Vail Valley Voices: Spirituality in leadership |

Vail Valley Voices: Spirituality in leadership

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO, Colorado

At the Vail Leadership Institute, we define spirituality as the very personal process of connecting to a reality greater than ourselves, without aligning with a religion. We think of spirituality as an orientation toward the sacred or a higher power. What most people call God.

But how is spirituality distinguished from religion? While some people use these terms interchangeably, there is actually a considerable difference.

Spirituality most often references God, but doesn’t cross the line of how one relates to him. It’s a process or state of mind.

Spirituality is of the divine; religion is of man. Religions are institutional and about doctrine. So spirituality and religion are related, but really different concepts.

Jon Meacham in his book “American Gospel” claims that today spirituality is one of “the most pervasive but least understood forces in American life. We need to make spiritual convictions a significant, but not the only or even dominant, factor in determining our political perspectives. It should be part of the process, not separate.”

In Patricia Aburdene’s book, “MegaTrends 2010 — The Rise of Conscious Capitalism,” she describes why and how “the power of spirituality is arguably the greatest megatrend of our era.” She claims that the “cornerstone of effective leadership is self-mastery” and highlights many leaders who achieve significance through connecting to their higher power.

But the divine presence has been gradually pushed out of our conversations over the past century. Our current materialistic culture advocates not just a separation of church and state, but a separation of church from life, where the almighty has been restricted from the public square almost completely. It seems that with “In God We Trust,” the nation’s early leaders intended to draw upon divine inspiration.

If change is needed in today’s culture, and if one rejects the ego-driven approach, then we need a powerful force greater than ourselves to make these changes. We believe that influence can be spirituality.

When the creator is introduced into conversations, we begin to get outside of ourselves, get beyond our ego, and begin to think about others. When God is present, we tend to be more respectful, less irreverent.

When we bring the sacred into the conversation, we’re likely to get to the heart, and that’s where values reside. At the heart level, we uncover our fundamentals — what is really important. We like the proverb that says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

The encouraging news is that transcendent values, or spiritual values, are usually a common set of fundamental beliefs that are generally shared by the all world’s great wisdom and faith traditions.

And when you compare spiritual values with more worldly values, you begin to see some striking differences. Like humility over pride — pride being like a cancer on spirituality. Like encouragement and love over money and power.

We think God values significance more than success.

Understanding your spiritual perspective is one thing, but putting it into practice is quite another. There are numerous ways to do this, like meditating and praying, detaching from the daily grind to reflect and reenergize, journaling your thoughts, forgiving those who have wronged you, respecting the faith of each person, loving your neighbor, and listening deeply to others.

When your thoughts and words line up with your actions, we say you’re living an integrated life — you’re operating out of integrity.

We believe this principle of spirituality is central to life and leadership. It represents a foundational element of how we make decisions and how we relate to others.

What’s your spiritual perspective and how is that working for you?

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character development program offered in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 926-7800 or

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