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The Spirituality of Work and Leadership, by Paul Gibbons, offers a comprehensive, scholarly guide to business and spirituality

05 Nov 2020

The Spirituality of Work and Leadership, by Paul Gibbons, offers a comprehensive, scholarly guide to business and spirituality


Business faces dual crises – meaning and ethics. Is workplace spirituality an answer?

The Spirituality of Work and Leadership: Finding Meaning, Joy, and Purpose in What You Do, by Paul Gibbons, is a comprehensive guide to workplace spirituality that shows how spirituality affects work culture, meaning and purpose, workaholism, vocation, burnout, remote working, happiness, mindfulness, altruism, motivation, and engagement – and, crucially, how leaders can lead in these “softer” areas. 

The book aims to help workers find deeper meaning and purpose in their lives and so improve their experience at work. It then teaches leaders how to create ethical workplaces that facilitate rather than frustrate that process. 

Two business crises – meaning and ethics

Before the COVID-19 crisis, there was another crisis in business – one of meaning. A Gallup poll found only 13% of workers were engaged at work and fully 24% were “actively disengaged.” The problem, says Gibbons, is that you cannot cut a check to buy meaning – you need to provide work that has intrinsic value – a purpose, not just a paycheck. But businesses aren’t temples and business leaders aren’t spiritual gurus – how do they lead meaning-making at work and the more purposeful businesses that 21st-century workers claim they crave?

Moreover, the “normal” to which we would like to return was really a crisis. Our world is continually punctuated by ethical scandals: Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, the Deepwater Horizon, Weinstein, Purdue Pharma, Enron, Facebook, WeWork, Uber, Lehman Brothers, and Boeing’s 737 Max. 

Spirituality offers guides to ethical conduct, but, says Gibbons, it will take more than sending leaders to church or an ashram. Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) and Ken Lay (Enron) were deeply religious and manifestly the biggest corporate crooks of all time. In the conclusion, the book uses COVID-19 as a case study exposing gaps in leadership thinking that spiritual approaches would have filled. 

Spirituality illuminates meaning and ethics, but...

In the book, Gibbons says, “Spirituality, in pre-historic times, allowed humans to triumph on the evolutionary landscape through collaboration and altruism, but in the early 21th century, religious ‘clash of civilizations’ and culture wars seem to divide us more than unite us.” To put spirituality to work in these dual crises, we must not confine spirituality to specific faith, secular, or mystical traditions; we need to understand where faith traditions, New Age, mysticism, Humanism, and eco-spirituality converge. From that understanding of fellow citizens’ and co-workers’ search for meaning and purpose, spiritual conversations can help us come together and put business to work on pressing national and global problems.

Unlike all previous books on workplace spirituality, The Spirituality of Work and Leadership is scholarly in approach, a “think-good” book as well as a “feel-good” book. It relies on the work of Nietzsche on meaning, Harvard’s Steven Pinker and Michael Sandel on altruism, Yuval Harari on evolutionary biology, neuroscientist Richard Davidson on mindfulness, Aristotle on happiness, and theologians from the Abrahamic religions. Rather than just a book with philosophical ideas, though, Gibbons describes his experience putting these ideas to work over the last two decades at Shell, Microsoft, Zappos, and HSBC Bank.

The book wonders how ancient wisdom traditions may provide guidance on 21st-century issues such as AI, human cloning, climate change, inequality, sexual harassment, outsourced jobs, and a surveillance culture. For that, says Gibbons, we need a synthesis of spirituality and science, what Pope John Paul II called fides et ratio. For science and spirituality to work together, we need to end the war between scientific and spiritual traditions. 

A Comprehensive guide to workplace spirituality

The Spirituality of Work and Leadership is the first in a two-volume series called Humanizing Business. Volume I answers the following questions for readers:

  • What do we mean by spirituality? How is it different from religion?
  • What is the link between leadership and spirituality?
  • What is the relationship between religion and science?
  • Is the world becoming more or less spiritual, and why that matters?
  • What is the historical relationship between spirituality and work? Where does that leave us today?
  • Can we prove workplace spirituality is of value? What is the evidence?
  • What are the benefits of private prayer or meditation at work? Can spiritual experiences at work be cultivated?
  • What insight does spirituality give us into human motivation?
  • What is the purpose of purpose? How do leaders create personal and organizational purpose? How do we create purposeful lives and organizations?
  • What would a spiritual consulting firm look like?

The book is available on Amazon and in bookstores later this year.

Advance praise for the The Spirituality of Work and Leadership

Marshall Goldsmith describes The Spirituality of Work and Leadership thus: “An incredible dive into the intersection of spirituality and business. Gibbons wrote the book that needed to be written for our world — showing us how our spirituality is the key to our humanity in business.” 

According to investment banking EVP, Robert Entenmann: “Gibbons towers above business thinkers in the way that Drucker did in an earlier era. Even Drucker did not bring to business thinking the breadth of scholarship and originality of thought that Gibbons does.”

About the author

Paul Gibbons, one of the workplace spirituality movement’s founders, is the author of two category bestsellers on business culture and leading change. Between book projects, he keynotes on five continents and has taught business ethics to MBA students in several universities in the UK and the US. In his early career, he held senior positions at Morgan Stanley and Citibank, before becoming a leader in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ think tank and innovation center. He has degrees in neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology, and he has worked with CEOs in some of the most storied companies in the world.

Cover image by Samson on Unsplash

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