The Role of Gender & Leader Tenure in the Relationship between Spirituality & Ethical Leadership.

Date01 January 2019
AuthorRai, Himanshu


Influence of spirituality on employee work attitudes (Milliman, Czaplewski & Ferguson, 2003), organizational productivity (Fry, Vitucci & Cedillo, 2005), work unit performance (Duchon & Plowman, 2005),loyalty (Sheep & Foreman, 2012) job satisfaction, (Pawar, 2008), employee engagement (Poole, 2009) and organizational commitment (Pawar, 2009) has been well documented. Further, Ashmos & Duchon (2000) observed that spirituality connected employees to a higher purpose at work. Even though the evidences of applicability of spirituality in management are substantive, the field grapples with one problem. Researchers are confused with whether religiosity and spirituality are same or distinct. Historically, spirituality and religiousness were considered to be same. However, with the rise of secularism, disillusionment with and distrust in religious institutions there has been a growing interest in understanding spirituality and separating it from religion (Turner et al, 1995; Roof, 1993).

In the past few decades, a number of corporate scandals (e.g., Enron, Lehmann Brothers, WorldCom etc) have created awareness regarding the significance of the ethical dimension of organizational practices. This has led to a surge in the research investigating the role of leaders in influencing the ethical behaviors and practices of the employees (Brown &Trevino, 2006, Brown & Mitchell, 2010). This surge in research on ethical leadership has made us aware of the consequences of ethical leadership, but not the antecedents. Very few studies have addressed what makes a leader ethical. So far, Leader Moral Identity (Mater et al., 2012), Leader Agreeableness and Leader Conscientiousness (Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009), Leader's Ethical Ideology (Waldman et al., 2017) have been observed as antecedents of ethical leadership. The present study addresses this gap in the understanding about antecedents of ethical leadership and empirically examines spirituality as an antecedent of ethical leadership through a dyadic(Leader-subordinate) study.


Religion and Spirituality have always played a central role in people's lives in the form of pervasive religious/spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences (Zinnbauer et al., 1997; Hill et al., 2000). As a result, psychological investigation of religion and spirituality was endorsed by the pioneers like William James (1902; 1961) but took a backseat with the rise of behaviorism. Religion is usually associated with structured, institutionalized practices, rituals and beliefs, religious orthodoxy, authoritarianism and church attendance (Zinnbauer et al., 1997). On the other hand, spirituality is usually associated with feelings of 'sacredness' and 'personal transcendence', where transcendence is "the capacity of individuals to stand outside their immediate sense of time and place to view life from a larger, more objective perspective" (Piedmont, 1999: 988).The rising number of people considering themselves to be 'spiritual but not religious' are more likely to be independent, educated, and agnostic, have higher income, hold unorthodox 'New Age' beliefs, have had 'mystical experiences' and less likely to hold traditional beliefs or attend church (Zinnbauer et al., 1997).

People perceive religiousness negatively and as a hindrance to transcendence, while spirituality is regarded as positive approach to transcendence (Turner et al., 1995). Lately, some scholars have been questioning if spirituality needs to be associated with any higher power or feelings of transcendence (Miller, 2004; Daaleman et al., 2004; Rai, 2014). For example, Rai (2014: 463) defines spirituality as "the development of our conscience through the understanding of our own self, our purpose in life, and our relationship with our universe (and by extension of our obligations to it), and subsequently, acting in accordance with this developed conscience". This definition is based on the Vedas, which is considered to be the earliest text in the world and universal in its message. Based on this definition, he developed a scale called the 'Vedic Measure of Spirituality' (VMS), which does not contain any items related to beliefs in higher power or feelings of transcendence.

Several positive traits are associated with spiritualism. Jurkiewicz & Giacalone (2004) created a values framework and suggested using it to empirically study workplace spirituality. The spiritual values espoused by this framework are Benevolence, Generativity (long-term focus), Humanism, Integrity, Justice, Mutuality (recognizing interconnection and interdependence), Receptivity, Respect, Responsibility and Trust. Additionally, the VMS scale developed by Rai (2014), measures spirituality across three dimensions: Fortitude, Introspective Reflection and Equanimity (abbreviated as F.I.R.E).

There is now ample evidence to confirm that spirituality is associated with numerous positive outcomes (Delbecq, 2009). In the psychological dimension, spirituality is negatively related to depression, anxiety, and stress and positively related to well-being and coping with adversities and changes (Koenig, 2012; Earl, 2010; Pargament et al., 1997; Karakas, 2010). In the social dimension, since spirituality promotes human virtues like humility, patience, forgiveness, self-discipline, honesty, etc, it has been shown to be related to better social support, sense of interconnectedness and community, marital stability and lesser criminal activities (Koenig, 2012, Karakas, 2010). In terms of physical health, spirituality is linked to safer sexual practices, reduced smoking, drug and alcohol use, increased exercises and better diet (Koenig, 2012).

In organizations, spirituality has been related to organizational commitment and affective commitment (Usman & Danish, 2010; Adawiyah et al., 2011; Nasina & Doris, 2011), better management of organizational change, performance and career development (Geh & Tan, 2009, Duffy et al., 2010), better handling of workload (Altaf & Awan, 2011), job satisfaction and job performance (Altaf & Awan, 2011; Marschke et al., 2011, Van Der Walt & De Klerk, 2014), sense of purpose and meaning at work (Karakas, 2010, Badrinarayanan & Madhavaram, 2008) and ethical behavior (Badrinarayanan & Madhavaram, 2008).

Ethical Leadership

The most widely accepted definition of Ethical Leadership has been conceptualized by Brown et al (2005) based on Bandura's social learning theory (Bandura, 1977; 1986), which posits that individuals learn standards of ethical behavior by observing and emulating credible role models. Thus, Ethical Leadership is defined as "the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way communication, reinforcement, and decision-making" (Brown et al, 2005: 120).

The social scientific study examines people's perception, causes and consequences of Ethical Leadership. This has revealed that there are two dimensions of Ethical Leadership: Moral Person and Moral Manager (Trevino et al, 2000). The Moral Person dimension captures the personality traits and behaviors that characterize an Ethical Leader. A Moral Person is someone who is honest, trustworthy, approachable, open, caring and a fair and principled decision maker who behaves ethically in his professional and personal life. Among the Big Five personality traits, agreeableness, and conscientiousness has been found to be positively related to Ethical Leadership, while neuroticism is unrelated. (Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009).

The Moral Manager dimension identifies the proactive steps taken by the leader to explicitly communicate the ethics and values message. The steps include intentionally role modeling ethical behavior, providing clear guidelines of the ethical standards to be followed and using transactional means of reward system (rewards and punishments) to motivate and ensure that employees adhere to these guidelines (Trevino et al, 2000; 2003).

An Ethical Leader is required to be both a strong moral persons and moral managers (Trevino et al, 2000, 2003). If a leader is a strong moral manager but a weak moral person, he will be viewed as a hypocrite, who doesn't practice what he preaches and hence will be considered dishonest and untrustworthy. Similarly, if a leader is a strong moral person but a weak moral manager, he might be ineffective in guiding the ethical behavior of employees in organizations. Corporate scandals can lead to huge losses, both in monetary terms and in the form of loss of confidence of clients, customers, employees, etc in the company. Ethical leaders can help prevent them.

Numerous research studies have established the significant positive impact of ethical leadership on followers' behaviors, practices, beliefs and perceptions. In the study by Brown et al (2005), ethical leadership was found to predict perceived supervisor effectiveness, willingness to put in extra effort and report problems. Ethical leadership has also been positively related to job satisfaction and commitment, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy and task significance, voice behavior (expression of constructive suggestions by employees), group-level organizational citizenship behavior, organizational identification and negatively related to group-level deviance behavior (Neubert et al, 2009; Toor & Ofori, 2009; Walumbwa & Schaubroeck, 2009, Mayer et al., 2009; Piccolo et al., 2010; Walumbwa et al., 2011; Hassan, 2015); Additionally, the study by Mayer et al. (2009), in accordance with the social learning theory (Bandura, 1977; 1986), showed that ethical leadership has a 'trickle down effect', such that behavior displayed by ethical leaders is emulated by followers.

Spirituality & Ethical Leadership: Relationship

No study has measured the direct relationship between spirituality and ethical leadership yet. However, there are a few studies that have indirectly...

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