Reimagining Faith: A Leader's Orientation Towards Responsibility

Beyond technical competency and business acumen, leadership increasingly faces questions of responsibility.  One of the many things I am curious about is why people are responsible, where responsibility leads to decisions and action beyond a profit motive to consider people, planet and consequence of actions.  This curiosity led to an exploration of faith - where faith is not a synonym for religious belief, but as one’s definition of and orientation towards reality guiding one’s sense of purpose, responsibility, and action.

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Faith Described in Literature

When we move beyond associating faith solely as a synonym for specific religious beliefs - we see this wonderful vibrant, complex and animating principle motivating people to action.  Specific qualities of faith as described in the literature included:  

  • An essential, unique personal, human quality – everyone has faith in the sense of having an orientation towards being and reality    (Cox, 2009, p. 37; Fowler, 1981, p. xiii; Smith, 1979, pp. 8, 129; Tillich, 1957, p. 7)
  • A verb – engagement and full participation in life and the universe    (Fowler, 1981, p. 14; Smith, 1979, p. 5; Tillich, 2000, p. 23)
  • Response to something beyond and bigger than oneself - e.g., God, Being, connectedness, etc. (Dubay, 1985, p. 35; Fowler, 1981, p. 4; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003, pp. 322, 323; Smith, 1979, p. 12; Tillich, 1957, p. 10)
  • A way of knowing – not rationally or objectively.  Words used to describe faith include:  flow, awe, mystery, ‘the way things are’; a way of seeing   (Cox, 2009, p. 35; Fowler, 1981, pp. 11, 25; Niebuhr, 1989, p. 15; Smith, 1979, p. 12; Tillich, 1957, p. 7; Tillich, 2000, p. 25)
  • Purpose – what is to be done and how?    (Pratt & Ashforth, 2003, p. 323)
  • Meaning – a way of making sense of reality and one’s existence. (Fowler, 1981, p. 4; Smith, 1979, pp. 3,12)
  • Coherence – faith provides a sense of order, how and why things hang together to constitute reality and truth (ideology).   (Dubay, 1985; Fowler,  1981, p. 4; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003, p. 323)

Faith, then, can be seen as an essence of each human where this essence is experienced as reality, a sense of the way things are.  Used as a verb, faith moves us beyond belief to action.  Faith is related to spirituality, where:      

Spirituality is an experience and awareness of a Higher Power, a sense of inter-connectedness between and responsibility to self, other, the planet, and the Higher Power.  These fundamental beliefs about reality constitute an integrated foundation upon which individuals or groups view the world, derive purpose and meaning, and experience certitude.  Our values, qualities, motivations, and actions derive from our spirituality. . . . A sense of responsibility to self, others, and the planet are more akin to moral obligations so integral they are to one’s beliefs about inter-connectedness of all things.. .. Spiritual people have a multi-layered understanding of the relationship between the physical and meta-physical worlds.  (Crumpton, 2011)

 [I realize citations are a bit training demands I give credit where credit is due (big grin).]

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Three examples

The excerpts below arose out of casual conversations with some friends on separate occasions over coffee.  In part I wanted to understand more fully what made them tick - all people I observed leading beyond a profit motivation to something more.  As I listened to their stories, I realized that each had a personal spirituality with a faith that translated into a unique outlook, values, and actions.  Allow me to introduce you to three friends (names changed):

Susie - a former lawyer with a prestigious firm stopped practicing law to open an art gallery.    Her rationale:  Art is a means by which we connect with our deeper selves.  By providing a space for artists to present their art, we (used collectively) have an opportunity to enhance our community and each other.  We are all interconnected, I have a choice and a responsibility to focus my energies towards those activities that connect and make a contribution to our community and to the lives of those whom I encounter.    I want to positively contribute to community and I just realized that I could do so by merely stopping doing one thing and doing another.    I’m not religious, it’s just not my thing.  My focus is art and artists.  I just believe that by focusing on enhancing community the human home is improved, people are respected, and we weave a life together.   

Jake – owner of an architecture firm committed to using earth friendly materials, affordable housing, having a positive work place, and community service.  His rationale:  We’re all in this together.  It’s the butterfly thing, small things I/we do matter and contribute either positively or negatively to the environment, our community, and each other.  I feel a sense of responsibility to be intentional and to do the best I can and believe that my firm and my contributions are part of a bigger picture with a lasting impact.  I was raised in a Christian home but do not consider myself religious – I tend to be more spiritual with an unshakeable belief that we all contribute to a greater aspect of life…something perhaps un-seeable yet palpable.   I stay focused through my Bikram yoga practice – I look in the mirror, see my face, and know myself.

Bob – president and founder of an IT consulting firm. His rationale:  As a Christian, I believe the planet and humans share a common creator.  We are all connected and this connection requires that I be responsible, a good steward.    My firm is about providing service, by creating a positive work place and by responsively providing client value.  As a workplace we are committed to community service, being green, buying local where we can, and creating client relationships.    People and the planet deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  God directs my life and I seek His guidance through prayer, but I have free will to act.  

Reflections on Faith

The three stories are but three - I suspect as you're reading this you can identify other stories of people in business with commitments and actions that transcend profit.  Places where a person’s faith creates a deep awareness and sense of connectedness and relationship to something bigger.  In some, this sense of Being is related to God as creator, with others, this sense is related to a big picture ordering and coherency.  One’s identification with and experience of connectedness provides coherency and serves as an anchoring or orientation towards a much bigger picture.  Values associated with faith included things such as:  

  • Our purpose is to serve others and the planet.
  • People should be treated with dignity and respect.  
  • People should be valued for who they are.  
  • We are all interconnected.  
  • Our responsibility is to promote the common good (defined in various ways).

Further, a person's actions matter and contribute in some way to the larger experience of life on the planet.  A person’s sense of agency is undergirded with a sense of responsibility, an ethic of care, and reciprocity (e.g., the Golden Rule).  Responsibility, then, is a recognition of the relationship of ones' actions and impact on people and planet.  To not act responsibly would be inauthentic and violate a person’s sense of right and wrong. Leaders guided by faith are driven by a perceived reality and deep sense of interconnectedness, an imperative if you will, to act responsibly.  This imperative translates into a strong sense of agency to act dissidently (against prevailing views) guided by a sense that actions matter.    


Click on the book or article title to discover more about a specific reference.  

Berger, P. L., & Zijderveld, A. C. (2009). In praise of doubt: How to have convictions without becoming a fanatic. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Cox, H. G. (2009). The future of faith (1st ed.). New York: HarperOne.

Crumpton, A. (2011).  An exploration of spirituality within leadership studies literature.  Paper presented at the 1st Global Conference on Spirituality in the 21st Century:  At the Interface of Theory, Practice, and Pedagogy.  March 20-22, 2011  Prague, Czech Republic, 2011.

Crumpton, A. (2011). An exploration of spirituality within leadership studies literature. In J. L. Hochheimer & J. Fernandez-Goldborough (Eds.), Spirituality conversations for the 21st century: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Dubay, T. (1985). Faith and certitude. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Gunther, M. (2004). Faith and fortune: The quiet revolution to reform American business.  New York: Crown Business.

Maak, T., & Pless, N. M. (2006). Responsible leadership. New York: Routledge.

Maak, T., & Pless, N. M. (2006). Responsible leadership:  A relational approach. In T. Maak & N. Pless (Eds.), Responsible leadership (pp. 33-53). New York: Routledge.

Niebuhr, H. R., & Niebuhr, R. R. (1989). Faith on earth: An inquiry into the structure of human faith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Pratt, M., G., & Ashforth, B. E. (2003). Fostering meaningfulness in working and at work. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 309-327). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Pruzan, P., & Miller, W. C. (2006). Spirituality as the basis of responsible leaders and responsible companies. In T. Maak & N. Pless (Eds.), Responsible leadership (pp. 68-92). New York: Routledge.

Smith, W. C. (1979).  Faith and belief:  The difference between them.   Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tillich, P. (1957). Dynamics of faith. New York: Harper.

Tillich, P., & Gomes, P. J. (2000). The courage to be (2nd ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Webb, E. (2009). Worldview and mind: Religious thought and psychological development. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.