The Four Stages of a Leader’s Spiritual Growth

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I know a gentleman who runs a major division of a global firm. He is super-successful, has a wonderful family, and is faithful to his church. By all appearances, he models Christian maturity. But when I asked him to get involved in a discussion group promoting spiritual growth among business leaders, he turned me down flat.

“Stan doesn’t ‘do’ small group discussions,” his wife later told me, on the sly. Her voice was lowered to a shushed whisper, as if she might get caught giving away the goods.

“Oh, that’s okay.” I whispered back in stealthy collusion. “I’m sure he’s following his own unique spiritual journey.”

I certainly didn’t hold it against him. Maybe Stan had a bad experience once with small group vulnerability. Maybe he has trouble articulating his spiritual thoughts in public.

Or maybe he is a shallow, spiritually lazy man with no interest in a deeper reflective life.

As I seek out men and women interested in connecting their spiritual lives to their work, the thought occurs to me: Why do some people feel compelled to pursue the inner truth of the greater purpose for their lives, while others seemingly don’t give a rip, content with their car, house and weekend football on TV?

Scott Peck, author of the blockbuster psycho-spiritual self-help book, “The Road Less Traveled,” lays out an interesting path for spiritual growth in his book, “The Different Drum.” He describes four stages of spiritual development, which I have taken the liberty of adapting slightly to address this question of spiritual depth among business leaders.

Stage I: Chaotic, Antisocial

In this stage, leaders are basically unprincipled or lawless. Relationships with people are manipulative and self-serving. If they have a belief system, it is profoundly superficial and not relevant to their daily activities. It is a stage of undeveloped spirituality (hello, Stan?). Beliefs are disconnected from actions, religious experience is hollow, and spiritual life irrelevant.

Stage II: Formal, Institutional

In this stage, the letter of the law is rigidly followed as a legalistic, dogmatic formula, and the leader is greatly threatened by anyone who thinks differently. Because of a lack of deeper reflection, one relies on an external system of religious rules, rather than daring to think through the fundamental questions that lie behind them. A business leader at this stage is limited by black-and-white rigidity, and struggles to respect a diversity of opinions and backgrounds.

Stage III: Skeptic, Individual

People in this stage are usually scientific minded, rational, moral and humane, but predominantly individualistic. Business leaders in this stage may be deeply committed to social causes, but are questioning, skeptical of anything spiritual that can not be proven with logical explanation. However, they are highly submitted to principle, and are active truth-seekers.

Stage IV: Mystical, Communal

At this stage, the Spirit of the law is more significant than rationalization. Here the leader is deeply connected to an “unseen order of things,” although she can’t fully define it. There is a strong pull towards participating with and promoting the greater community. The leader is comfortable with the mystery of the sacred, and doesn’t need to have all the answers. I think of Jim Collin’s Level Five Leader: humble, willful, and fearless, quick to give credit to others. The hallmark of this stage is leading with trust – knowing that all of our work should lead to the greatest good of all involved.

I suppose it’s not fair for me to peg Stan into Stage I. For all I know, he could be secretly running circles around me in Stage IV.

If only I could get him to talk to me about his spiritual life.

Photo by Marco D., used with permission.

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