Volume 4: 2010 Abstract 10

Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management

Volume 4: 2010

What are we really talking about when we say the word ‘spirituality’?

Richard Harmer

The Holos Group, Melbourne

ABSTRACT: pp. 105-114.

It could be argued that one of the reasons why spirituality is slow to be accepted as an important contributor to leader and employee performance is its current conceptualisation. For example, in using the word spirituality are we talking about what we believe spirituality to be or what we ‘do’ to be spiritual, or something else entirely? Given this context, it is unsurprising that academic research into the role of spirituality in the workplace often shows mixed results. What is spirituality, then, and what is a useful way of considering its elements? As part of extensive PhD-level research exploring spirituality in contemporary society, the present author proposed, tested empirically and validated a holistic conceptual framework for considering spirituality, consisting of four layers of increasing abstraction, namely: (1) spiritual practices; (2) spiritual presence; (3) spiritual beliefs; and (4) conceptual complexity. The most tangible layer of spirituality is conceptualised as the specific behaviours and practices an individual undertakes to explore spirituality (e.g. attending church, meditation, etc). Conversely, the most abstract layer of spirituality is one’s frame of reference (i.e. conceptual complexity), that is, their spiritual ‘self-theory’. The applications of this framework to spirituality in leadership are many, including the design and delivery of leader and leadership development programs. In concluding, this paper calls for the acknowledgement by leadership development practitioners of the important role of spirituality in supporting leaders tackle today’s increasingly complex world.

Key words: Spirituality, identity development, leadership, consciousness development, meaning and purpose