How to Spiritually Lead Employees

Neuroscience teaches us that what a person believes has a big impact on what they can produce. Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, writes about “Expectancy Theory.”

The expectation of an event causes the same complex set of neurons to fire as though the event were actually taking place, triggering a cascade of events in the nervous system that leads to a whole host of real physical consequences.

What this means in the workplace is that beliefs can actually change the concrete results of our efforts at our work. This isn’t just a theory; it’s been proven by a number of serious scientific studies.

We are living in an exciting time in which faith is fueling new work in the marketplace. Profitability is still a key measurement in business success, of course, but so is social impact, global footprint, and spiritual impact. As more and more businesses focus on new forms of impact, a leader's role is becoming even more important. People want to do good work, but they also want to have fulfilled lives.

As more workplaces become fueled by a spiritual calling, many leaders find themselves in a new position of spiritual leadership. If an employee believes they have purpose, they will work with purpose and results will follow. So, what can you do to be a leader who participates in the spiritual development of your people? Here’s four recommendations.

  1. Remember that your people are disciples with jobs - At the end of the day, each one of us is trying to do our best with the life we have. This is the common theme: you’re doing your best and I’m doing my best.  To be strong leaders, we must give people permission to grow spiritually. Is it safe? Of course not. Does it lead people somewhere? Of course it does. Nothing gives employees the permission to spiritually grow like working for a boss who is supportive of those who want to grow not just as employees but as people.

  2. Participate in discipleship cultures - Leaders who want to spiritually guide their employees should be participating in other discipleship cultures, outside of their professional life. Become involved in your local congregation, Bible study groups, recurring mission trips, or a small group of trusted friends who meet regularly to do life together. This makes you more likely to lead employees in the right direction spiritually. Discipleship cultures are places of continued learning, meaning we don’t have to be stuck as the same person all the time. And when a leader changes a way of thought or moves past a personal hurdle, it gives the people they lead permission to head down the same path.  

  3. Emphasize that work is something we do, not who we are - As kids, it’s easy to develop an identity around academic success, standing out in a specific sport, or even spending time with a popular group of people. Adulthood doesn’t shed our need for identity, it shifts them to new things like marriages, possessions, or work success. Identity impacts our productivity. However, identity becomes dangerous when it is solely based on the work we do. Leading people well spiritually  means helping them reflect on their God-given value, reminding them of how they are made in the image of God. Employees who bring their value to work will be more sustainable than employees attempting to find their value in their work.

  4. Practice servant leadership - Results are important for a company or organization to have long term success. But the most powerful form of leadership is service.  When a leader serves their team, that team will want to know more about the leader. And for a leader to show up and serve daily, the motivation must be greater than results alone. Serving over a long period of time requires personal spiritual health. People who are led and served well will recognize a greater motivation in the heart of the leader. This has a serious impact and will generate not only work conversations, but life conversations too. Spiritually, this is discipleship: walking beside people and modeling what it means to put God first.

Being responsible for someone else’s spiritual success can feel weighty, even paralyzing. But the good news is not one of us is responsible for someone else’s spiritual growth; that is God’s job. Spiritual leadership is less about the results in others and more about the results in us. We simply can’t reproduce what we don’t already possess. The call to spiritual leadership is the call to our own relationship with the creator. When we begin to reflect on God’s word, listen to the call of the Holy Spirit, and put what we hear into action we change in front of people. This vulnerable form of leadership is freeing to those we lead, serving them as well as it serves us.