The unexamined life is not worth living. In the translation of Plato's Apology, Socrates said this before his execution for corruption of the youth of Athens. He was offered freedom as an exile, but he chose to die because he claimed that one must look deeply into life to look for meaning (Hamilton & Cairns, 1961). Why did Plato write this? What did he mean? Are there implications for leadership? These are major questions that form the foundation of spirituality in leadership.
One can look to leaders of the past who performed leadership tasks with what seemed to be a deeper purpose. These leaders took on the leadership roles motivated by more than pay or personal glory. Often it would have been easier to have declined the leadership role in order to avoid personal loss or misfortune. This theme occurs early in literature in the epic stories of ancient people. Throughout history we also find people who embraced leadership at great personal loss. While these people may seem heroic and bigger than life because of their fame and the continuous retelling of their stories, they are ordinary people who were driven by forces that can drive any one of us.
Ethical leadership does not always have the legendary status of the ancient Greeks and Romans or even American icons like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. All children learn about George Washington's story of telling the truth of chopping down the cherry tree. However, we do not have to look too far back in our nation's history to discover leadership figures that have questionable ethics; the Watergate scandal with President Richard Nixon, the IranContra scandal with Colonel Oliver North, and the Monica Lewinski and President Clinton. These and other scandals have brought to light the need for those in power to lead in an ethical manner. Leaders are expected to reflect and uphold the morals, norms and principals of conduct that are universal to the population they are leading. They must assess and reflect upon all conditions and possible outcomes prior to making a decision.
Leaders, both in and outside the field of education, can benefit from a close examination of their reasons for leading. The depth from which our strength comes can be described as a spiritual dimension and the outcomes of decisions will be judged against what is considered to be ethical.
The word spirituality comes from that Latin word spiritus, which means breath, energy, courage, vigor, and soul (Simpson, 1960). We often look at the word spirituality as a religious word, but it has a meaning more basic to every one of us. It can be seen as the life force that moves us. It is that element that makes humans different from statues and robots. Other English words derived from spiritus are aspire, respire, inspire, and conspire. The latter word has definitions on both sides of the goodness spectrum, but I am looking at the definition that involves breathing together or working together. Leaders whom others aspire to follow are often said to be charismatic. Charismatic comes from the Greek word χ[U+03AClρισµα, which means a grace, favor, or a free gift (Liddell, 1972). Combining these concepts leads one to consider gifts or favors that come from nourishing the deeper forces that drive us.
The word Ethics is derived from the Greek word εθoς meaning "moral character, nature, disposition, habit, and custom." ("The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language," n.d.). The meaning of ethics has not changed in centuries. The modern day definition is the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group ("The Merrian-Webster Online Dictionary," 2009). We often use the word in defining a person's behavior; did he act in an ethical way in making the decision. People in leadership positions are trusted to make an ethical decision. That is, leaders are trusted by their subordinates to act in a way that is a commonly agreed upon fairness for everyone.