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Leadership religiosity: a critical analysis

Mark McCormack (Human & Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein (Human & Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Krista L. Craven (Human & Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 26 August 2014



The purpose of this paper is to present a case study of leadership religiosity in a local non-profit organizational setting, from a larger program evaluation project, and to problematize prevailing theoretical assumptions in the leadership religiosity literature about the nature of religion in organizational settings.


Methods of data collection consisted primarily of in-depth interviewing, observations, and document content analysis of organizational publications, web sites, and social media. The larger program evaluation project also utilized social network analysis and surveys.


The data highlights several important manifestations of leadership religiosity that serve to legitimate potentially unhealthy leadership tendencies and organizational processes: unrealistic future goals in strategic planning and dogmatic decision making. Both stem from the perceived divine origination of the organization in question, and from the perceived divine authority placed upon the leader of the organization.

Practical implications

This research challenges prevailing theoretical assumptions about religion in the workplace that characterize “religion” as wholly distinct from other social, political, and organizational processes and inherently positive or beneficial. Conclusions about the potential benefits of religion for organizational life should therefore be made with caution and with a more robust and balanced understanding of the constructed nature of religion.


This paper adds much-needed nuance to the extant literature on leadership religiosity, the vast majority of which assumes certain a priori qualities and values in religion and considers only the positive manifestations and functions of religion. While religiosity is often associated with certain organizational benefits, more robust discussion must examine the potential for religion to be manifested or used in the service of more negative or harmful purposes and ends.



Research for this paper was supported through a small grant from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.


McCormack, M., Brinkley-Rubinstein, L. and L. Craven, K. (2014), "Leadership religiosity: a critical analysis", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 35 No. 7, pp. 622-636.



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