Spirituality: The Emerging Context for Business Leadership

Over the last 100 years, four distinct contexts of business leadership have emerged in the West: paternal-mechanistic, humanistic, holistic, and spiritual-based. Each context represents a fundamental change in how we view the nature of business leadership. As we embrace and fulfill these contexts of business leadership, we believe it will naturally fuel a fundamental change in the nature of business itself, such that business and its leadership can take its rightful place in solving what seem to be the unsolvable problems in the world today.

Each of the four contexts of business leadership – from the paternal-mechanistic (now in its decline), to the humanistic (now in its prime), to the holistic (now in its development), to the spiritual-based (now emerging) – still exists. Within a company, different leaders might operate from any one of these four contexts, and any single leader might operate from a blend of contexts, especially if he or she is “in transition” in their view of leadership. Thus, they all currently co-exist, sometimes not very peacefully, in today’s business world.

In this article, we begin with the historical and current perspectives of the first three contexts as they have occurred in the West. We then articulate what this emerging, spiritual-based context looks like at this time, including early examples of executives who are leading from a spiritual-based context. Finally, drawing from various spiritual traditions, we describe how spiritual-based leaders might develop; and then, using this as a frame of reference, we share a glimpse of what the future of spiritual-based business leadership might look like.

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