By Ruth Jandeska
Leadership has profound spiritual origins and implications — even more so in spiritual care. Spiritual care leadership begins with Jesus’ command: “Tend my sheep.” There lies my personal belief on leadership, guiding my constant reflection on how I am tending to the well-being of all those I serve.
In my two short years as a spiritual care leader, I have learned that above all, tending to others’ well-being through leadership is about connection and relationships. It is about motivating and inspiring. And it is about showing others they are cared for and valued as human beings, not because of what they mean to one’s purposes or goals. I find in James Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s five practices (modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart) an excellent roadmap for my tending of others.
As a new leader I needed to connect with my values and deepest desires to find my voice and model the way. One of my guiding beliefs is that God calls us to intimacy with God and with one another. Connection and relationships are essential to chaplaincy work and in the workplace. Connectedness helps people feel their needs are being met, which in turn leads them to feel appreciated and satisfied with their work. Michael Lee Stallard identifies respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, and meaning as six specific needs of connection in the workplace.
Like any other employees, chaplains need to feel valued and recognized. Recognition fills people’s emotional buckets and helps them, in turn, to recognize and affirm others. Belonging holds teams together and helps them to cope with change and challenges. In the midst of change and transition, connectedness can assist spiritual care leaders in meeting their teams’ needs while creating healthy, resilient, and productive workplace environments. Additionally, my value of connectedness has informed my desire to establish relationships with my fellow leaders and my commitment to them and the organization. From that, I can leverage these relationships to create partnerships that will support my department’s endeavors.
Leadership is also about motivating others to use their gifts and talents for a shared vision. From that common vision arises a shared identity for teams as they think and work together in creating something new of value. For my team, this common vision is spiritual care integration across all levels of patient care in the organization. Connectedness again becomes important, as integration begins with establishing trusting relationships with the interdisciplinary team. Once trust is established, avenues are created for the team to teach about spiritual care: what it is, how to recognize spiritual distress, and how to make a referral.
Sometimes the process is uncomfortable. It takes courage to move out of one’s comfort zone to reach out and meet others. For chaplains, at times it is an issue of assertiveness and pastoral authority. Other times, it is about effectively communicating the value we offer. Nevertheless, this provides opportunities for chaplains to advance this vision in their own way, whether via a traditional classroom lecture or small group discussions using creative audiovisuals or pamphlets.
Finally, leadership also is about inspiring and guiding others to be the best human being they can be. I “tend the sheep” as wife, mother, chaplain, spiritual services director, and educator, and in all of those roles, my passion is to inspire others to live to the fullest of their humanity in their particular vocations. In this regard, spiritual care leaders should pay attention to the particular strengths of their team members and help to nourish and use those strengths. As Chris Lowney writes, leaders “passionately commit to honoring and unlocking the potential they find in themselves and in others.” A challenge facing spiritual care leaders is to preserve environments in which chaplains can thrive and unlock their passions and potential.
The ongoing changes in healthcare to improve quality can be the uncharted territory that meets chaplains’ need for autonomy and growth as they advance departmental goals. On my team, one chaplain’s passion for the role of vocation has guided his work in the chemical dependency unit, where vocational goals (personal, social, spiritual, etc.) play an important role in recovery.
Leadership has philosophical, pragmatic, socio-economic, and transcendental implications. And while spiritual care leaders must not lose sight of those implications, they need to first and foremost remember that they are called to attend to people’s well-being. Grounded in their faith, in their skills, and in their knowledge, their leadership contributes to well-being of the whole organization.
Ruth Jandeska, BCC, is director of spiritual services for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Iowa.