Leading From Within: The Spirituality and Development of the Contemplative Leader
– Elmor van Staden, PhD.
We are living in tumultuous times, where answers from the past are no longer applicable to the questions we are faced with today. This is especially true for leadership and leadership development. What is called for, is a compelling, fit for purpose and modern paradigm. The notion of contemplative leadership, a field that remains heavily under-researched, provides a focus to explore such a compelling and significant new paradigm. Of particular importance, is considering how the style of leadership that would emerge from the living of contemplative spirituality in current times is addressed with innovative and new conclusions.

Considering the reality described above, the research question for this study is as follows: What is the spirituality of the contemplative leader? The following cluster of related questions is also investigated: What does the spirituality of the contemplative leader encompass? How does contemplative leadership compare with other contemporary leadership styles? What would a developmental framework offer for the contemplative leader? The study situates contemplative leadership within the broader framework of leadership; it investigates the spirituality of the contemplative leader, as it pertains to the leader’s self, and provides answers to these questions.

Most of the previous research focused on the “what” of contemplative leadership (i.e. defining contemplative leadership and scrutinizing different models of contemplative leadership). The current research project contributes to the field of contemplative leadership in two ways: first, it contributes by explaining the spirituality of the contemplative leader; secondly, it fills a gap in the scholarship, namely the development of contemplative leaders. Conducted within the discipline of Spirituality, with special emphasis on Contemplative Studies, a cognate field of Spirituality, a literature study is undertaken from a phenomenological perspective. The
theoretical framework comprises an interdisciplinary approach, and includes the disciplines of Contemplative Studies, Spirituality, Theology, Mysticism, and Psychology.

Leadership is investigated, as it has developed in Leadership Studies, with reference to various leadership styles within which contemplative leadership can be placed and understood. The notion of the leader’s true self versus false self is explored, allowing for deep reflection on the spirituality of the contemplative leader. Contemplative practice, a key aspect of contemplative leadership, is investigated and understood as being part of the current contemplative movement. As the study indicates, the contemplative leader is not only a leader who has a regular contemplative practice, but also a leader who subscribes to a contemplative worldview. This does not imply that the contemplative leader is a person with a specific ‘image’ of God/Source, but rather a person who has been ‘touched by God’.

Special attention is paid to the spirituality and key characteristics of the contemplative leader. The study concludes by drawing together the threads of the research, extrapolating the major findings, and fusing it into a universal framework for the development of contemplative leaders, focused on the inner life of the leader and the leader’s journey towards God. The limitations of the study and recommendations for further research, are also stipulated. This is done in the hope that it will stimulate further research on the topics of contemplative leadership and leadership development.

Key terms:

Spirituality; mysticism; leader; leadership; contemplative leader; contemplative leadership; leadership development; true self; false self; centered self; contemplation; contemplative practice; solitude; silence; spiritual accompaniment; growth support groups; awareness; knowledge; letting go; psycho-spiritual development; inner journey; transformation; inner transformation, compassion; compassionate action, God, Source.