Let’s face it, the words “spirituality” and “religion” carry a heavy load in most contemporary societies. An increasingly diversified, globalized and commoditized world has lead to an endless variety of practices, understandings and expressions of spirituality and religion. As a result spirituality and religion are often viewed as pertaining to people’s private domain while large organizations, private and public have distanced themselves from any particular spiritual or religious tradition.
This secularization of organized life notwithstanding, 84% of the world’s populations still considers itself religious. Of the remaining 16%, half considers itself “theistic but non-religious”. Even in western countries such as the Netherlands about 71% of the population believes there is a God (34%) or some sort of spirit or life force (37%). In the U.S. the percentage of people that is either religious or spiritual is around 88%. In others words, contrary to some popular beliefs, religion and spirituality continue to play a significant role in the daily lives of an overwhelming majority of the world’s people – no longer however in the environment where people spend 50% of their time, namely the workplace.
For a long period little attention was paid to connections between spirituality and issues pertaining to individual and organizational identity and performance. This has started to change in the past decade. Reasons are many, but they certainly include the crisis and collapse of large corporations such as WorldCom and Enron and more recently the global mortgage crisis, which were caused by mismanagement, blatant corruption and unethical behavior on the part of companies and their senior leadership. This has led to questioning how these ethical crises link to leaders’ and organizations’ loss of connection with “core values”, many of which are considered enshrined in the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. Meanwhile on the employee level, organizations have also increasingly started to experience a call to balance material benefits with the provision of “intrinsic motivation”. The modern workforce is no longer seems satisfied with simply earning a living. Studies show they increasingly expect the workplace to provide personal fulfillment, growth and meaning.
This is where the notion of “Spiritual Capital” becomes relevant. The concept’s origins can be traced to fundamental ideas in philosophy, economics, sociology, theology and increasingly in current leadership and management literature. Broadly, Spiritual Capital refers to the accumulated and enduring collection of beliefs, knowledge, values and dispositions that drive societal, organizational and interpersonal behavior. Hence, the Spiritual Capital “value proposition” operates on multiple levels.
Societal Spiritual Capital is the combination and culmination of individual and organizational Spiritual Capital into deeply held beliefs and practices associated with a society, which are passed on from generation to generation.
Organizational Spiritual Capital functions at an institutional level and refers to the organizational structures and assets which “codify” organizational values and objectives. These are the organization’s mission and vision statements, their codes of behavior and ethics and specifically their “worldview” and beliefs about their role and responsibility in society fall in this category.
Individual Spiritual Capital means having a clear personal value system, a personal moral vision, an ethos and motivation to transcend limitations and accountability to “higher standards” and “fundamental purposes”.
Spiritual Capital has been linked to improved interpersonal and leadership skills and ethical behavior. Some of its organizational benefits are increased levels of economic performance, longevity and sustainability. Spiritual Capital is a readily avaialbe yet often untapped resource for leaders and their organizations!