Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

In Search of the "Spiritual" in Spiritual Leadership: A Case Study of Entrepreneur Steve Bigari

Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

In Search of the "Spiritual" in Spiritual Leadership: A Case Study of Entrepreneur Steve Bigari

Article excerpt


Spiritual leadership plays an essential role in establishing the culture and environment for spirituality at work. While much has been written about this construct, it is not always clear how spiritual leadership is manifested in practice. The purpose of this case study is to provide an external assessment and specific examples of the spiritual aspects of the leadership approach of one business and non-profit executive. Our assessment includes an analysis of this executive's leadership style in relation to Fry's (2003) theory of spiritual leadership and his impact on employees and organizational efficiency.


Spiritual leadership is widely acknowledged to play an important role in establishing a culture and environment for spirituality in individuals, teams (Cacioppe, 2000), and organizations (Duchon & Plowman, 2005). Spiritual leadership has been defined in many ways, but their conceptualizations involve a number of similar underlying characteristics. For the purposes of parsimony we will use Fry's (2003) definition of spiritual leadership as "... the values, attitudes, and behaviors necessary to intrinsically motivate one's self and others so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership" (p. 838).

In her review of the existing major spiritual leadership theories (Fry, 2003; Fairholm, 1997; and Sanders et al. 2002), Benefiel states that that the strength of these theories is in the "leadership" aspect of spiritual leadership. She observes that there is a need for a "... more robust and sophisticated understanding of the 'spiritual' aspect of 'spiritual leadership'" (2005; p. 724). We echo this concern and question whether the field truly has a deeper understanding of what spiritual leadership really means in practice. A number of insightful books have been authored on spiritual leadership, but they are based largely on a self report basis and lack grounding in theoretical frameworks. In terms of scholarly research the terminology employed (e.g. vision, altruistic behaviors, loving relationships, etc.) certainly makes sense, but it is still not completely clear to us as to exactly what are specific spiritual leadership attitudes and behaviors in practice. For instance, precisely what do leaders do to create vision and exhibit altruistic behaviors and loving relationships from a spiritual perspective? What are specific examples of spiritual leadership that the field can use as a common framework or foundation to describe and understand spiritual leadership? What are the specific impacts of these spiritual leadership practices on followers or organizations?

These questions and concerns are consistent with the views of Dent et al. (2005) and Duchon & Plowman (2005) that the study of spiritual leadership is in the early stages of development. These views are also consistent with Lund Dean, Fornaciari, & McGee's (2003) perspective that the entire spirit at work field is still in an interim period where new research methods are being developed and inductive approaches are needed to understand and develop the basic themes and research agendas.

The purpose of this paper is to use a case study approach to provide specific examples and an external assessment of one way that leadership with spiritual qualities has been manifested by an executive (Steve Bigari) operating in both the business and non-profit sectors. We use interviews to provide a descriptive summary of Bigari's leadership approach and summarize the results of an earlier program evaluation study of his non-profit organization (Anonymous, in press) to gain insights into the impact of Bigari's leadership. We then postulate how Bigari demonstrated the various dimensions of spirituality leadership proposed in Fry's (2003) theory and conclude with implications for future research.

Research Methodology

Steve Bigari was selected as the subject for this study because he was known for being entrepreneurial in business and because of the authors' prior experience in a program evaluation of his non-profit America's Family (AF) organization. …

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