Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spiritual and Transcendental Leadership

It has been suggested in several studies (Elliot, 2002; Jaworski, 1998; Kouzes & Posner, 2008, Wheatley, 2006) that the journey of leadership is an internal plight to connect with a higher influence and in order to truly understand the notion of leadership we must focus on the internal development of the leader. Emmons’ (1999) treatise on ‘ultimate concerns’ defines spirituality as that aspect of life concerned with ultimate purpose and meaning in life, which translates into recognition of the transcendent in everyday experience, a selfless focus, and a set of beliefs that facilitates a relationship with the transcendent.

One might infer from this definition that spirituality is the gestalt of all manifestations of an individual’s essence, and conclude that spirituality mobilises the individual towards meaningful or ‘transcendental accomplishment’. Thompson (2000) posits that transcendental accomplishment cannot occur without spirituality. Sanders et al., (2003) conceptualise Thompson’s postulation in a mode of ‘transcendental leadership,’ which proposes hierarchical levels of desired leadership accomplishments. The model proposes three structural levels of leadership accomplishment: (1) transactional, (2) transformational, and (3) transcendental. Essentially, the model proposes that leaders’ development along three dimensions of spirituality (consciousness, moral character and faith) is associated with development along these three levels of leadership accomplishment. Sanders et al., (2003) proposed theory of transcendental leadership is intended to provide a framework. The theory is not an attempt to redefine leadership; instead their theory purports to provide a more comprehensive view of leadership by connecting traditional theories to a meaningful domain, spirituality. Cardona (2000) first broached the idea of transcendental leadership and describes the concept as a contribution based exchange relationship. He views the transcendental leader as being concerned with his or her followers and tries to contribute to their personal development.

Basically, the theory incorporates the idea that developing spirituality along these three dimensions allows leaders to become less concerned about the constraining realities of the external environment, which can limit leader effectiveness, and be more concerned about an internal development that transcends realities as defined by the environment (Elliot, 2002; Emmons, 1999). Sanders et al., (2003) model attempts to embody the demands of society by explicitly suggesting spirituality as an important component of leadership. The model also helps to fill some of the gaps that currently exist in traditional leadership theories. Traditional theories, for a large part, tend to focus on external manifestations of leadership. At the personal/individual level, the model bridges the gap between spirituality and leadership by stimulating practical and scholarly consideration about their relationship (Sanders et al., 2003).

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