In the Study of Leadership, Spirituality Is the Unexpected Elephant in the Room

Date01 January 2015
Published date01 January 2015
Book Reviews 171
Dasi Fruchter is a master of public
administration candidate in the Wagner
Graduate School of Public Service at New
York University. She is also studying toward
rabbinic ordination at Yeshivat Maharat, the
f‌i rst seminary to train and ordain Orthodox
Jewish women in spiritual leadership.
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 1, pp. 171–174. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12324.
f‌i nd it benef‌i cial to incorporate spirituality into their
leadership and management practice, a peripheral,
incoherent approach to this kind of incorporation
is not enough.  ey argue that spirituality must be
central to organizational practice and that it should
be rooted in consciousness and appreciation of the
other, connectivity to the greater world, and a sense
of complexity and plurality of beliefs. To describe this
approach, the authors of‌f er the term “co-charismatic
leadership,” which, in contrast to theories of leader-
ship that demand high levels of charisma displayed
by the leader to motivate (neocharismatic leadership),
“stresses the mutuality of charisma . . . and of‌f ers
greater stress on critical dialogue, interdependence
and shared creation” (265).
e tenth in a series titled Frontiers of Business
Ethics (edited by Laslo Zsolnai for Peter Lang),
Co-Charismatic Leadership joins the other titles in
going beyond conventional management literature
toward more sustainable models for businesses.
is series on business ethics states that the current
business literature fails to answer important ethical
questions about the responsibility of businesses to
stakeholders, communities, and the greater world.
Books in the series address responsibility, sustain-
ability, ethical leadership, and spirituality from many
dif‌f erent angles. Co-Charismatic Leadership of‌f ers a
strong proposal for a theory of spirituality and leader-
ship that can truly be practiced in the workplace, be it
in a business or in a public sector context. Although
written specif‌i cally in a generic management frame-
work, Co-Charismatic Leadership has many implica-
tions for management in the public sector—the book’s
case studies range from the f‌i nance sector to govern-
ment to education and health care.
Before proposing their view, however, the authors
begin with a rich analysis of existing leadership theo-
ries, deconstructing transactional, transformational,
and servant leadership models for the reader. Assessing
both the weaknesses and important strengths of each
approach, this review stands alone as critical reading
Simon Robinson and Jonathan Smith,
Co-Charismatic Leadership: Critical Perspectives
on Spirituality, Ethics and Leadership (New York:
Peter Lang, 2014). 326 pp. $80.95 (paper),
ISBN: 9783034302166; $80.95 (eBook),
ISBN: 9783035305708.
Simon Robinson and Jonathan Smith of‌f er a
famous parable in their book Co-Charismatic
Leadership: Critical Perspectives on Spirituality,
Ethics and Leadership about an elephant stationed in
a dark room. Wise men surround the elephant, and
as they reach for the beast and feel its dif‌f erent parts,
they come to the conclusion that there are many dif-
ferent animals present instead of a single large one.
ere are two interpretations of the meaning of this
parable: First, as a response to complexity, human
beings will come forward with the simplest mean-
ing of a phenomenon, divorced from critical analysis
and connectedness. Second, the elephant represents
something signif‌i cant lurking in the room, although
we do not quite know how to describe it. Spirituality,
as def‌i ned in relationship to leadership studies and
management, has both of these qualities—it is both
hard to def‌i ne and important.
In the last 15 years, the leadership and manage-
ment literature has exploded with claims that greater
engagement with spirituality and meaning mak-
ing in organizations is necessary—a journal titled
Management, Spirituality, and Religion emerged in
2010—but dozens of def‌i nitions and applications
can easily cloud a practitioner’s understanding of
how spirituality can actually work in practice. While
this book has the potential to of‌f er answers to reduce
this confusion, it does not fully realize such promise.
Nevertheless, it of‌f ers an important contribution to
the conversation.
Robinson and Smith have joined forces in this new
book to make the following argument: while an
increasingly complex world demands a new approach
to leadership in which both leaders and followers
In the Study of Leadership, Spirituality Is the Unexpected
Elephant in the Room
Sonia M. Ospina and Rogan Kersh, Editors
Dasi Fruchter
New York University

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