I believe connecting meaningfully to a higher purpose involves a spiritual awareness of sorts. In my experience, the term “spirituality” generates mixed responses. Even a short Google search of the word ‘spirituality’ brings up a multitude of resources ranging from mainline Christianity to palm readers. Some people are weirded out by the term spirituality for fear it refers to religion. Or others may shy away because it suggests something New Age (in some religious circles, this is a no-no). But the term spirituality doesn’t have to be religious or creepy.

Spirituality is not religion; however, I understand and respect the connection. I’m not suggesting the servant leader must embrace religion of any kind to embrace spirituality. While many people find spirituality in religion, I do not believe religion to be inherently spiritual. In fact, based on my current understanding, I would not describe most of my early religious experiences as spiritual at all. Emotional at times, yes. But not spiritual. This also means the servant leader can very well embrace religion and possess spirituality too. One does not equal the other and they are also not mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, I do not believe the servant leader must embrace a belief in a deity to be spiritual. This is often a way to organize and even institutionalize faith and spirituality, but it is not in and of itself spirituality. I do believe there are tremendous universal truths found in many religions, but religion does not own those universal truths; they have simply found a way to conceptualize them into a practice and/or tradition. This is not fundamentally good or bad, it just is.

When I refer to spirituality, I am referring to two things: the parts of your life that are distinguished from your physical experience and a macro idea that you are connected to something bigger than yourself.

Everything you cannot see, hear, taste, smell, or touch but know to be real is spiritual-especially that which you perceive and do not perceive that transcends your thinking but also impacts your thinking. The importance of starting here is that the servant leader acknowledges this realm influences our physical experience even if we do not or cannot fully understand it. Spirituality is the exploration of what can’t be seen but only experienced from a place that is somewhat hard to explain. I’m talking about your interests, your opinions, your approach to life, and what drives you. The “you” that makes you…you. You have a body, but your body is not the sum total of what makes you, you. Your body helps you experience you! Spirituality is the place from which you frame situations in your world that have the potential to create or destroy meaning in your life.

The servant leader is connected to this spiritual part of themselves and the world around them. They are connected and aware of their own drives and motivations, their desires, and their approach. Additionally, they understand these factors are also at play for others and are at play in the world, all of the time. The servant leader understands that interests, opinions, approaches, and drives determine how people show up in life, impact how they interact with others, and influence how decisions are made. Even if people aren’t completely aware of them all of the time, these unseen aspects of our lives exist. Because so many choices are unconscious, the servant leader commits to an effort to intentionally align with this leadership style. To create this alignment, a spiritual connection is required-a commitment to looking at the unseen.

Someone who embraces a spiritual mindset is embarking on the work of uncovering what guides their choices, attitudes, and decisions. Another way to think about these guides is to call them beliefs. Beliefs are just thoughts we think over and over again that are perceived as truth which are largely unconscious. Someone with a spiritual mindset brings these beliefs to the conscious level so as to challenge them and believe differently if a previously held belief is not beneficial, or worse, is discovered to be harmful. This is done so as to bring alignment between who we are and who we want to be.

Not everyone is aware or even desirous of knowing what motivates and influences their thinking; they may not even care that a greater spiritual awareness can positively impact these very same aspects of their lives. Can these individuals servant lead? In my opinion, they can. But, until they experience a more transcendent awareness of these unseen facets of the human experience and their impact on leadership, the fulfillment promised by servant leadership is limited.

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