As a way of wrapping up this series on the role of wisdom and spirituality in leading self, highlighting the leadership of Dorothy Day and Jean Vanier, I would like to emphasize how they demonstrated Servant Leadership.  This leadership style requires a strong orientation to values that allow leaders to serve their people well while engaging in efforts that transform the organization.[i] The undergirding value is human dignity as philosopher Immanuel Kant admonishes:

Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.[ii]

As servant leaders, Day and Vanier:

serve[d] others by investing in their development and well-being for the benefit of the common good. … aspire[d] to be great only in their service to others… with integrity, humility, sincere concern, a generous, forgiving and giving heart, and self-discipline…  by investing, empowering, caring for, and consulting others.[iii] 

All leaders, whether deriving strength from a theistic worldview or not, or from other spiritual traditions than Catholicism, can identify and formulate the principles Day and Vanier used in their lives to create a role model for their leadership.

It is helpful to distinguish between religious and spiritual beliefs.  While Day and Vanier espouse religious beliefs, I would argue they also have a spiritual worldview as defined by Hood and Chen (2013):

Religious beliefs typically refer to the more institutionalized aspects of belief in supernatural beings, such as within traditional religious communities. In contrast, spiritual beliefs refer to the individual and personalized beliefs regarding the transcendent or sacred, which are often based on personal experience rather than tradition.

Therefore, religious and spiritual beliefs can be integrated in a person’s worldview, particularly when spirituality is understood as a personal experience of religion.  To put it another way, to be religious does not preclude being spiritual.  This integration is evident in the unique insights of neuroscience into the topic of neurocognitive mechanisms underlying religion and spirituality and predictive processing of people who self-identify as either religious or spiritual. Predictive processing, that is, using prior cognitive models to predict and perceive the world is important to consider in relation to leadership since prior beliefs, influenced by context and culture are hierarchically structured and influence decision making, expectations, beliefs and emotions. The literature on neuroscience as it relates to religion and spirituality and implications for leadership is fascinating. You might be interested in checking out the authors listed below. [iv]

[i] Atha, Castellon, Strong, Wu, 2017, p. 29.

[ii] Rachels, J., 1986, 1.

[iii] Atha, Castellon, Strong, Wu, 2017, p. 1

[iv] Apps & Tsakiris, 2014, Clark 2013, Kamitsis & Francis, 2013, Piff et all 2015, Risen, 2016, Seth, 2013, Zhang et al 2014


Apps, M.A., Tsakiris, M., 2014. The free-energy self: a predictive coding account of self-recognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 41, 85–97.

Atha, D.L., Castellon, A.R., Strong, H., & Wu, T. (2017). MA Leadership and MA in Educational Leadership Monograph 2018. Unpublished Manuscript Trinity Western University, Langley BC, (70), 22–32.

Clark, A., 2013. Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science. Behavorial and Brain Sciences 36, 181–204.

Kamitsis, I., Francis, A.J.P., 2013. Spirituality mediates the relationship between engagement with nature and psychological wellbeing. Journal of Environmental Psychology 36, 136–143.

Piff, P.K., Dietze, P., Feinberg, M., Stancato, D.M., Keltner, D., 2015. Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108, 883–899.

Rachels, J. (1986). The Elements of Moral Philosophy, pp. 114-17,122-23. NY: Random House, Inc.

Risen, J. L. (2016). Believing what we do not believe: Acquiescence to superstitious beliefs and other powerful intuitions. Psychological Review, 123(2), 182-207.

Seth, A.K., 2013. Interoceptive inference, emotion, and the embodied self. Trends Cognitive Science 17, 565–573.

Zhang, J.W., Piff, P.K., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Keltner, D., 2014. An occasion for unselfing: beautiful nature leads to prosociality. J. Environmental Psychology 37, 61–72.