Spirituality, Ethics and Leadership

Apr 24, 2023

Public conversations on the role of ethical leadership are escalating in our society and around the globe. We seem trapped in ideological and political wars surrounding gun violence, abortion, poverty, health, education, gender, sexuality, religion, race, ethnicity, and culture that threaten national and world security—and most importantly, human and non-human flourishing.

Absent from many of these conversations is attention to the relationship between spirituality and ethics and how it informs and shapes human consciousness so that 1) leaders are predisposed to make fitting decisions; and 2) are enabled to carry out appropriate ethical actions among competing claims amidst a cacophony of voices and visions.

We wish to be clear that our emphasis on spiritual and cultural imagination in leadership education is not necessarily an issue of religion. It is essentially an issue of attending to the human spirit, with emphasis on what it means to be human. Discussions of spirituality cover a broad and increasingly complex spectrum of beliefs, practices, and approaches within and beyond traditional religious institutions.

For our purposes, spirituality refers to a way or ways of seeking or being in relation with the other who is believed to be worthy of reverence and highest devotion. In this definition, we are concerned with the other as inclusive of both individuality and community. The other is not impersonal but intimately related to who I am and who I become.

According to the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905–1995), the other has a face—and the face of the other is the foundation of ethics and the origin of civil society. Beyond our private quests for meaning and authenticity, we are connected to others. Indeed, to be fully human and ethical, we must “face the other.” The face of the other is encountered in everyday life, but also in its strangeness and difference, in its force of obligation and interdependence. “The face of [hu]man is the medium through which the invisible in him becomes visible and enters into commerce with us.” And "It is in economic justice that [hu]man glimpses the face of [hu]man."

What role does spirituality, ethics and leadership play in your organization?

Are there critical resources and tools that are helpful for discerning, deliberating and deciding on the most efficient and ethical response to the pressing issues that you face in your personal life and leadership?