaugh, Hanson, Hanson, & Hinojoso, 2001), serve the need for  connecting to others at work, and to work itself (Khanna & Srinivas, 2000), and is the source of a healing and harmonizing expression of compassion, wisdom, and connectedness that transcends all egocentric,sociocentric, or anthropocentric forms (Maxwell, 2003).Cacioppe (2000a)argues that leaders have a central role in the evolution of integrating spirituality at work and instilling a sense of the spiritual realmat the individual, team, and organizational level.Leaders who bring their spirituality to work transform organizations from merely mission-drivenactivities into places where individual and collective spirituality are encouraged and spiritualdevelopment is integrated into the day-to-day work life (Konz & Ryan, 1999). Such leaders inspire and energize behavior in employees based on meaning and purpose rather than rewards and security,thus compelling employees to transcend their self-interests for the welfare of their organizationalmembers, the sake of the mission (Dehler & Welsh, 1994,p. 20), and for the good of humanity and the natural world (Maxwell, 2003). Furthermore,Harvey (2001),basing his conclusions on many meetings with chief executive officers (CEOs) and other high ranking executives, notes that many decisions at thehighest levels of all kinds of organizations are made on the basis of prayer and that leaders of significant stature and influence care deeply about the spiritual side of their leadership roles and are b starved for opportunities to discuss it   Q  (p. 378).We also discovered many similarities between workplace spirituality theory and leadership theory.These links and theoretical connections are discussed throughout the article and are further examined for their relationship to leadership theory in the Spiritual Leadership Theory Development  section. Whilescholars clearly identify spirituality as a central thesis of a new paradigm in organizational and  E.B. Dent et al. / The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005) 625–653 627  leadership theory, the ontology of spirituality in the workplace closely resembles the literature onleadership in that there are many dynamic dimensions or contexts for describing and measuring the phenomenon. Sometimes these dimensions confound one another; for example, spirituality as anattribute, which remains relatively static over time versus the manifestation of spirituality, which can bedynamic and change depending on the situation.Fairholm (1996, 1998)was one of the first scholars to put the terms spiritual and leadership together to explain spirituality in context of workplace leadership, and since then others have attempted tovalidate his model in order to move the field toward a theory of spiritual leadership (e.g.,Fairholm,2002; Fry, 2003). Other authors have put forth spiritual leadership models that relate to constructs suchas emotional intelligence, ethics,values, and to leadership models such as charismatic, stewardship,transformational, and servant (Biberman, Whitty, & Robbins, 1999; Cacioppe, 2000a; Tischler,Biberman,& McKeage, 2002). To date, these constructs have been confounded and need conceptual distinction (Fry, 2003). Strack et al. (2002)contend that the research agenda linking spirituality and leadership is aconceptual quagmire because each construct can be defined in hundreds of ways. Our empiricalreview of scholarship found this to be true, as well. Therefore, the authors of this articleconducteda meta analysis of the literature applying the tenets of qualitative narrative analysis (Denzin &Lincoln, 2000; Miles & Huberman, 1984) to narrow the scope and to discern whether definitionsand other assumptions about workplace spirituality converged around common themes or categories,which could then advance the theory of workplace spirituality and leadership.It is interesting to note that blind reviews of this article mirror the variation in discussion about thetopic of spirituality at the 2004 Academy of Management Conference. Some in the field push for rapid closure on a common definition of spirituality at work, seeing this as a necessary prelude todevelopment of spirituality and its relationship to the theory of leadership. Others see the field of inquiry asthe continual pursuit of a richer and richer definition and see no need for an earlyconsensus (Lund Dean, 2001). After searching the academic literature to discover a modicum of  agreement regarding definitions and finding none, our sympathies lie more with the latter group. Nevertheless, we remain proponents of conceptual clarity, boundary definition (even if the boundariesare overlapping and/or permeable), and mappings of interrelatedness (which may include mutualcausality) (Dent, 2003; Fry & Smith, 1987). One objective of this article is to make explicit what  major concepts need to be considered in a mapping of interrelatedness and what themes are most commonly appearing in definitions and characterizations of workplace spirituality, particularly thosethat relate to leadership theory.The primary purpose of this research is to discover essential factors and conditions for  promoting a theory of spiritual leadership within the context of the workplace (Whetten, 1989). This study analyzes the scholarly literature and ascertains how researchers characterize therelationship between spirituality and organizational dynamics such as leadership, measurement, and productivity or profit. Using qualitative narrative analysis to surface emergent categories, we makeexplicit the major concepts of difference in which theory development is still necessary. Weanalyze the definition of workplace spirituality in every academic article that offered one and present coding results in seven other categories of difference. Interrater agreement and reliabilitymeasures are offered for coding of these seven categories. Then, the range of difference issummarized for each. The article concludes with discussions of the implications of this work for spiritual leadership theory development.  E.B. Dent et al. / The Leadership Quarterly 16 (2005) 625–653 628
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