The role of spirituality in the practice of adult education leaders
Fleming, Jeanette Justice
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In recent years some business and leadership scholars have recommended a spiritually influenced practice of leadership. These recommendations are based on personal testimony and anecdote with very few empirical studies conducted to substantiate claims. There have been no empirical studies of leadership and spirituality within the field of adult education. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of spirituality in the practice of adult education leaders. It was designed as a phenomenological inquiry focused on how leaders defined spirituality, how spirituality influenced their practice, and if they employed a common style of leadership. The participants in this study found it impossible to separate their spirituality from their daily practice of leadership for it was integral to personal identity. These leaders perceived spirituality as a deeply personal search for meaning grounded in a web of connection with a Higher Being, with other people, and with all of creation. They did not believe that spiritually influenced leadership conflicted with the separation of church and state because they perceived spirituality as a distinct concept, differing from, but related to religion. Although religious beliefs varied in the sample, the basic spiritual understandings regarding leadership were similar. They spoke of working for the greater good and supporting the personal growth and development of coworkers. They were adamant in their commitment to social justice and stressed the importance of honesty, fairness, and compassion in the workplace. In the practice of leadership, spirituality provided a calling or sense of vocation, instilled an ethical framework, and served as a resource in times of challenge. Spirituality shaped their perception of power, influenced their decision making, and impacted communication with coworkers. Styles of leadership reported by the study participants varied. Servant leadership was described by some participants, but there were also team, transactional, transformational, and situational leaders. The style of leadership practiced by participants seemed directly related to their perception of spirituality.