Whether we individually believe in a religion or not, people all around us do. Put simply, religion is a social fact. Indeed, it influences how people live, work, and lead. Consequently, understanding and respecting religion is important for Leaders. Notably because it has such a big influence on the lives of many. If we want to fully understand Leadership and Religion today, we need to understand there are two sides to this debate. Most importantly, to understand its impact is of interest to us all. In fact, it may help us become better Leaders in a complex world.
LEADERSHIP AND RELIGION | WHY IT WORKS
For some Leaders that are of a particular faith, their beliefs translate into a certain level of calmness and centeredness. Subsequently, this personal harmony can have a contagious effect on the people around them. In fact, it is known that Leaders who show emotional composure outperform those who react with anxiety and defensiveness. As a result, in times of turmoil, constant change, swift decisions, and increasing complexity, these qualities become invaluable. Deeper meaning religion can be a source of, and resource for, deeper meaning for some Leaders.
Additionally, Leaders that prescribe to a belief system are offered the possibility to redefine and re-evaluate personal beliefs. That is, about the world as well as organisational aims within a wider purpose. Through it, Leaders may strive for a more reflective mindset and holistic approach. All of which are crucial to finding strength and stability in complex and ambiguous times.
While external factors push Leaders increasingly to focus on short term goals, religious beliefs can help them keep long-term objectives in mind. Leaders that believe in a religion will attest, both Faith and Leadership are not simply about a state of being, but rather a constant struggle of becoming.
LEADERSHIP AND RELIGION | WHY IT DOES NOT WORK
There are of course two sides to this debate. Consequently, it is argued there is no room for religion when Leading. That means there are those that believe Faith can be used as a destructive force when Leading. Also, there are those that fear religion is a double-edged sword. That is, one with pitfalls as well as opportunities.
Leaders may believe that their faith and their actions are sanctioned by a divine mandate. Hence, such a view may result in Leaders interacting with their surroundings in a de facto autocratic way. This can manifest, for instance, in the belief that there is only one correct understanding of scripture and a divine right to Lead. However, this challenge can be overcome. That is, through a fundamental conceptual transformation that shifts the Leader’s thinking from divine right to divine responsibility.
Crucially, such a divine responsibility should not impose nor coerce. But rather it should induce a desire to serve, support, and help. Leaders can then channel the belief of a divine right into an inclusive principle of compassion and care. That is a principle that has the potential to reach the masses. Fundamentally, religion is all around us. And notably, its powers are widespread.
Consider German political philosopher Karl Marx’s famous quote “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Here, Marx is arguing that religion was constructed by people to calm uncertainty in society. Clearly, there is nothing evil in wanting to calm uncertainty. But is that the only role of our current day Leaders? And if so, is it the way the “masses” want to be treated? That is, do the masses want to only calm uncertainty without actually addressing it?
Fundamentally, religion and Leadership must be viewed on a spectrum of understanding human behaviour. And, no matter how we value or evaluate it, religion and its impact on Leaders is a social fact. Hence it also becomes a key element in modern Leadership.
Crucially, Leadership should not be governed by religion. Equally however, religion should not be ignored from a Leader’s values. And there it is, what it all boils down to. Values. Religious or not, Leaders need to Lead with value. That is, by paying close attention to people as agents of impact. Religious Leaders can have an enormous influence on their followers, and are well placed to help bring about a change in mindsets. So too are non religious Leaders.
Religious Leaders and those of no religion, both – must have a common faith in humanity! That is, they both must Lead by spreading messages of respect, compassion and love. Ultimately, they both must Lead by fostering greater tolerance and understanding of human behaviour in a very complicated world.