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Fall 2020 Stories

Fall 2020 explore Journal

Engaging with Mission in a Time of Crisis
Aaron Willis

Seeking Common Ground in the Wake of COVID-19
Julie Hanlon Rubio

Gandhi, Technology, and the Human Spirit
Rohit Chopra

Remembrances of Transformation, (de)Humanization, and White Supremacy
Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica

Spirituality and Business Leadership Education
Jennifer Lynn Woolley

Cura Personalis and the Entrepreneurs' Law Clinic: Radically Student-Centered
Laura Norris

Next Monday Morning and Ignatian Attitudes
Dorian Llywelyn, S.J.

Letter from Interim Executive Director
Michael Nuttall

Square Art Strawberries

Square Art Strawberries

Spirituality and Business Leadership Education

Jennifer Lynn Woolley
Portrait Jennifer Woolley

By Jennifer Lynn Woolley
Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship 
Santa Clara University

At one time, placing spirituality and business leadership in the same sentence would have been considered taboo. In some circles, it still is. However, there is a growing interest in the role that spirituality plays in modern organizations. As workers increasingly ask how their careers fit into the larger picture of their lives, undoubtably questions of meaning, direction, and connectedness arise. This is the heart of spirituality. And as leadership roles become more challenging in this chaotic world, a strong spiritual foundation provides the character, integrity, and convictions that support clearer discernment and compassionate decision-making. In this article, I explore the relationship between spirituality, business, and leadership, and how Jesuit education has a unique opportunity to support the spiritual awareness and growth of leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Spirituality turns the mind’s eye inward to examine “direction, meaning, inner wholeness, and connectedness.”1 Often confounded with religion, which is a more collective consideration of the spirit and its relationship to the divine, spirituality involves an individual contemplation of one’s place in the world, interconnectedness, meaning, and purpose. It is the quintessential reflection, “who am I, and what am I doing here?” Spirituality isn’t about a one-time journal entry or mindfulness exercise, but requires sustained contemplative reflection and practice over time. Continuously striving to honor our intrinsic humanity and connect with something beyond ourselves helps to build our spiritual muscle memory and character in times of calm. Contemplative practices can increase a person’s compassion, focus, and resilience. In times of crisis, a strong spiritual muscle memory allows us to readily connect to spiritual contemplation and discernment. As such, we are better prepared to face adversity, confront injustice, and keep calm in moments of chaos.

Business and Spirituality
Some believe that spirituality and business cannot coexist because they have different goals. This is a false dichotomy, for every company is made up of a community of individuals who are on their own personal spiritual journey. A business is only as strong as its employees—and people are the core of any business. One could argue that separating spirituality from business is tantamount to separating athletes from their teams.

Equally important is the central role that business plays in society. Companies provide many of the jobs, goods, and services on which we all depend. Indeed, some businesses control more wealth than nations do and employ hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. Yet, examples of greed, fraud, employee exploitation, environmental degradation, and harm to indigenous cultures fill the news. Scandals and reports of unsustainable corporate practices have led to people—from consumers to executives—questioning the ways that things have gotten done. As a result, consumers are demanding that companies consider the environmental and social impact of their activities. Shoppers are interested in and support socially and environmentally responsible companies. Numerous studies have found that companies that focus on a core set of noneconomic values outperform other companies by as much as 16 times. Likewise, workers crave a workplace culture that acknowledges the whole person. Employees are more engaged and satisfied with jobs from employers committed to providing careers with opportunities for personal and professional development. This is not surprising, as reports show that millennials are struggling to balance work not only with life, but also community involvement and personal development. More broadly, people around the world want to be part of something bigger, to find a purpose, and to connect with others.

In this way, Silicon Valley is no different. However, Silicon Valley is unique in that it is home to some of the largest firms in the world. Many of these companies deal with technology that virtually everyone on the planet uses, from social media and artificial intelligence to biotechnology and self-driving cars. Working at these companies involves innovation that will shape the world of tomorrow in terms of not only new products, but also privacy, commerce, and communication. Thus, these companies deal with decision-making that has important ramifications. These types of societyshaping consequences require spiritually grounded leaders who have the capacity to weigh and evaluatethose consequences and push us all to find humancentered answers to the questions raised.

Why Do Business Leaders Need Spirituality?
Organizational leaders are central to enacting a company’s vision and strategy through its employees. Now more than ever, business leadership is an important calling. Making difficult decisions during normal business is challenging enough. As always, managers and executives are asked to balance organizational performance with the needs of a wide range of employees. These demands have become more challenging, as decision-making must quickly respond to global changes in hyper-competitive environments. Inevitably, leaders face conflicting demands and interests that are not easily reconciled. Not only are such roles intellectually exacting, but they are also fraught with challenges to one’s integrity when shortcuts and temptations present themselves.

To meet these demands, business leadership requires experience, profound levels of wisdom, discernment, and compassion, which can only be achieved through introspection, self-discovery, and adaptation. Without a strong sense of self and one’s convictions, decision-making of such consequence can become paralyzing. As mentioned, the study of spiritual beliefs builds a person’s spiritual muscle memory that can be called upon in the midst of crises and dilemmas. Spiritual muscle memory aids in making difficult decisions because a person does not need to search the soul for how to proceed —the leader’s character and convictions are already established.2 Knowing this, the connection to personal and professional purpose helps prevent burnout.3 With their internal compass in place, leaders are able to direct and inspire others to achieve greater things. As such, spiritual maturity strengthens one’s ability to be an effective leader.

“The spiritual leadership approach finds the solution in contemplation, to approach situations with an attitude of discernment rather than one of intervention; acceptance rather than control; letting go rather than holding on; lightening rather than doing; and in humility rather than in competence.”—Korac-Kakabadse, Kouzmin, and Kakabadse, 2002 4

Harvesting Blooms

Business Education
Increasingly, business schools around the world are offering courses that expand students’ understanding of ethical and value-based decision-making by introducing the study of spirituality. In the early 2000s, classes on spirituality and business started to grow. For example, Stanford, Columbia, and Notre Dame started offering the course Spirituality and Work in their business schools. More recently, NYU launched the Mindfulness in Business Initiative to help students explore how to be successful in a saner, more sustainable, and ethical workplace.

Santa Clara University’s legacy of joining spirituality and business in the MBA curriculum goes back to 1998, when André Delbecq first taught the course Spirituality and Organizational Leadership to MBA students.5 The class is built on three key components: learning to hear one’s inner voice; learning to integrate one’s inner voice with the voices of others; and enriching the sensibilities of one’s inner voice. The course starts by using a broad range of contemplative and meditative techniques to quiet the mind and enhance a person’s ability to hear and appreciate the inner voice. This includes methods to appreciate calling and discernment.6 Using a norm of appreciative inquiry, students are encouraged to participate both through sharing and listening while being fully present. The course then turns to enriching the inner voice by contemplating how organizations can solve problems for society.

After Delbecq’s passing, Nydia MacGregor and I sought ways to integrate the class into the new MBA curriculum, which had a slightly different format and length. Using his course as a foundation, we adapted the class by adding 30% more content and meetings to meet the new curriculum requirements. And although we read and discuss works by spiritual masters and leaders, the value of the course is designed to go beyond the knowledge about the concepts discussed. It provides an opportunity to stop and reflect on one’s path both in the past and going forward. The course helps students build their spiritual muscle memory in support of their ability to lead organizations by meeting ambiguity and novel questions with thoughtful answers grounded in human needs. We ask the students to explore the relationship between spirituality, purpose, turbulent business environments, and organizations. Specifically, we consider:

  • How is business leadership related to the idea of a calling?
  • Why do successful leaders often derail if they lack personal integration?
  • How is spirituality related to the achievement of personal integration?
  • How do turbulent business environments affect leadership spirituality?
  • What special challenges are posed for spirituality by power and wealth that accompany successful business leadership?
  • How can spiritual disciplines as well as mindfulness and meditation practices be tailored for the time-pressured life of business professionals and leaders?
  • What are the benefits of a more intense and intentional spiritual journey for the organizational leader and the organizations they manage?

Business leaders are not immune to these questions. However, they have organizations to manage and often do not have time to reflect on how to integrate spirituality into their workplace. However, the answers to such questions influence how leaders interact with and support their employees. Taking a class such as this one early in one’s career sets a foundation that makes it easier to follow one’s heart during the tough times, because in times of chaos we fall back on what we know and the values that are deeply ingrained in our person. By embracing the opportunity to take this course and ask these questions, students strengthen their spiritual maturity and make progress on their journey to become better leaders. The deep consideration of the values that guide one’s choices is crucial to making difficult decisions under stress and constraints when the time comes. Thus, this class provides tools such as mindfulness and sensitive listening to deal with challenges that lie ahead.

The course has been well received. In 2019, 11 students enrolled in the relaunch of the class. At its completion, students stated:

“This course was a wonderful surprise in my SCU MBA education. I was able to synthesize how my beliefs and values might be expressed in the workplace. But even more important to me was taking on a leadership perspective and thinking through how I could help create a company culture that encouraged people to bring their whole selves to the workplace and feel safe doing so."

“Most enjoyable to me were the assignments. I loved being given the time and encouragement to grow this part of my life, think deeply about what’s really important to me, and learn how I can express that in a pluralistic context while helping others do the same."

“The Spirituality and Business Leadership course was the most rewarding class I have taken here at Santa Clara University."

“So many of the decisions you make in leadership come down to your spiritual beliefs. It must be clearly defined that spiritually can be interpreted in so many ways. It is your personal meaning of spirituality that truly matters, and how you apply it to your beliefs. Executing throughout your team and seeing the results is the ultimate prize.”

The recent pandemic has underscored that people really are the heart of any organization. To be effective, business leaders must connect with people, and COVID-19 has highlighted that our need for connection continues to grow. Jobs aren’t just jobs, and the workplace isn’t just a paycheck. It is a place where people come together in community to build something bigger than themselves. Thus, access to spiritual teaching and personal growth has never been more important. Leaders with spiritual maturity support and strengthen their employees’ ability to weather this storm by being present, mindful, and compassionate.

At SCU, we have the unique opportunity to interact with and teach the leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond. Steeped in the Ignatian foundation of honoring a holistic approach to learning, it is imperative that we support a better understanding of the human side of business leadership. These leadership roles may become more challenging, consequently as times change Santa Clara is positioned to provide the opportunity for the leaders of tomorrow to build the spiritual maturity needed to make the world a better place.

JENNIFER LYNN WOOLLEY, Ph.D., is an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University. Her research and teaching focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, and the emergence of firms, industries, and technologies. Woolley’s research has been published in several journals including Academy of Management Discoveries, Organization Science, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, Journal of Business Venturing, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, and Journal of Product Innovation Management.

Bolman, L. and Deal, T. E. (1995) Leading with Soul. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Dhiman, S. (2017). Leadership and spirituality. In J. Marques, S. Dhiman (eds.), Leadership Today. Switzerland, Springer, pp 139-160.
Gunther, M. (2004) Faith and Fortune: The Quiet Revolution to Reform American Business. New York, Crown Business.
Marquez, J. (2013) Understanding the strength of gentleness: Soft-skilled leadership on the rise. Journal of Business Ethics, 116: 163-171.

1 Gibbons, P. (2000) Spirituality at Work: Definitions, Measures, Assumptions, and Validity Claims, in J. Biberman and M. Whitty (eds.), Work and Spirit: A Reader of New Spiritual Paradigms for Organizations. Scranton, PA, University of Scranton Press, pp. 111–131.
2 See Phipps, K. A. (2012) Spirituality and strategic leadership: The influence of spiritual beliefs on strategic decision making. Journal of Business Ethics, 106 (2), 177–189 and Pruzan, P. and Pruzan Mikkelsen, K. (2007) Leading with Wisdom: Spiritual-based Leadership in Business. Los Angeles: Sage.
3 See Benefiel, M. (2008) The Soul of a Leader. New York, Reed Business.
4 Korac-Kakabadse, N., Kouzmin, A. and Kakabadse, A. (2002) Spirituality and Leadership Praxis. Journal of Management Psychology 17:3 165–182.
5 Delbecq, A. L. (2000) Spirituality for Business Leadership: Reporting on a Pilot Course for MBAs and CEOs. Journal of Management Inquiry 9 (2) 117–128.
6 See Delbecq, A. L. (2008) Nourishing the Soul of the Leader: Inner Growth Matters. In J. V. Gallos (ed.) Business Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, pp 486–503; see also Delbecq, A. L. (2006) The Spiritual Challenge of Power: Humility and Love as Offsets to Leadership Hubris. Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion 3 (1) 141–154.