The Importance of Spiritual Leadership in Your Workplace

There’s a spiritual crisis happening in the workplace. Cardus, a research and educational institution, recently published an article highlighting the many ways this crisis shows itself throughout our culture. People tend to respond to the crisis in one of two ways—shut down or lash out. And this is only growing more challenging during COVID-19, a divisive political landscape, and things like “The Great Resignation”—a wave of workers leaving their posts, largely due to effects stemming from the pandemic.

In this season, leadership practices that consider ethics and spirituality are critical. We sat down with Leslie “Sam” Helgerson, the program director for Bethel’s M.A. in Strategic Leadership program. Here’s some wisdom and advice he shared on why ethical and spiritual leadership are important and how they can be cultivated:

It’s about more than ethical leadership. It’s also about spiritual care.

Yes, ethical leadership matters, but managers, directors, vice presidents, and C-suite executives are now finding they need skills that they never thought they would. No matter what market segment you are in, if you are a leader, you will need to provide genuine spiritual care to the people you lead. Business is about hard skills, but it is also about compassionate influence skills, and that has not always been the case. That’s the power of the PIPES model we use in Bethel’s M.A. in Strategic Leadership program—it helps people to grow professionally, intellectually, personally, ethically, and spiritually, and it equips our students to nurture others in those same ways.

Why does that matter? Well, we can never lead where we have never been. COVID-19 is being blamed for the great resignation, with huge numbers of people quitting their jobs with nowhere in particular to go. COVID-19 may have played a role, but people tend not to quit jobs—they quit bosses. Leaders have failed to make people feel valued.

You can’t do it alone.

Simply put, you need people around you who are willing to do two things: First, they have to remind you who you are and the sort of person you want to be. And second, they have to hold you accountable to those values and to the ways of living that go with them. That’s important because we are hard-wired to connect our identity with the people around us. We need to seek communities and relationships that nurture our relationship with God, along with ones that show us how to live and serve well.

Our communities matter—they help us make sense of the world. Things like our hobbies and our skill groups—along with our family, church, professions—influence our day-to-day lives, but they also shape our default mode—the way we act when we don’t have time to think about how to act. This type of deep character change never happens in isolation. We need people who can show us what it looks like to be a Christian and a mechanic, chef, furniture maker, software coder, engineer, or whatever our career is. We don’t do very well at figuring that out on our own because our ego gets in the way.

Don’t be threatened by contrary opinions.

One way to look at it is that ethics is how we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, while morality is how we love our neighbor as ourselves. Getting both of those right can be a challenge. Author Peter Drucker called it “doing the right thing in the right way.” If you research maturity and how wisdom develops, you’ll find that it is marked by strong convictions, but it’s also marked by being completely unthreatened by contrary opinions. There’s a peaceableness in it. That’s the nature of wisdom. We don’t have to fight over every disagreement. We don’t have to convince other people that we are right, and they are wrong. As Christians, our job is to love people and to help them grow. If nothing else, COVID-19 has shown us that we need to care for one another—and leaders have to lead the way.

Help others grow deep roots.

When I was working in the business world, my responsibility was to help people thrive and draw from their unique gifts. Even in the workplace, it wasn’t about making people who were just like me; it’s about helping them grow and develop in all the ways that God intends—out of their own strengths and abilities. This approach is mirrored at Bethel, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m such an advocate for Bethel University. At all levels of the institution, we’re helping people to grow deep roots. We’re helping them to lead well, follow well, serve well.

One of my mentors taught me to think 40 years down the road, and to lead now toward what will be needed then. I’ve always tried to do that and to foster that same ethos in others. That’s how Bethel and its alumni will make a difference throughout the 21st century.

Bethel’s M.A. in Strategic Leadership and MBA programs both use the PIPES model to shape our students’ development. PIPES grows students professionally, intellectually, personally, ethically, and spiritually. It’s part of Bethel’s emphasis on helping people become whole and holy people.