GPM First
Chapter 3 of The Spirit of Project Management (978-1-4094-0959-5) by Judi Neal and Alan Harpham

The Virtues of Spirituality and Project Management

Chapter 3

According to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, King David united the 12 tribes of Israel and planned to build a Temple to God. However, God told King David that his son Solomon, not King David, would build the temple. When King David died and Solomon succeeded his father and became King, Solomon prayed for wisdom instead of gold and power. God was pleased at his humility and gave him not only wisdom, but riches and power as well. The leaders of the tribes of Israel had great respect for Solomon and sent him money, materials, and help to build the temple.

It may seem odd to think of King Solomon as a Project Manager, yet building a temple as large and grand as that described in the Bible, was a huge undertaking. His father, King David, had assembled many of the materials over a long period of time, and had begun the design for the Temple, but it was up to King Solomon to actually pull together the manpower and the extra materials to complete the project, one that has been central to Jewish history and all of the Abrahamic faith traditions. It was the finest building in the world at that time, taking 200,000 men a period of seven years to build. It was made of the finest woods, described so beautifully in the Bible. He could not have done this if he had not managed by a set of spiritual virtues.

In this chapter, we suggest that the core virtues of spirituality are essential virtues that need to be at the center of any major project that is undertaken. An interesting paradox exists in this worldview; we believe that the virtues-centered Project Manager will be a highly effective leader, and at the same time, the experience of leading a large and significant project provides the opportunity for one to become more virtues-centered.

The Wisdom of Solomon

In the book, Managing with the Wisdom of Solomon (Manz et al. 2001), the authors draw on the stories of six leaders from the Hebrew Bible to illustrate how business leaders can lead through using timeless virtues. Wisdom is held up as the central virtue because it leads to the other four virtues that the authors feel have the most relevance for modern day leaders:

  • The faith of Job.

  • The courage of David.

  • The compassion of Ruth.

  • The integrity and justice of Moses.


There are two kinds of wisdom needed for being an effective Project Manager – practical wisdom and transcendent wisdom:

Practical wisdom emerges as a response to the demands of task accomplishment and relating to others. The form of practical wisdom is often tied to a particular place and time: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” “You won’t get a good job without a college education,” or “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you ….”

Transcendent wisdom is a deep form of knowing that flows from reflection upon experience and is sensitive to the details of human encounters with life. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this wisdom is closely tied to being faithful to God. That is, the focus is beyond oneself and centered within a broader sense of being. (Manz et al. 2001: 20–21)


Solomon has asked for “an understanding mind to govern your people; able to discern between good and evil” (I Kings 3: 11–13). It’s not difficult to see how that kind of wisdom is essential to business leaders today, and central to the reputation and career of a Project Manager. The Serenity Prayer, attributed to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is one, we are willing to bet, that has been used by thousands of Project Managers in their quest for wisdom in managing change:

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference.


This prayer became popularised through its adoption by Alcoholics Anonymous and is widely known in the mainstream.

In reviewing the stories shared about the biblical characters in their book, Manz et al. conclude:

All of our biblical characters acted on behalf of others with the intent of helping, supporting, building up, or leading. Cultivating wisdom is not an isolated process; wisdom calls us to be mindful of and responsible to the people.

Wisdom becomes incorporated as we seek to develop the spiritual virtues in ourselves and to enact them through our interaction with others and through our leadership. That is, wisdom is fully realized as we encounter each other and build together for the good of all. (Manz et al. 2001: 147)


While the virtues discussed here are found in the stories of the Old Testament, a Project Manager does not need to be Jewish, Christian or Muslim to be informed and inspired by these timeless stories of virtue. In fact he or she need not be religious at all. It is enough to understand that these stories have withstood the test of time and culture, and have something universal to say to humankind.

The virtue of wisdom is also central to Eastern spiritual traditions, such as Zen Buddhism. In The Zen Approach to Project Management, George Pitagorsky defines wisdom as:

… applied experiential knowledge – knowledge beyond intellect – based on an unobstructed, unfiltered view of how things are. It is founded on the ability to accept things as they are as a starting point for meaningful, useful action. The ability to accept things as they are is enabled by working from one’s “center” – that calm, objective place from which action flows in a way that is perfectly appropriate to the situation at hand … Everyone can experience a sense of inner peace. Everyone has the ability to take a step back to see things objectively. Doing so makes project success more likely. (Pitagorsky 2007: 16)


Imagine having this kind of wisdom and inner peace when negotiating deadlines and deliverables with the project stakeholders, or when an unexpected crisis emerges and a cool head is needed to solve problems. Imagine having the wisdom of Solomon when someone brings you an extremely difficult situation and you must judge right from wrong.

Doing Virtuous Business

“Virtue” is a slightly old-fashioned word in the UK and the US. Perhaps it has seemed too old-fashioned and therefore has fallen out of favor among business leaders, both in dialogue and practice. One exception to this is Wright (2005), who explores the interface between Christian values and the utilitarian and pragmatic consideration of business. He argues that Christianity has turned its back on the business world, and thereby has lost a valuable opportunity to influence the secular world. He believes that religious thinking and business action can come together in worthwhile ways.

There are many lists of virtues, and much research on which virtues are primary, but only a limited number of authors writing about virtues in the workplace. Besides Manz et al., highlighted above, two more of the well-known thinkers about virtues in the workplace are Dr Ted Malloch and Dr Dorothy Marcic.

Malloch is a Research Professor at Yale University and the Chairman of the Spiritual Enterprise Institute. He has been studying spiritual virtues in business for many years and has concluded that virtuous organisations create greater spiritual capital. He writes:

In referring to spiritual capital I am acknowledging the great amplification of the human spirit that comes through faith. In worship and prayer we entrust ourselves to another and greater power, and we learn to live through trust. In referring our decisions to that higher power we become more confident in making them. And in adopting the discipline and humility that comes from religion we make ourselves ready to account for our failings and to deal honestly with others. (Malloch 2008: 16)


It is not acceptable in the secular world of business to admit publicly that you pray about your decisions. But Jerry Harvey, Professor Emeritus from George Washington University once described to Judi how often CEOs would pull him aside to talk about their faith and spirituality, and to share that they turned to prayer for all their major decisions. None of them were willing to talk about this publicly for fear of what this might do to their image of being rational and data driven, and what it might do to the company’s stock price, yet they found prayer and spiritual guidance essential in knowing what to do in challenging circumstances.

While Manz et al. (2001) focus on wisdom as the central virtue, Malloch argues that all the other virtues arise from faith. He says that the fundamental notion of the moral life to ancient philosophers like Plato and Socrates was virtue and that it was not “a matter of what you do but what you are” (Malloch 2008: 18). His list of virtues is informed by Christian teachings.1 [7]

For Marcic, the primary virtue is Love:

What would it mean if we would love our subordinates, our bosses and our colleagues as ourselves? It would mean we would not intentionally hurt them, we wouldn’t treat them unjustly, and we would act towards them with dignity and respect. Such as some of the building blocks of a healthy and thriving system. (Marcic 1997: 15)


Marcic is a member of the Baha’i faith, and she draws on the seven Baha’i virtues in her discussion about the “New Management Virtues.” Table 3.1 shows a comparison of the virtues described by these three authors. This table is not exhaustive, but it provides food for thought for the Project Manager who wishes to clarify the list of virtues that they want to incorporate in their leadership.

We won’t go into each of these virtues and its relevance for project management, but we encourage you to define for yourself the key virtues that you as Project Manager would like to strive for. Share your list of virtues with your team, and ask the team to develop a list of virtues to aspire to for the project you are working on.

In this chapter we have focused on the more spiritual term “virtues,” but some project teams may prefer to use the word “values” because it is less laden with religious or moral connotations. The Values Assessment process developed by Richard Barrett and mentioned in Chapter 2 is an excellent tool for helping teams and organisations examine and realign their values.

Table 3.1 Workplace virtues across traditions


Manz Old Testament

Malloch Christian

Marcic Baha’i















































Besides all of the virtues described above, some values we have found very useful in project management teams we have worked with include:

  • respect for diversity;

  • freedom;

  • deep listening;

  • creativity;

  • trustworthiness;

  • commitment to something greater than oneself.


We will conclude this chapter with a brief discussion of each of these in the context of project management and include some suggestions for project team activities.

Respect for Diversity

Wheeler (1996) reports that there are numerous academic studies showing that heterogeneous groups outperform homogeneous groups in problem-solving and creative solutions. Project teams require a diversity of thinking and problem solving approaches. By embracing greater gender, cultural, age, and functional diversity, project teams are more likely to develop multiple perspectives on a problem or opportunity and to select the best solution for moving forward. The spiritual virtue that is core to respecting diversity is actually that of “unity” – of recognising our oneness and our shared humanity.

A mature project team may find it valuable to explore the diversity of a team member’s spiritual values, practices, and beliefs, as a way of deepening understanding, respect, and trust levels in the team. Any conversation about something this personal must be handled with the utmost professionalism and the Project Manager must model respect for diversity in this dialogue. This kind of exploration can precede the exercise described above that elicits the spiritual values that can guide the project team in their work and relationship with each other.


The co-authors of this book have a dream of a world without borders or boundaries, both physical and mental. We need to take down the barriers to thinking that exists on so many projects. Often the need to move on and show some progress means we start without a clear vision of where we are going. If we don’t know where we are going, any route will do! Far better to liberate people’s thinking at the outset of the project in its conceptual stage and obtain as much creative thinking before freezing the aim and scope to concentrate on the delivery in “short order” time.

Deep Listening

Most leadership development programs teach something about communication, particularly about the importance of listening. They teach active listening skills, and have course participants learn how to feed back to a subordinate or colleague on what they heard the person say. This is extremely valuable, particularly when delegating, and also in more emotionally charged situations such as performance appraisals or performance improvement discussions. Active listening is a very important skill for Project Managers, whether dealing with the project stakeholders, clients, vendors, or team members. But we are talking about something more spiritual here when we talk of the value of “deep listening.”

Deep listening is the ability to hear beyond the words and beyond facial expressions. You can only listen deeply if you care about the person and are committed to the project. To listen deeply, you must be willing to trust your intuition, and you must be willing to have an open heart. It is about listening for what isn’t being said. In order to be effective, you must be willing to share with the other what you think you are sensing in your deep listening. You may not always be right in your intuition, but just the fact that you are attempting to listen at a deeper level will make a difference to the person you are interacting with. It is an example of spiritual connectivity.

As a Project Manager, you can encourage your whole team to value deep listening, and to take the time and energy to listen at this level with each other as well as with non-team members with whom they interact and in particular the stakeholders. One of our former colleagues described it on a railway routing project – putting the people (the public) back into Public Relations. You can also apply deep listening to the project team as a whole, listening beyond the words in a meeting, and beyond the rational and analytical project management processes. It helps to ask what are called “powerful questions” of the team, such as “What’s not being said that needs to be said?” or “What wants to emerge here?”

The most powerful kind of deep listening is what could variously be called “listening to the soul of the project,” “listening for the still small voice,” or “listening for guidance from the Transcendent.” Each Project Manager and project team will have their own language for this. A team that is high on spiritual intelligence will acknowledge and tap into spiritual or divine wisdom, particularly at the early stages of the project, and at times when the project experiences roadblocks, breakdown, or crisis.


Project management, by its nature, is structured, analytical, process-oriented, and risk-averse. Hillson (2009) and Cleden (2009) distinguish between risk and uncertainty. We like the Voltaire quote, “Uncertainty is uncomfortable; certainty is ridiculous.” Hillson and Cleden agree that we live in an increasingly uncertain world, and that one of the main roles of project management is to manage risk. Hillson describes the task of risk management very specifically: “It is to enable individuals, groups and organisations to make appropriate decisions in the light of the uncertainties that surround them” (Hillson 2009: 6). He defines risk as “uncertainty that matters” (Hillson 2009: 6).

Cleden states that “for a risk to be identified, we must have a basic level of knowledge concerning the problem” (Cleden 2009: 4). Cleden elaborates that risks can be analysed but uncertainty is an “unknown unknown” and not susceptible to analysis: “It is what is left behind when all the risks have been identified” (Cleden 2009: 4).

It is human nature, when contemplating risk and uncertainties, to adopt a mindset based on fear and problem prevention. This is a useful mindset in some circumstances, but quite limited in its scope. Neal (2006) refers to this mindset as the “Doomsayer” mindset. Fear, when we are attached to it, shuts down the frontal lobe of the brain and lights up the amygdala – the primitive “fight or flight” part of our brains. The temptation in project management is to focus primarily on this fear mindset, which is the opposite of a creativity mindset.

Most spiritual traditions advise us to “Choose love not fear” (Course in Miracles) and to “Fear not” (Christianity). Eastern spiritual traditions see all emotions as ephemeral and much of their spiritual practice is based on noticing the emotion and then letting it go. The inner work of the Project Manager should include some kind of contemplative or meditative practice that increases self-awareness and non-attachment to emotions, particularly to the emotion of fear.

Successful Project Managers cultivate a mindset of openness and curiosity, which is essential for creativity. In contrast to the “Doomsayer” mindset, Neal (2006) calls this the “Edgewalker” mindset. Edgewalkers are leaders who are open to possibilities, curious about what’s new and over the horizon, and who are adept at walking the edge between the material world and the spiritual world.

Opportunity management is just as important as risk management, yet very few experts talk about the unexpected and surprising breakthroughs that can happen if one is open to them. We focus on the negative Black Swans, but not on the positive Black Swans. Taleb (2010) popularised the term Black Swan, which he defines as an event with three attributes:

  1. It is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectation because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.

  2. It carries an extreme impact.

  3. In spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. (Taleb 2010: xxii)


In 2011, protests for democracy in Egypt caused Hosni Mubarak to step down from the Presidency, and the accelerating democratic movement swept the generally autocratic regimes of the Middle East. This is an example of a positive Black Swan, something that no one could have predicted, but an event that is now full of creative possibilities for someone open, curious, and creative enough to explore them.


Trust is the key variable in all relationships according to Gibb (1978). It begins with self-trust, trusting our own instincts and sense of things, as well as trusting our own intentions. He says that without trust in interpersonal, group, or organisational systems, you cannot have productivity and effectiveness. Instead you spend tremendous amounts of time and energy on creating control systems because you don’t trust people. A survey of employees by the Chartered Management Institute in the United Kingdom (Miller 2011) found that the attribute most sought after by the staff of their manager was authenticity. Authenticity creates trust.

In your role as Project Manager, you must begin by being trustworthy. This means keeping your word, not making promises you can’t keep, and informing people right away if something outside of expectations occurs. Trustworthiness is essential in the initial negotiations and contracting for the project, and continues to be central throughout the execution and final delivery of results.

Marcic (1997), like Gibb (1978), asserts that “Trustworthiness becomes the foundation on which all other virtues are based” (48). She says that without it, without an expectation of truthfulness, all other good behaviors become meaningless.

Judi once worked for a Project Manager on a team that was implementing a major quality and employee involvement program at a Honeywell facility in Arizona. One of the first things he would tell the leaders in the plant was that during the change process, things would get worse before they got better. He said that morale would go down, conflict would increase, and productivity would be negatively affected. He said that he couldn’t predict when that would happen, but he could guarantee that it would happen. He told them that we would all do everything we could to mitigate the intensity of the reaction, but that he wasn’t going to lie to them and tell them that everything would go smoothly from day one. People knew that he was speaking from experience and that he was telling the truth, and when the expected morale and productivity dip occurred, leaders were able to remain calm, and trusted the team to implement the program professionally.

Becoming more trustworthy requires first becoming more trusting. Gibb (1978) encouraged people to be “as trusting as you can be.” This does not mean naively trusting everyone, but it does mean opening yourself up to being more trusting. One of the questions he would encourage clients to consider was, “What would this look like if I (or we) were more trusting?” Secondly, becoming more trustworthy requires competence. It requires attracting the best qualified people to the project team, and investing in whatever skill development they need to do the job well. marcic writes:

Let us not forget that the other side of trust is competence. In order for a business to gain trust from customers and suppliers, it must have integrity, as well as be able to perform the job more than adequately. Real trust, then, is integrity times competence. (Marcic 1997: 53)


Albert Schweitzer sums it up beautifully:

Now we must rediscover the fact that we – all together – are human beings, and we must strive to concede to one another what moral capacity we have. Only in this way can we begin to believe that in other peoples as well as ourselves there will arise the need for a new spirit which can be the beginning of a feeling of mutual trustworthiness toward each other. (Schweitzer 1958)


Commitment to Something Greater than Oneself

Daryl Conner is the Chairman of Conner Partners, one of the largest and most successful change management consulting firms in the United States. His organisation received the International Spirit at Work Award in 2007 for their exemplary support for nurturing the human spirit in the workplace. Their consultants are seen by clients as having a great deal of presence, an ineffable sense of being centered and authentic. The organisation consciously hires people who have a commitment to something greater than themselves because they believe that this creates that sense of presence that gives them a competitive edge in the market. Clients want to work with their consultants, even if they can’t put words to why they do. The company does not determine what this “something greater than oneself” is. Some might call it God, or Universal Mind, Buddha Nature, Cosmic Consciousness, or some other name, but the key thing is that the person feels a connection to something transcendent that can provide guidance in everyday life and work (Harrington, Conner, and Horney 2000).

In Chapter 1 we talked about the spiritual nature of projects, and the way that project management can provide meaning and purpose to the project team as well as to all the project stakeholders. Anyone who takes on a project large enough to require teamwork is automatically committing to something greater than themselves, even if it is just committing to the team and to a successful conclusion to the project. At the same time, we recognise that self-interest can and does play an important role in project management, and we encourage enlightened self-interest over total selfless service.

However, if you are interested in integrating spirituality into your project management, at the very least, you must have some spiritual relationship to something greater than yourself, whatever you might call that. As Lance Secretan explains, this is the source of “inspired leadership” (Secretan 1999). During the project, you and your team will have many occasions to tap into the Transcendent, if you are open to that source of inspiration and guidance. Out of that connection, you and your team will be able to experience a sense of noble purpose and deep meaning in your work together (Heermann 2004).

Putting it all Together

These six virtues just described are not the only ones that have relevance for project management, but they are a good place to begin. As a Project Manager, you may wish to assess your team on how well these virtues are integrated into your project work. Table 3.2 on the last page of this chapter may be helpful to you. You can use the virtues we have discussed in this chapter, or you can substitute your own. The first step is for you and your team to define what the virtue means to you. Then you can evaluate how well you are living that virtue as a team. Finally, you can identify the virtues that you would like to have more fully integrated in your work and discuss with the team how you can achieve that integration.


This chapter was designed to provide food for thought about the role of virtues and values in your project management. We reviewed some of the work that authors have done on virtues in the workplace, and pointed out that each author has their own unique list of virtues to offer and each one has different virtues that they think are the core virtues. As you can see, there is no definitive list or model of virtues and it is up to each Project Manager and project team to define for themselves the virtues and values that will guide them in their work together. The next chapter will talk more specifically about the role of spirituality in project management.

Table 3.2 Workplace virtues across traditions


We aspire to this virtue. It is not integrated into our work

We live by this virtue most of the time

This virtue is fully integrated into the way our project team operates

Action steps for further virtue integration

Respect for diversity


Deep listening



Commitment to something greater than oneself

Submit your own content for publication

Submit content