What is spiritual leadership?

Human Resources

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The healthcare and welfare sector is undergoing structural changes due to budgets, changes in demand, etc. To meet the challenges that come with these changes, there is a need for leadership. Not the dominating, top-down, rational leadership, but an authentic, shared leadership, based on mission and values. In their white paper ‘Is Leadership Ready for the Challenges in the Healthcare and Welfare Sector?’ Dr. Sofie Rogiest and Koen Marichal take an in-depth look at these challenges. Through their research, they developed a model and qualitatively examined four cases.

One of these cases looks at spiritual leadership in the Groep H. Familie healthcare organization. In 2015, the facilities founded by the Zusters Heilige Familie congregation in Kortrijk were merged and the real estate was transferred to the Groep Zorg H. Familie healthcare group. At this point they started thinking about how spiritual heritage could be continued in a modern way by its current leaders.


Case ‘Groep Zorg H. Familie’

Even though modern-day leaders may be at more of a remove from spiritual sources, Managing Director Patrick Cokelaere belives that everyone has their own source of inspiration that guides them, consciously or not. Within the spiritual leadership paradigm, employees expect leaders to set the right example, be close and trustworthy.

Patrick “Leadership is a complex accumulation of skills that people have to acquire to professionally direct people, motivate them and reach goals together. Whilst many courses focus on techniques and methods, this course is focused on personal growth and strengthening value-focused leadership. It is about having a vision for the future, a view on people, self-knowledge and an awareness of your own strengths.”

Leadership course

“The project consisted of 4 stages”, says Johannes Claeys, Academic Director of the course. “Initially, participants were invited to join the project by making clear that both the sisterhood and management as well as the board of directors supported this initiative. These groups were the first to bring a powerful, personal story by indicating what spirituality meant for them. Their stories were supported by guest lecturers who had taken similar paths and who could recount how they, their coworkers and the organization as a whole had all benefited from such leadership development.

Groep Zorg3.jpgDuring the second meeting, we retreated to a spiritual place to get to work with the participants’ leadership stories. The group didn’t work on a specific model nor did they look for an ideal leader. Rather, the stories focused on diversity, making one’s own choices and limitations on leadership.


We focused on the search for individual talents and values to create a personal leadership identity. Subsequently, all the participants joined us in the search for what drives and connects us. At the end of the day we came to a shared story that revolved around 5 core spiritual values (cfr. infra).


Core values

We firstly conducted qualitative research into the compatibility of these core values with the rich tradition of the sisterhood, and secondly we focused on caretaking before going into the third session. To consolidate and practice the core values, the leaders were given some homework. For the third session, we made the conscious decision to shift towards the organization’s management processes. After all, the structures and processes should be shaped by (re)discovered core values and not vice versa.

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We began the third session with a supported and structured approach, following the handing of a detailed, quantitative questionnaire to every participant, to help them determine the degree to which the core values were already anchored in their own practice or the extent to which they were supported by their employees. During the final session the participants worked together to create a vulnerable leadership pitch which they then presented to each other, the sisterhood and the academic director.”

“At the outset, we identified the fundamental values that guide our leaders, namely: vulnerability, authenticity, modesty, unity and connectivity. These core values were made explicit and translated into the HRM structures of our daily working lives. The objectives themselves would never be reached in the sense of finishing the assignment and subsequently never giving it a second thought. Rather, the process is an ongoing endeavor on which we will continuously be working”, Patrick says.

Leaders should feel safe to be themselves, to continually reflect and be inspired to look for their own motivation, as both a person as and as a leader. The white paper suggests that leaders already have a certain feeling of unity and that the initial resistance is gone. At this point, every leader writes a plan of action. The fulfilment of this plan will make the impact of the course tangible.

Patrick: “The course content was prepared two years in advance and we spent a long time listening and searching for the ideal content and approach. We decided to firstly start with the personal approach. This way, employees can begin with an examination of their own personality and motivation. The strength of the second part of the course is that it consolidates this by then applying the management approach from a scientific point of view.”

Looking for creative ways to embed fundamental values into the HR systems of the organization will be an ongoing process, to bring sustainable and tangible results.


For whom?

“If organizations are convinced that people are holistic beings with a bodily, psychological, social and spirit existential dimension, then they absolutely need to avoid silencing their own identity and banishing it to their private lives.”

To conclude, Patrick says that in the long term such an investment will improve the quality of the workplace and the wellbeing of the employees on a sustainable basis.

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