About the Author(s)

Khumbulani Sibanda Email symbol
Graduate School of Business Leadership, Faculty of Leadership, University of South Africa, Midrand, South Africa

Anton Grobler symbol
Graduate School of Business Leadership, Faculty of Leadership, University of South Africa, Midrand, South Africa


Sibanda, K. & Grobler, A., 2024, ‘A systematic literature review of spiritual leadership within African management philosophies’, Acta Commercii 24(1), a1164. https://doi.org/10.4102/ac.v24i1.1164

Research Project Registration:

Project Number: 90166124

Original Research

A systematic literature review of spiritual leadership within African management philosophies

Khumbulani Sibanda, Anton Grobler

Received: 03 May 2023; Accepted: 14 Nov. 2023; Published: 08 Apr. 2024

Copyright: © 2024. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Orientation: Spiritual leadership has been proposed as an alternative to lead a generation where personal values and beliefs are central to employee contentment and organisational success.

Research purpose: To critically analyse organisational spiritual leadership (SpL) from an African Management Philosophies (AMP) perspective and whether these are secular or non-secular.

Motivation for the study: Knowledge would be drawn from two bodies of scholarly literature, namely SpL and AMP.

Research design, approach and method: Literature will be systematically reviewed, focusing on three aspects of the body on knowledge, namely concepts, definitions and typologies (elements).

Main findings: The concept of SpL seems empirically much more operationalised than AMP. Central to organisational spiritual leadership are the leader’s values, attitudes and behaviours that intrinsically motivate followers to have a sense of spiritual survival through membership and calling, while AMP emphasise traditionalism, communalism, co-operative teamwork and mythologies.

Practical/managerial implications: The research seeks to highlight the existing gaps in literature of a contextualised African measure of SpL.

Contribution or value add: A secular and non-secular approach to spirituality emerges, which looks at AMP as emboldened by Ubuntu ideality that is contrary to extant literature on organisational spiritual leadership.

Keywords: spiritual leadership; African management philosophies; leadership models, spiritual, spirituality, African, organisation, employee contentment.


Spiritual leadership (SpL) may address values of employees, their attitudes and behaviours ‘that are necessary to motivate them and others so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership’ (Fry 2003:1). There seems to be a dichotomy in terms of application of organisational spiritual leadership. There is a secular application and a non-secular one. The former is used to hybridise the application of spiritual leadership, while the latter is completely ignored (Hicks 2002). The ignorance is wrought upon by a belief that bringing into the fold the non-secular aspects of organisational SpL brings about a tumultuous application of spiritual leadership with a myriad of religions being brought to bear upon the construct (Benefiel 2005).

The universality of un-nuanced spiritual leadership is questioned by Parameshwar (2005). As a result of the secular approach to workplaces, spiritual leadership assumes a homogeneity of theoretical application irrespective of cultures and different environments. This assumption is not correct (Parameshwar 2005). Cultures are different and these change with time (Earley & Ang 2003). For SpL scholars, therefore, to assume that the application of the construct should be the same in varying cultural contexts is to assume a cultural stagnation and a total disregard of the potency and cogency that culture posits for an individual’s spirituality (Nussbaum 2013).

In this article, a look at a secular (as opposed to a non-secular) approach to organisational spirituality is made with a focus on African Management Philosophies (AMP) as emboldened by the Ubuntu ideality. Caution must be exercised as most scholars when they want to adopt Ubuntu in organisations they concentrate on the philosophical aspects of it and ignore the divine and sacred aspects of it. The current literature on organisational spiritual leadership (as would be seen in later paragraphs) look at a Eurocentric secular approach and disregards local African realities that are crucial in any organisational leadership discussion. This has the shortcoming that it seeks to essentialise a European approach to leadership and thus ignore other poignant contextual realities. African management philosophies, albeit not developed into a theory of note, are seen to be the missing cog that seeks to contextualise organisational spiritual leadership.

Contextualising organisational spiritual leadership in the southern African context answers the call for decolonisation (Kasu 2017; Nkomo 2011) of spiritual leadership’s universal application. The extant literature as will be seen below does not have a SpL model typically for the localised South African environment. As stated by Walumbwa, Avolio and Aryee (2011), spirituality is a product of a people’s culture and religion. With this understanding, a homogenised application of SpL is not ideal given the heterogeneity of cultures. Organisational SpL has its empirical shortcomings and for these to be somewhat overcome, there must be an integration with other social science theories particularly the ones that speak to the local context. As evidenced by Blasco, Feldt and Jakobsen (2012), there is a yearning need to develop a construct that will talk to local realities and thus withstand both academic and empirical scrutiny. An integrated analysis of organisational SpL within the context of AMP is thus envisaged.

Data methodology and analysis


A systematic literature review methodological approach is used in this article, which syncs well with the purpose of this study (which is to critically analyse organisational SpL from an AMP perspective). The need for an inclusive and integrated approach to analysing both SpL and AMP is borne out of the need to look at whether there are any similarities between the concepts, definitions and elements of both. Detailed analysis of the process that was followed to analyse academic publications on organisational SpL within the context of AMP was made. Kable, Pich and Maslin-Prothero (2012) 12-step structured approach to documenting a search strategy for literature reviews was seen to be a befitting approach to follow as it details an auditable systematic approach to analysing literature on what we know and do not know about SpL and AMP and why this is important to local organisations.

An extensive and elaborate search where literature pertaining to SpL and AMP was conducted. The inclusion and exclusion criteria were employed where ‘key words’ on title search were conducted on multiple databases using UNISA’s library and Harzing’s Publish or Perish search software. This is a software program that retrieves and analyses academic citations. It uses a variety of data sources (including Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, Scopus, Web of Science and Crossref) to obtain the raw citations, then analyses these and presents metrics like – total number of papers, total number of citations (average per year as well) and the ranking of these publications amongst peers. Green and Adams (2006) state that at least two databases must be searched to provide more scope and depth on the subject. The search on Unisa’s library and Publish or Perish was thus restricted to only two search engines – Google Scholar and Crossref. The articles that were retrieved were selected according to the number of citations and rankings that they had (reference is made to Table 1 from numbers 1 to 10). The top 10 articles were selected according to the number of citations and ranking from January 2000 to February 2020.

TABLE 1: Summary of articles meeting the inclusion criteria: Spiritual leadership and African management philosophies.

For purposes of being specific, several approaches were instituted. Key among them were the use of keywords: *Spiritual leadership* and *African Management Philosophies*. These had to appear in the title of the articles. According to Babbie and Mouton (2001:192) ‘when building the body of knowledge’, only articles recognised and accepted in scientific research should be included. Green and Adams (2006:105) also aver that when one is searching for literature one must ‘search in reputable publication journals so as to obtain the most current and credible literature on the subject under research’. In this vein, only reviewed and peer-reviewed articles were included in the research part of Spiritual Leadership. On the contrary, as would be seen in Table 1 (numbers 11–17) the search for articles on AMP did not yield any results on reputable journals using Publish or Perish. This meant that different strategies had to be employed to obtain the literature on AMP. To obtain the literature on AMP manual search of reviews of unpublished primary research and blog searches were warranted to increase the ‘breadth and depth of searching’ (Green & Adams 2006:107) as dictated by the novelty of the construct of AMP. The time that was used in the search was January 2000–February 2020. This was to ensure that critical literature was not missed. The inclusion criteria were all journals looking specifically at the subject of AMP as a construct on its own. The exclusion criteria used were articles not looking at AMP per se but looking at African Management within the political realm, and the research was also restricted to journals published in English.

For purposes of relevance, abstracts of the searched literature were read to ensure that these had the best fit to the search criteria. These articles had to have a methodology in them to ensure that they were empirically undergirded. However, as the subject of spirituality (African spirituality to be precise) lacks empirical affirmation those articles that did not have a methodology were also considered to increase the scope and breadth of the research. Non-English publications were excluded along with newspaper articles and single-page articles.

Data analysis

Using Mouton’s (1999) and De Vos’s (2011) building blocks of science an analysis of the relationship (if any) between organisational SpL and AMP was done. These are concepts, definitions and typologies (elements). These will be summarised below using the method of analysis akin to that articulated by Babbie and Mouton (2011). Concepts according to Lerutla and Steyn (2017:15) should be distinguished ‘as key words that appeared on the keyword list of selected articles, and these should provide an all-encompassing view of the subject that the article is addressing’. In the results, concepts that were reported in the articles were stated.

On the definitions, a restriction was made based on the criteria that follow – only words that included ‘definition’, ‘described as’, ‘meaning’, ‘viewed as’, ‘seen as’ and ‘comprising’ were used to elicit for definitions of SpL and AMP. Typology (elements) was seen as references to groupings of concepts with the same characteristics (Lerutla & Steyn 2017), while references to scientific and hypothetical frameworks used to explain concepts were recorded as models and proven frameworks. The underlying forces were linked to theories.

Definitions, concepts and typologies

In the systematic literature review that follows, the concepts of SpL and AMP are presented. The focus was on the basic building blocks of academic knowledge. After introducing the concepts separately, these will be critically compared. Mouton (1999) defines scientific concepts, definitions, empirical statements, typologies, models, theories and paradigms, as the building blocks of science. In this literature review, the focus will be on three of these, namely concepts, definitions and typologies, and with regard to typologies, the focus will be on elements. In what follows, SpL and AMP will be discussed with reference to each of these.

Spiritual leadership

Only a few synonyms to SpL were found in the literature. These include spiritually guided leadership (Geaney 2012), religious leadership (Covrig, Ledesma & Gifford 2013) and values-based leadership (Weineberg & Locander 2014). Biblical leadership (Sanders 2017), servant leadership (Sendjaya 2007), transformational leadership (Bass & Riggio 2006) and transactional leadership (Northouse 2001) were not included as synonyms to SpL, as these leadership theories although somewhat connected to SpL are beyond the scope of the current article. These contemporary leadership theories although they do have some consistency with the theory of SpL, they, however, have some subtle and very poignant distinctions (Weineberg & Locander 2014). For instance, biblical leadership as espoused by Sanders (2017) although linked to the non-secular aspect of spiritual leadership will not be pursued in this article as it assumes a hegemony over other theories and is heavily steeped on the Western narrative of religion (Mazama 2002). Focus will be on AMPs as espoused by Binedell (1994), Mbigi (1996) and Khoza (2012). Transformational leadership and servant leadership although linked on a very macro-level with SpL tend to emphasise performance at an organisation and leader level (Weineberg & Locander 2014). Transactional leadership according to Fry (2003:701) is ‘an extrinsic-based motivation process’, and therefore by this virtue is discarded from the analysis as intrinsic motivation is looked at. The focus of this article is albeit different. It will look at a dyadic (two pronged) focus from a non-secular level of SpL contextualised within AMP.


There are different definitions of spiritual leadership. Fry (2003) is commonly seen as the seminal author in this field by Markow and Klenke (2005); Reave (2005); Ferguson and Milliman (2008); Aydin and Ceylan (2009); Fry and Cohen (2009); Crossman (2010); as well as Chen and Yang (2012). Following are these authors’ definitions:

  • Fry (2003:1) defines SpL as ‘comprising the values, attitudes, and behaviours that are necessary to intrinsically motivate one’s self and others so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership’.
  • Reave’s point of view (2005:663) on SpL includes that it is, ‘treated more as an observable phenomenon occurring when a person in a leadership position embodies spiritual values such as integrity, honesty and humility, creating the self as an example of someone who can be trusted, relied upon and admired’.
  • Phipps (2012:179) defines SpL as the, ‘human desire for connection with the transcendent, the desire for integration of the self into a meaningful whole, and the realization of one’s potential’.
  • Fry and Cohen (2009:266–267) state that, ‘Operationally, the theory of Spiritual Leadership draws from an inner life or spiritual practice to develop the values, attitudes, and behaviours that are necessary to intrinsically motivate oneself and others so that they have a sense of spiritual well-being’.
  • Markow and Klenke (2005:9) postulate that, ‘while much is being said about the role of spirituality in leadership, we still have very little evidence of how it works, and which aspects promote or hinder its utility as a dynamic organizational force’.
  • Chen and Yang (2012:107-108) state that, ‘The goal of spiritual leadership is to employ the strategies and empowerment of individuals and teams to establish a consensus concerning organizational vision and values, and thereby enhance the organization’s commitment and performance’.

Central to the definitions of SpL are four dimensions that spring out, viz, ‘religiousness, interconnectedness, sense of mission and wholeness (holistic mindset)’ (Sendjaya 2007:1). Religiousness is seen as a quality of believing strongly in a religion and obeying its tenets. However, there seem to be varied and multiple interpretations of what it is (Markow & Klenke 2005; Prabhu et al. 2016) and at what level this phenomenon can be observed. Fry’s (2003) definition of SpL looks at its occurrence from a dyadic (group of two people) level where intrinsic motivation because of values, attitudes and behaviours of both the leader and the led spurs a sense of spiritual survival through calling (strong urge towards spirituality) and membership (connectedness). On the other hand, Reave’s (2005) outlook of SpL viewed as an observed leadership phenomenon that occurs when the leader chooses to embrace certain values. Chen and Yang (2012) further elaborate that the strategic imperative of SpL is to satisfy employee needs (high and low). Their focus is the leader’s behaviour, attitudes and values that help to shape and sate employee needs.

This view is also emboldened by Crossman’s (2010) interpretation where the focal point is the organisational leader who is seen as an activator charged with the responsibility of liberating and actualising employees without which compassion and trust will not exist in organisations. These interpretations of SpL assume that employees are spiritual black boxes (spiritually oblivious) and that are incapable of lighting up their own spirituality. Although a leader’s guidance is needed, employees are ‘holistic’ individuals (Zhuravleva-Todarello & More 2009) who are capable of being spiritual on their own. Therefore, as Fry (2003) has asserted SpL has a causal effect where both the organisational leader and employee inspire each other to attain spiritual survival through membership and calling. The definition of Giacalone & Jurkiewicz (2003) interprets SpL as a state that exists in the organisation and thus is a collective construct (Prabhu et al. 2016).

Most authors including seminal authors on SpL (Fairholm 1996; Ferguson and Milliman 2008; Fry 2003; Fry & Cohen 2009; Hannah, Walumba & Fry 2011; Markow & Klenke 2005; Reave 2005) favour a secular approach. Very few authors touch on the non-secular approach. Even though Mitroff and Denton (1999) aver for a ‘whole person’ approach to SpL, they, however, shy away from a total embracement of religion as being part of the ‘whole person’. There is a gap in literature as regard the non-secular elements of organisational SpL. The notion of universal applicability is rejected, and a contextualised approach is thus supported.


Although definitions often include the elements of the construct, the focus herewith is broader, focusing on the characteristics of organisational SpL.

According to Fry (2003), SpL typically consists of six distinct parts:

It is a causal theory. The causality is dyadic and looks at the leader values, attitudes and behaviours (hope/faith, vision and altruistic love), which ‘influence follower’s needs for spiritual survival (through calling and membership)’, which result in organisational commitment and productivity. (p. 694)

It is developed within an intrinsic motivation theory. The theory of intrinsic motivation is:

[B]asically defined as interest and enjoyment of an activity for its own sake and is associated with active engagement in tasks that people find interesting and fun and that, in turn, promote growth and satisfy higher order needs. (p. 699)

It incorporates three elements: vision, hope/faith and altruistic love. These elements are leader focused where vision refers to the destination or journey, hope or faith to endurance and perseverance and lastly altruistic love relates to virtues such as forgiveness, kindness, integrity, honesty and empathy.

It incorporates workplace spirituality. This is manifested in an organisation that recognises the employees’ ‘inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community’ (Prabhu et al. 2016:4). This definition captures three radical spiritual needs of employees (inner-life, meaningful work and community) and therefore subsumes a ‘whole person’ approach as postulated by Mitroff and Denton (1999).

It incorporates spiritual survival through calling and membership which are follower focused. Calling (experience of transcendence or being called) and membership (social connection) are two aspects of workplace spirituality (Fleischman 1994; Maddock & Fulton 1998) that are ‘interlocked and essential dimensions of spiritual survival’(Fry 2003:703).

It is inclusive of the religious-and-ethics and values-based leadership approaches. The inclusivity has been largely from Western religious theologians (Blackbay & Blackbay 2001; McNeal 2000; Northouse 2001; Sanders 2017) as posited by Fry (2003:708).

There seems to be some clear overlaps in the elements of SpL as posited by Fry (2003). As articulated above, the antecedents of SpL are the ‘leaders’ values, attitudes and behaviours that intrinsically motivate followers so that they have a sense of spiritual survival through calling and membership (Fry 2003:1). The dyadic (leader-follower) level at which this happens is of utmost importance as it is not only viewed from a leaders’ perspective but also viewed from a follower’s angle through a causality that enables this process of organisational leadership to be viewed as a continuum rather than a single occurrence. The foregoing though from a workplace perspective disregards the variability of cultures and traditions of different localities and arrogantly assumes a homogeneity in application that smacks of a Western colonial ideology (Kasu 2017). In the subsequent paragraphs, a look at AMP is done, which are viewed as a decolonised approach to leadership theory (Van Rinsum & Boessenkool 2013).

African management philosophies

African management philosophies present a diverse collection of concepts, which are not easily compatible. A large array of concepts may be included when discussing this topic. These include Ubuntu (Mangaliso 2001), indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) (Nkomo 2006), national culture (Nkomo 2011) and attuned leadership (Khoza 2012). The concepts of AMP according to Goldman (2013) are founded on the principle of Ubuntu – an African worldview that is seen as a ‘pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness, that individuals and groups display for one another’ (Kastern & Illa 2005:607).

The aforementioned array of concepts makes defining AMP particularly difficult and thus hampering the building of a coherent body of knowledge on the topic (Anyansi-Archibong 2001). Presented below are several definitions of AMP.


The following are different definitions of AMP.

According to Edoho (2001), AMP refers to:

The practical way of thinking about how to effectively run organizations – be they in the public or private sectors–on the basis of African ideas and in terms of how social and economic life is actually experienced in these regions. (p. 54)

Bhengu (2014) says:

African management thought is said to emphasize traditionalism, communalism, co-operative teamwork, and mythology. Traditionalism has to do with the adherence to accepted customs, beliefs and practices that determine accepted behavior, morality, and characteristics of individuals in African society. (p. 3)

Gumede (2017:83) states that we ‘ought not to describe African leadership without talking about African-centered approaches. African centered approaches are primarily Afrocentric’. Asante (2007:16–17) sees AMP as a ‘consciousness, quality of thought, mode of analysis, and actionable perspective where Africans seek, from agency, to assert subject place within the context of African history’.

Central to the definitions of AMP is an African worldview that hails traditionalism (upholding customs and beliefs), communalism (togetherness), co-operative teamwork (spirit of oneness) and mythology (Bhengu 2014). AMP also explores the concept of Ubuntu – which in South Africa is an iSiZulu maxim that states that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu [I am because we are]. This depicts the collective conscience of the human spirit. Individualism is not part of the African aphorism, community, co-operative teamwork and symbols and mythologies are elements that undergird AMP (Nkomo 2006). These will be explored below.


The prior definitions inform the characteristics of AMP. The following are elements.

According to Marnewick, Erasmus and Joseph (2018), AMP typically consists of seven distinct elements:

Solidarity – ‘This is an agreement that exists amongst individuals. These individuals will have a common interest and will feel the same about certain aspects or topics’. (p. 11)

Compassion – ‘This derives from the Latin word compassio which means co-suffering. Compassion implies that individuals feel for each other and thus create solidarity’. (p. 11)

Respect – ‘It originates from the way that a person considers the rights of others. This implies that the rights of the colonised are just as important as those of the colonisers’. (p. 11)

Dignity – According to Metz (2007), this principle states that there is ‘value intrinsic to something about human nature that demands honouring’. (p. 329)

Humanness – ‘Within the context of [Ubuntu], this implies that an individual’s personality is dependent on his or her relationship with the community at large’. (p. 11)

Caring – Metz (2007) mentions that caring can take place at six levels, that is, conation (wishing someone well), cognition (someone is worthy of assistance), intention (one individual aims to help another individual), volition (acts to help another individual), motivation (acts for another person’s sake) and affection (feeling good when someone is benefitted from our actions). (p. 11)

Sharing – This is abridged by McFarlin, Coster and Mogale-Pretorius (1999) as ‘sharing in the pleasure of profit and the disappointment of loss’. (p. 74)

According to (Bhengu 2014; Nkomo 2006), AMP typically consists of four distinct parts.

Traditionalism – ‘Traditionalism has to do with the adherence to accepted customs, beliefs and practices that determine accepted behaviour, morality, and characteristics of individuals in African society’ (Nkomo 2006:10)

Communalism – The communalism of African management emanates from the belief that the individual is not alone but belongs to the community. According to African management thought, leaders and managers should focus on promoting the welfare of the entire group and not the individual. Edoho (2001:81) also argues that ‘communalistic life is the centrepiece of African personality and is distinctively African’.

Co-operative teamwork – As a result of this communalism, emphasis is placed on teamwork and the group (Nkomo 2006). Accordingly, traditional African societies ‘had the capacity to share and care not just for their immediate families but also for their extended families’ (Edoho 2001:81).

Mythology – This is a collection of African myths, legends, folklore, folk tales, folk stories, lore and tradition stories. This is how traditions were passed from one generation to another and since African traditions are not written (Nkomo 2006), the mythology is replete with the history of the traditions.

According to (Mutabazi 2002), AMP consists of typically two common social principles and these are:

Concept of life as a universal current – which suggests ‘leaders recognize their position in the never-ending cycle while helping others to identify theirs-life is greater than individuals and groups’. (pp. 207–209)

human connection to nature – According to Nkomo (2006):

[O]ne of the primary tasks of leaders are to establish harmony with their community and environment; vertically organized moral order and human relations is generally not characterised by the development of technical skills but the gradual adoption of a philosophy of universal fellowship. (p. 12)

Another element of AMP that has been oft-quoted and cited by many a scholar (Eckert & Rweyengoza 2015; Mamman & Zakaria 2016; Mangaliso 2001; Masango 1996; Mbigi 1996; Newman 2017; Nussbaum 2013; Okoro 2015; Sibanda 2014; Tagwirei 2017; Ronnie & Bradley 2018) is the Ubuntu concept. This is defined by Mangaliso (2001) as a:

[H]umaneness – a pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness--that individuals and groups display for one another. [Ubuntu] is the foundation for the basic values that manifest themselves in the ways African people think and behave towards each other and everyone else they encounter. (p. 24)

Moreover, Nkomo (2006:13) states that ‘[Ubuntu] is seen as an important value of African culture that can form the basis of a management truly congruent with the peoples of Africa’. Mangaliso (2001) puts forward seven principles that can help leaders in organisations to incorporate Ubuntu in their leadership styles. The principles are as follows:

Treat others with dignity and respect, be willing to negotiate in good faith, provide opportunities for self-expression, understand the beliefs and practices of indigenous people, honor seniority, especially in leadership choices, promote equity in the workplace, be flexible and accommodative. (p. 25)

There is a dichotomy that springs out from the dissection of the elements of AMP. The divide is secular and non-secular. The secular elements are espoused by Marnewick et al. (2018) where solidarity, compassion, respect, dignity, humanness, caring and sharing are put forth as virtues that Africans in sub-Saharan Africa embrace in their workplace interactions. These virtues are encapsulated in a social principles model propounded by Mutabazi (2002) albeit he looks at AMP from a non-secular dimension. The social interactions of Africans are modelled by their cultures and traditions (Mazama 2002). These cultures and traditions are the fulcrum of Afrocentricity – which Mazama (2002:218) defines as the ‘measure of our lives’ and attributes as an antecedent to African spirituality. This spirituality is informed by tradition and religion of Africans (Tagwirei 2017). It is this religion that then forms the basis for the non-secular dimension of AMP. Okoro (2015) defines African Spirituality within the prescripts of Ubuntu realism. He elucidates by saying Ubuntu is the core of African Spiritual ontology and symbolises its backbone. Sibanda (2014) has warned of treating the Ubuntu realism as a prescriptive African worldview. He states that although there are similarities with some Western idealities (spiritual leadership in this case), there are, however, peculiarities that distinguish the two. The one discerning factor being that the Ubuntu realism is communal as opposed to being individualistic. Mamman and Zakaria (2016) put forth an argument to support a fusion of African Spirituality with Ubuntu realism. Two notions were put forward to justify this fusion. The first justification is that the secular perspective of spirituality fits neatly with Ubuntu realism. Most scholars, like Kastern et al. (2005) and Kasu (2017), concentrate on the philosophical aspects of Ubuntu opposed to the divine and sacred aspects when exploring the adoption of Ubuntu in organisations. This means that aspects like kindness and humaneness are the ones that are propelled forth compared to seeing humans as important deities that deserves honour and recognition (Bhengu 2014; Mangaliso 2001; Pillay 2013). The second justification is that most Ubuntu principles overlap with spiritual leadership.

Ethical considerations

An application for full ethical approval was made to the University of South Africa Graduate School of Business Leadership Research Ethics Review Committee (GSBL CRERC) and ethics consent was received on 22 June 2022. The ethics approval number is 2022_SBL_DBL_015_SD.


Concepts, definitions and typologies (elements) that were mentioned in the literature review above were used to analyse the relationships between SpL and AMP. The purpose of the research as mentioned above was to critically analyse SpL literature from an AMP perspective. The methodology chosen for this analysis was a systematic literature review, which followed Kable et al.’s (2012) 12-step approach and then further analysed the findings based on De Vos’s (2011) building blocks of science (definitions, concepts and typologies). A justification of why AMPs are to be used to provide a more holistic (secular and non-secular) approach to understanding SpL will be made.

Results relating to concepts

Spiritual leadership synonyms looked at spiritually guided leadership (Geaney 2012), religious leadership (Covrig et al. 2013) and values-based leadership (Weineberg & Locander 2014). AMP concepts, on the other hand, looked at a diverse collage of concepts like Ubuntu realism (Binedell 1994; Mangaliso 2001), indigenous knowledge systems (Kasu 2017), national culture (Nkomo 2006) and attuned leadership (Khoza 2012). These concepts differ widely from SpL concepts in that the latter are an attempt to decolonise management theory (Ohajuwa & Mji 2018), which seeks to homogenise leadership theory irrespective of local realities (Gumede 2017). These colonial postulations were imposed upon Africans and had little disregard of the African worldview, culture and religion (Nkomo 2011). As seen from Table 1, most literature on SpL (1–10) that met inclusion criteria looks at only one dimension, which is the secular one. This bias supports one worldview (Western), which is based on individualism. On the contrary, AMP attempts to unwind these fallacies by bringing concepts that seek to state that African localities, cultures, traditionalism and indigenous knowledge systems play a vital role in shaping the values, behaviours and attitudes of employees at the workplace. They look at both the secular and most importantly the non-secular aspects of SpL as seen from Table 1 (articles 11–17 that met inclusion criteria).

Although there are some overlaps that arise when the two constructs’ concepts are analysed, they are different. For instance, the concept of spiritually guided leadership under SpL might sync with AMP’s traditionalism, the difference lies in the worldviews that undergird these concepts. Spiritually guided leadership under SpL is steeped in the Western worldview that only looks at the secular and non-contextualised dimension of spirituality where transcendence without the assistance of any religious affirmation is hailed. On the opposite scale, AMP’s traditionalism looks at African religious beliefs that are intrinsic to the native African, and these might be seen as catapults to transcendence. This view supports a decolonised approach to looking at SpL and it contextualises the construct in the process.

Results relating to definitions

The above definitions of SpL juxtaposed with AMP look at the secular and non-secular approaches. The non-secular approach dwells on AMP as embracing the religious and indigenous knowledge systems (Masango 1996; Newman 2017; Tagwirei 2017). The secular approach to spirituality looks at AMP as emboldened by the Ubuntu ideality. On the contrary, extant literature on SpL largely looks at only one side of the divide, which is the secular side of spiritual leadership. Scholars like Fairholm (1996); Fry (2003); Giacalone & Jurkiewicz (2003); Markow & Klenke (2005); Reave (2005); Ferguson and Milliman (2008); Aydin and Ceylan (2009); Fry and Cohen (2009); Crossman (2010); Chen and Yang (2012) have tended to look askance from the non-secular dimension of spiritual leadership. In their definitions of SpL, they have stated that the non-secular approach to SpL will bring chaotic workplaces where each employee will seek to bring through their own brand of religion. They have averred that a non-secular approach to SpL is but an attempt to promote proselytising at the workplace hence the total disregard of the dimension. However, AMP’s traditionalism and mythologies support a non-secular dimension and does not seek to promote individualism but co-operative teamwork and communalism, which are the bedrock of Africanism.

As passively mentioned above, SpL definitions seek to homogenise the construct. By doing so, they lend themselves to the easy trap of essentialising it. By this token, it thus repudiates the existence of cultural differences and local realities. It seeks to perpetuate colonial leadership hegemony. African management philosophies, on the other hand, is a contextualised approach to leadership. It embraces the diversity of cultures and traditions and holds these as cogent forces for leadership. African management philosophies definitions look at an African way of doing things, which outlook supports the notion of a decolonised construct of leadership that allows the employee to be a ‘total person’ at the workplace where they are free to practice some of the traditional practices that are not seen as proselytising. However, care must be exercised in this endeavour to avoid the same pitfall of essentialising that AMP seems to be accusing SpL definitions of.

As seen from Table 1, many AMP authors (Eckert & Rweyengoza 2015; Mangaliso 2001; Newman 2017; Nkomo 2011; Okoro 2015; Sibanda 2014) have dealt with the secular Ubuntu worldview to a greater extent. The non-secular dimension has been largely ignored where African religion, customs, culture and values are espoused as bedrocks of African spirituality.

There are two aspects of analysis that are invoked by looking at the term spiritual leadership. These aspects are firstly defining the ‘spiritual’ aspect of ‘spiritual leadership’ and secondly defining the ‘leadership’ aspect of ‘spiritual leadership’. From the definitions above, it looks palpable that the ‘leadership’ aspects of SpL have been delved into deeper (Fairholm 1996; Ferguson and Milliman 2008; Fry 2003; Fry & Cohen 2009; Crossman 2010; Reave 2005) than the ‘spiritual’ aspects of SpL. According to Benefiel (2005), these authors have done some sterling work in grounding the leadership aspect of SpL. Benefiel (2005) argues that, on the contrary, very little has been done by these authors to ground the ‘spiritual’ aspect of SpL. He states that the said authors being themselves leadership scholars do very little justice in contributing to the ‘spiritual’ aspects of SpL.

Even though they draw on spiritual theories, they fail to give much weight to this aspect. Benefiel (2005) argues that most of the work done by earlier authors on SpL only look at the leadership aspect of SpL, which is the material outcomes of SpL when applied to an organisation and they repudiate (by choice) the ‘spiritual’ aspects of SpL, which is – leader and organisational transformation. This is called by Benefiel (2005:737) ‘the second half of the journey’. Individual transformation has been written by many authors albeit from a Western perspective. The gap in the literature is that there is no research done thus far that contextualises SpL in the African context. The current theory on SpL even if it falls short of fully providing an explanation of the spiritual side of SpL does look at the Western side of spirituality, and there is a shortage of such research on the African front.

The construct of AMP, on the other hand, is an attempt albeit not complete to contextualise SpL in the sub-Sharan context. As seen from the definitions above, this construct focuses mainly on local realities, traditions, religions and cultures that then shape the values, behaviours and attitudes of leaders. Although this construct has not been developed into a fully fledged theory, it somehow lays a base or foundation for the development of such a construct that considers local realities. To this extent, AMP is seen therefore as a huge stepping stone towards contextualising SpL theory and developing an organisational African Spiritual Leadership theory.

Results relating to typologies (elements)

SpL elements look at a dyadic interaction of leader’s values, attitudes and behaviours that shape and instil a sense of spiritual survival in followers through membership and calling. Fry (2003) as seen above has identified six elements that form the theory of SpL. On the contrary, AMP elements are diverse and myriad. They are not well structured like the SpL elements where causality is the firm foundation of these elements. AMP elements are not specific and direct as to which level they operate – leader or follower. As far as the factors of operation are concerned, AMP elements are so open and subject to interpretation making it difficult to attempt a fair comparison with SpL elements. This is another gap in the literature of AMP where there are no developed, clear and concise elements that fit the theoretical framework. There is a need thus to develop such elements.

The seven elements identified by Marnewick et al. (2018) of solidarity, compassion, respect, dignity, humanness, caring and sharing may be linked to Fry’s (2003) third element of vision, hope or faith and altruistic love. Altruistic love embodies the elements identified by Marnewick et al. (2018). The distinction is, however, that Fry (2003) clearly states that these are leadership focused and not follower focused. On the contrary, Marnewick et al. (2018) are silent about the focus of these elements. The silence is not by design but purely because of AMP not developed enough to be a theory that will withstand empirical and academic scrutiny.

The theory of SpL as Fry (2003) has identified also has an element of workplace spirituality. This element is follower focused and looks at the latter’s spiritual needs (inner-life, meaningful work and community). AMP does not specifically look at these elements but do, however, emphasise the aspect of co-operative teamwork and community as described by Nkomo (2006). These are basically important and critical aspects of AMP, and these are the cornerstone of an African. Community and co-operation are essential in the daily interactions. These cannot be wished away as non-existent as they are particular to an African. However, SpL theories do aver for community in the workplace, but the Eurocentric approach to workplace interaction is trumped by selfishness and individualism (Lutz 2009) making the element of community non-essential. In Africa, humanness and community are key aspects as evidenced by Ubuntu realism making it crucial in the day-to-day workplace interactions of employees in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mutabazi’s (2002) two elements of AMP are perhaps cogent in the current comparison. They are a fresh departure from the secular obsession of SpL theorists. These elements provide a basis for a formulation of an African spirituality in the workplace and a possible establishment of a non-chaotic non-secular workplace. Africans according to Mutabazi (2002) look at life as universal current. This means that African leaders recognise their position in the never-ending cycle while helping others (followers) to identify theirs. Life is therefore greater than individuals and groups. This is an element that is typified in African traditions and religions and taught to children as they grow up. Symbiotically connected to this element is the African concept that humans have a cosmic connection to nature and ancestors. As Nkomo (2006) has stated the primary function of leadership is to establish a symbiosis with their community, nature and the environment. A moral order is thus created in the workplace where it is characterised not by technical skills but by an adoption of a philosophy of universal fellowship. This is what African spirituality teaches. By deduction, this therefore creates a workplace that is non-secular.

On the opposing pole, Hicks (2002:380) states that ‘scholars of spirituality and leadership work within an intellectual context that assumes explicitly or implicitly, that public spheres like politics and the workplace are secular’. The role of religion in spirituality is often shied upon by scholars like Fairholm (1996); Fry (2003); Reave (2005); Ferguson and Milliman (2008); Aydin and Ceylan (2009); Crossman (2010); Chen and Yang (2012). This is largely because it brings with it an albeit disparate and yet innocuous sense in the workplace. The above scholars see a difference between religion and spirituality. Mitroff and Denton (1999) argue for a ‘whole-person’ approach where employees bring their total person – spiritual ideas and expressions – to work. However, they still see a distinction between religion and spirituality. No doubt as Markow and Klenke (2005) state, spirituality is a multifaceted construct. By this token, more detailed research is needed.

The current literature on SpL does not support a non-secular approach. Most scholars tend to avoid the subject of religion at work even though according to Mitroff and Denton (1999) employees are encouraged to bring their wholeness to work. According to Hicks (2002:381), ‘the definition of spirituality is offered by way of the via negativa – that is, spirituality is not religion’. This dissention between spirituality and religion creates a problem for authors of the ‘whole-person’ approach like Mitroff and Denton (1999), and Hicks (2002) who argues that:

[A]cknowledging that the “whole-person” somehow comes to work is not as the same as saying that any kind of behaviours, attitudes, or manners of dress or speech are acceptable in the workplace. Rather, formal rules and informal culture …’ (p. 384)

It is the foregoing that posits a gap in literature as there is a dearth of research that argues for a case of a ‘whole person’ approach that subsumes that the individual’s spirituality as shaped by their culture, religion and tradition is important.

Results relating to research paradigms

As seen in Table 1, most SpL scholars have tended to adopt a positivist philosophy. However, Forniciari and Lund Dean (2001:335) have cautioned that this approach is not only insufficient ‘but may actually harm the discipline by inauthentically measuring and analysing crucial SRW (spirituality, religion and work) variables such as spirit, soul, faith, God and cosmos’ (Lund Dean, Forniciari & McGee 2003:379). As seen in Table 1, both qualitative and quantitative techniques are used in understanding SpL; however, Benefiel (2005:726) states that there is a growing number of scholars that see the inadequacy of quantitative approaches. For instance, Forniciari and Lund Dean (2001:335) challenge researchers to consider ‘evidence about the phenomenon of spirituality at work based on non-positivist ways of knowing’. They alternatively suggest ‘ethnomethodological techniques, qualitative techniques and traditional-based stories, as more appropriate research methods than positivist methods’ (Benefiel 2005:726). These alternatives are more appealing to a new paradigm of African Spiritual leadership.

Limitations of the study

The study was not without any limitations. The methodology used only limited the search to only published articles about AMP in Africa. Only the Unisa library and Publish or Perish systems were used to search for the literature. Moreover, the literature did not dwell on the regional variations of AMP in Africa. This might be another angle for future research on SpL within the ambit of AMP.

Conclusions and recommendations

The theory of SpL assumes generally that workplaces are secular; it dwells too much on the leadership aspects compared to the spiritual one; and it assumes a homogeneous and universal application that disregards local realities, histories, traditions and cultures. In essence, it does not have a contextual application to sub-Saharan Africa. By this purview, AMP is seen as an alternate replacement. AMP looks at humanness, community, co-operative teamwork and traditionalism. However, as seen above, AMP is not sufficiently advanced to offer a complete alternative theory to SpL. The extant systematic literature review revealed that there is indeed a gap in literature that most Western scholars look at the secular side of spirituality and disregard the non-secular aspects. AMP is therefore seen to be the cog that looks at both the secular and non-secular aspects of SpL in the sub-Saharan context. As AMP is not sufficiently developed into a theory, it is recommended therefore that an integrated contextualised SpL be developed that will embrace local realities, traditions, religions, histories and cultures. The practical implications of these findings are that human resource practitioners and academics can use these findings for further development of human resources and training. Non-secular aspects of spirituality are indeed important as well as much as the secular ones.


The authors acknowledge the 2021 MBL and MBA fieldworkers.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationship(s) that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

K.S.: conceptualisation, methodology, formal analysis, investigation, resources, writing the first draft and final article. A.G.: supervision, methodology approval.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The data are available from Prof Anton Grobler, under conditions set out in the ethical clearance for research.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are the product of professional research. It does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated institution, funder, agency, or that of the publisher. The authors are responsible for this article’s results, findings, and content.


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