Monday, 4 October 2010

Faith-based leadership models

What faiths offer 21st century business leadership


The Management Agenda 2003, produced by Roffey Park, claimed that nearly three-quarters
of workers are interested in "learning to live the spiritual side of their values". The report
also claimed that more than 40% of UK managers would value the opportunity to discuss
workplace spirituality with their colleagues and 53% were experiencing tensions between "the
spiritual side of their values and their work."

George Starcher has argued that a new paradigm of management is emerging which

·          the formulation and communication of purpose, vision, and process (leadership);
·          the balancing of economic and material goals with spiritual and human values; and
·          the recognition by growing numbers of organisations of a social responsibility as well as an economic mission.

Such a paradigm must inevitably reflect the spiritual values and teachings of the faith
communities, all of which contain resources for leadership. Sometimes these come through
the teaching of these communities and sometimes through the examples of past or current
leaders within the communities. In recent years such teaching and examples have been
increasingly applied to the realm of work with the result that a broadly-based Spirituality
at Work movement has emerged in this country to provide additional resources relating to

This paper tries to summarise and signpost people to some of the resources for leadership that the faith communities and the Spirituality at Work movement contain. The range of resources now available for aspects of management and leadership from these sources is vast and this section can do no more than dip a toe into the ocean. The fact that each heading does not contain resources from each faith group is not an indication that those faith groups not mentioned have no resources in that area.

Equality in leadership

Guru Nanak taught Sikhs “the unity of all existence, the equality of all human beings, the diversity of life and opinions, the acceptance of pluralism and the sanctity of human life.” Sikhs have followed the Guru’s teaching by emphasising that we are all learners, students and seekers of truth. Sikhs have also attempted to destroy the system of hierarchical orders by “making every human being equal in power and dignity.”

Similarly, Bahá’ís seek to work towards:

• equality of opportunity for men and women;
• elimination of prejudice of all kinds;
• universal compulsory education;
• a universal auxiliary language;
• abolition of extremities of poverty and wealth through international legislation; and
• the establishment of universal peace by a world government which will have international courts and military.

As a result, Sikhs and Bahá’ís, in common with people of other faiths, are often opposed to authoritarian and hierarchical styles of leadership. Feedback from one of our focus groups indicated that there could be issues here for some organisations in the sector which are perceived as hierarchies with little scope for two-way or bottom-up dialogues/consultations.

Humility in leadership

Islam discourages the practice of seeking leadership; if a person desires it for power and glory rather than serving the people by implementing the divine laws, he is not fit to occupy it. In a well-known Hadith, the Prophet has said that he who seeks leadership is not fit to assume it.

A Muslim leader should restrain from behaving unjustly — whether to community members, to customers, to suppliers or to anybody else. Muslims believe that a leader with a firm faith (iman) will not get out of responsibility for his actions, and will continuously emphasize good deeds.

In Islam a leader must be kind, compassionate and forgiving towards those whom he leads. A leader must also consult the people before taking a decision but once a decision has been made no weakness is shown and the policy be pursued with single-mindedness of purpose, determination and courage. The leader, however, must first articulate the vision and demonstrate the ability to turn it into action by aligning performance with vision to create a climate of success for the realization of the stated goal.

In summary the qualities for leadership in Islam are: knowledge and hikmah (wisdom, insight); taqwa (love and fear of Allah); ‘adl (justice) and rahmah (compassion); courage and bravery; shura (mutual consultation); decisiveness and being resolute; eloquence; a spirit of self-sacrifice; and sabr (patience).

Moral leadership

The idea of leadership by moral force is widespread in many religions, but is particularly central to the Confucian ideal of government. Leaders should be honest, moral, and virtuous people, who will not take bribes or act corruptly. Because people look up to leaders as role models, they should set a good example for others.

An example of a faith-based organisation applying this approach in their mission statement is the MATS School of Business and IT (a Post Graduate School of Excellence of the Jain Group of Institutions - which strives to “foster an intellectual and ethical environment in which both spirit and skill will thrive so as to impart high quality education, training and consultancy services, with a global outlook and human values.”

The Jewish Association for Business Ethics (JABE - exists to encourage high standards of integrity in business and professional conduct by promoting and teaching the Jewish ethical approach to business and to contribute to the debate in wider society. JABE also aims to promote awareness and understanding in the Jewish Community of Jewish teachings and traditions in business.

The European Bahá'í Business Forum (EBBF) plays a similar role for the Bahá'í community by being an association of women and men involved in business and management who are exploring ways and means of applying Bahá'í ethical and social teachings to issues arising out of their business activities. EBBF aims promote the following core Bahá'í values and principles:

• ethical business practices;
• the social responsibility of business;
• stewardship of the earth's resources;
• partnership of women and men in all fields of endeavour;
• the need for a new paradigm of work;
• non-adversarial decision making based on consultation; and
• application of spiritual principles to economic problems.

Buddhists are encouraged to work hard and to be industrious but to earn money through righteous means (right livelihood). This means that no ethical or religious principles should be violated through the work done and the work should benefit both the individual and society. Right Livelihood is the fifth aspect of the Eightfold Path and has two main elements. The first is a negative aspect, deriving from the principles of non-violence, of not engaging
in work involving weapons, meat, intoxicants (e.g. alcohol), poisons (e.g. drugs) or trade in living beings (animals or human beings). The second is a positive aspect, deriving from principles of simplicity, of using technologies that are in harmony with the natural environment and its resources to produce no more than an adequate range of material goods.

Islamic moral character requires that leaders emphasize the following five key parameters of Islamic behaviour: justice; trust; righteousness; the struggle towards self-improvement; and promise keeping. A Muslim leader is expected to be just, behave righteously, strive towards self improvement, and never break his word. He is to consult with others, especially in areas where he is not competent. Islam stresses consultation in all affairs. A leader is expected to bear adversity patiently, and remain forever humble.

Servant leadership

A servant style of leadership is fundamental to Christian teaching because of the example understood to be set by Jesus Christ in washing the feet of his disciples and in laying down his life for humanity. A servant style of leadership reverses the pyramid of hierarchy in an organisation by suggesting that frontline staff are those who are most important in the organisation (“the first shall be last and the last first”) because they are the people who
actually deal with customers and that the role of managers/leaders is to serve these people by properly resourcing them for their work.

For Christians, the primary reason for adopting this style of leadership is that it was the approach of Jesus, the pattern for both his life and death: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As a result, for Christians, there should be a radical rejection of hierarchical power that creates dependence and patronage in favour of a servant style of leadership.

Servant styles of leadership are found in other faith traditions too. From the Buddhist tradition comes the example of the Emperor A_oka, a great ruler of the Maurya dynasty who lived about 200 years after the Buddha. Initially, like his father before him, A_oka expanded his kingdom but his sorrow at the slaughter involved in conquest led him, through his understanding of Buddhist beliefs, to turn towards the service of those he governed and to
the upholding of their welfare. H.G. Wells wrote, in The Outline of History, that:

“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the pages of history … their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name A_oka shines, and shines almost alone, a star.”

Shared leadership

A key aspect of shared leadership is dialogue. Good conversation involves us in cooperating, thinking of each other’s feelings and experiences, and giving each room to talk.

This is an area where faith communities hold considerable resources.

The Inter Faith Network for the UK, for example, has published a Code of Conduct for interfaith dialogue that contains useful lessons for all leaders. Their Code suggests that when “we talk about matters of faith with one another, we need to do so with sensitivity, honesty and straightforwardness. This means:

• Recognising that listening as well as speaking is necessary for a genuine conversation
• Being honest about our beliefs and religious allegiances
• Not misrepresenting or disparaging other people's beliefs and practices
• Correcting misunderstanding or misrepresentations not only of our own but also of other faiths whenever we come across them
• Being straightforward about our intentions
• Accepting that in formal inter faith meetings there is a particular responsibility to ensure that the religious commitment of all those who are present will be respected.”

Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has written of the way in which the “wisest is not one who knows himself wiser than others: he is one who knows all men have some share of wisdom and is willing to learn from them, for none of us knows all the truth and each of us knows some of it.”

Sacks has written about argument, debate and conversation as being a fundamental aspect of Judaism. He argues that this is because Judaism is “an attempt to do justice to the fact that there is more than one point of view; more than one truth.” He says that we must learn the art of conversation as it is only as we allow our world to be enlarged by others who think and act in radically different ways from us that truth emerges.

The Hindu understanding of pluralism holds similar potential for peaceful coexistence between those holding differing views. Because each of us are different we all approach reality in different ways. Therefore none of us can claim to know absolute truth. On this basis we can simply say, “your ideas and belief suit you and are best for you, mine are fine for my purposes so why threaten or feel threatened by each other?” True leadership therefore involves the humble recognition of the necessary limitations of what we perceive as absolute.

Spiritual intelligence

Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) is our access to and use of meaning, vision and value in the way that we think and the decisions that we make. As such, it is the intelligence that makes us whole and that gives us integrity. SQ is about integrating, understanding and always adapting to new perspectives, Danah Zohar suggests that the following generate a high SQ:

• being flexible – the world is a place of multiple realities, so live in it;
• being self-aware – look inward and don’t be afraid of what you’ll find;;
• have a vision and be led by your values;
• use adversity – learn from death, failure and the things you fear;
• be holistic – see the big picture;
• be open to diversity – enjoy difference, like flexibility;
• be your own person – find true faith in your own convictions;
• ask “Why?” – it works for kids!
• reframe – step back and find the broader context;
• practice servant leadership; and
• create conditions for change.

Zohar argues that it is when we are a little uncomfortable that learning and innovation is most likely to occur.

Spiritual leadership

Deepak Chopra has become recognised as one of the top motivational speakers internationally by seeking to bridge the “technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east", principally Hinduism. Chopra argues that leaders are the symbolic soul of an organisation or group. At different times, groups need a parent, protector, ruler, muse or visionary. Successful leaders embody the values for which their group or organisation
hungers. Leaders are born as they sense the felt need of the group or organisation.

Great leaders understand lower needs, like the need to feel safe, and meet these but also respond from the higher levels of spirit by understanding that their followers yearn for freedom, love, and spiritual worth. Great leaders, Chopra argues, are in touch with every level of human experience.

Others have argued that ‘soul’ represents our ability to hold onto the whole and create coherence through relationships with others. An ancient Sufi teaching says, “You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand and.” The ‘and’ is the point of overlap that unites in relationship. Caring for the soul involves an appreciation for ‘and.’

Spiritual leadership is, therefore, about making a collective change whereby, as individuals, companies and organisations, we relate to one another and to the world, not from greed, power or control, but from empathy and caring.

Team working

The development of teams is a feature of most religions deriving from the common practice of followers gathering around a teacher. Within the Gospels, for example, Christ is seen gathering around him a team of people who learn both from his example and from his public and private teachings. When he leaves them they are equipped with his Spirit in order to take forward the mission that he has begun. From this example, a leader should aim to work her/himself out of a job through facilitation and resourcing of others leading to the delegation of responsibilities.

Drawing on his Christian understandings of God as Trinity and of the Church as the body of Christ, Christian Schumacher has identified seven principles for the structuring of team working:

1. Teams and their leaders must be able to plan and organise as much of their own work as possible. This reflects the work of God the Father in originating human work.
2. Work must be organised around basic transformations to form ‘whole’ tasks. This reflects the work of God the Son in death and rebirth;
3. Teams should be able evaluate their own performance against agreed performance measures. This reflects the work of God the Spirit in bringing work to its fitting end.
4. Team working should be encouraged in order to reflect the nature of the Church.
5. Each team member should be able to plan, do and evaluate at least one transformation in their team’s processes. This reflects the nature of the Church as a body.
6. Each team should have a designated leader in order to reflect Christ’s leadership of the Church.
7. Each team should contain between four and twenty people in order that everyone can communicate fully with each other.


It is not necessary to accept the belief systems underpinning these leadership models and practices in order to see that there is much that can be learnt from them and much that can usefully be applied in day-to-day leadership and management by any leader or manager. But, for those with a faith commitment, exploring the belief systems that do underpin these leadership models and practices is likely to enrich understanding of them and increase motivation in utilising them at work.

No comments:

Post a Comment