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Red Letters

Focusing on the Spiritual Side of Leadership

What is the most important trait of a strong leader? Vision? Decisiveness? A Good Manager? Gilbert Fairholm believes it’s spirituality and I agree with him. “Spirituality is the essence of who we are. It is about our inner self, separate from the body. It includes the way we think and the thoughts we think, as well as our perceptions of the world.” (Perspectives on Leadership: From the Science of Management to Its Spiritual Heart, Kindle Locations 1437-1438).


No matter what religious background you come from, there is more to a leader than ‘what you do.’ Understanding ‘who we are’ is essential to any leadership environment we find ourselves in. Knowing ‘why we do what we do’ is a critical component to being a great leader and leading others. Our ‘center’ does not come from our skills as leaders, it comes from the deep place of our soul – or our spirituality.

Patrick McKenna, co-author of business bestseller First Among Equals, did a study on new leaders and asked them which 3 activities consumed the greatest portion of their management time in the first 100 days. Here were the results:


  • #1  Contacting, meeting and interviewing my fellow partners (24%)
  • #2  Responding to my partners various requests for assistance/meetings (18%)
  • #3  Participating in annual partner review, appraisal and compensation (18%)
  • #4  Beginning to reshape the firm’s strategy (16%)
  • #5  Assessing, rearranging, replacing members of my internal admin team (8%)
  • #6  Learning and better understanding the financial aspects of the firm (5%)

In fact, of all the answers, anything related to spirituality didn’t appear one time. Every single activity focused on ‘what the leader did’ not ‘who the leader was.’ For Fairholm, this misses the most important facet of leadership that answers the most meaningful questions in life:


“Of course, detailed knowledge about system, process and procedures is important, but knowledge about our own and our followers’ spiritual side is essential. Spirit is about what we are. It is who we are, and why we think we are here in life, that ultimately guides our behavior. Our spiritual dimension conditions our relationships with others and their relationships with us. The idea of spirit is central to life. It is also central to any activity like leadership that purports to order and direct our human condition.” (Fairholm, Kindle Locations 1416-1419).

If Christmastime and the Feast of the Nativity teach us anything, it should reveal to us that we are more than our physical bodies, more than our work, more than good or bad leaders. We are spirit, and focusing on the spiritual side of our being will merit more benefits in our lives, and the lives of those around us, than almost any other activity we could participate in. Making a shift to focus on our spirituality this next year means that we will be better leaders, better people, in across every facet of life.


“The greatest problems leaders face are not the surface challenges of work, worker and product. The greatest challenges lie deep inside the leader’s spirit and that of their followers. The spirit contains everything in our character we try to express because it makes us feel good, as well as everything we want to suppress because it is painful. Getting in touch with our inner spiritual being lets us inventory and use our best qualities, like confidence, quickness, alertness, dedication, courage, perseverance, charm, thriftiness, trust, commitment, faith, hope and love.” (Fairholm, Kindle Locations 1576-1579). Kindle Edition.





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posted December 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm


Great and timely post. I think one of the reasons as leaders we neglect this is we fail to understand and appreciate the “ROI” of soul care for ourselves and the teams we lead. Yet, it can be profound. This week I heard Ruth Haley Barton speak on spiritual formation and her mountain cry is that the best thing we bring to leadership is our own transforming self. I would love to see you write a follow-up post on what that shift to spirituality might look like personally and within organizations.

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Anders Fransson

posted October 1, 2015 at 3:17 am

After go through this article I have found some crucial ingredients regarding leadership; and also get the taste of religion and leadership. It is really essential to develop our leadership attitude as a result we are able to develop our personality and here we have found some good stuff on leadership development and while following these instructions we are able to maintain a good leadership attitude.

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