An Operational Definition of Spiritual Leadership

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Virginia Tech

This is the report of a Delphi study designed to identify the characteristics, behaviors, and work environments of spiritual leaders. A panel of philosophers, writers, business leaders, non-profit leaders, religious leaders, educators, and politicians was purposefully recruited to participate in the study. Data gathered from the panel were analyzed with the Maykut and Morehouse (1994) constant comparative method and descriptive statistics to identify characteristics, behaviors, and work environments of spiritual leaders.

The panel-identified characteristics and behaviors of spiritual leaders were grouped into three themes: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and religious. Work environments in which spiritual leaders can be effective were grouped into six themes: community-building, person-centered, product-oriented, principle-driven, religious, and mission/purpose-driven. The interpersonal descriptors are predominant in the findings, supporting the conclusion that spiritual leadership is interpersonal in nature in an enhanced way. Although writers have emphasized that spiritual leadership is separable from religion, the panelists accepted 13 descriptors in religious categories, indicating that they had difficulty separating spiritual religious leadership from a secular counterpart.

The findings incorporate the concepts of meaning, community, and integrity presented in a theory of spiritual leadership created for this study, but the findings go well beyond the concepts in the theory. To be more reflective of reality, the theory must be expanded to emphasize the other-orientation of spiritual leaders. The expanded theory and the enriched concepts within it may have benefit to practitioners and future researchers interested in exploring the practice and study of spiritual leadership.

Two tools were created from the findings. One tool is a self-assessment that leaders may use to compare their leadership style with that of spiritual leaders. The second tool may be used by leaders to assess whether their work environments promote the effectiveness of spiritual leaders. Researchers may find the tools useful as initial measures of the characteristics, behaviors, and environments of spiritual leaders.

Education, Workplace, Spirituality, Integrity, Spiritual Leadership, Schools, Delphi