Three Ways Holistic Leadership is Different

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By Jim Funk

Leadership Development Blue Grey Square Elements

What does leadership mean to you? Is it a style? Behavior? Charisma? Engaging others? Getting results? Leadership is all of these things to some degree, and more.

But holistic leadership is different. Holistic leadership recognizes that people are multi-faceted by nature. Whether they like it or not, everyone brings their whole person to work—body, mind and spirit. Acknowledging this fact changes the way people lead, the experience for their teams, and perhaps most notably, meaningful business outcomes such as retention, productivity, and profits.


There are three main differences between holistic leadership and other leadership models, all based around the leader’s understanding of:

  • the purpose and dignity of work
  • the workplace community
  • self

Understanding the purpose and dignity of work

A job is important to people not only because it enables their livelihood, but also because it gives them the opportunity to make a contribution. People want and need to feel useful. Whether it’s contributing to producing something or helping people in some way, there is dignity and value in having a purpose. Holistic leaders understand that work enables people to contribute their gifts and talents to something that has meaning, and they help employees see the difference they make every day.

Understanding the workplace community

People are relational beings and have an innate need to connect with others and belong. Recognizing this, holistic leaders work hard to build and maintain positive relationships with others, while also helping people relate to one another. Work is almost never done in a complete vacuum, even when there’s only one contributor in a given role. At multiple levels there is a community of work, whether that community includes co-workers, customers, consumers, suppliers, partners, or even neighborhoods where the workplace is located. Holistic leaders see this big picture as an opportunity to instill a sense of community into the organizational culture, which creates a more meaningful and cohesive environment for employees.

Understanding self

To drive positive change around them, holistic leaders first look inside themselves. They know they are not just a set of leadership skills and behaviors; they also have a body, mind and spirit that they bring to their leadership. They take a holistic approach to their own personal development because who they are as people will impact how they lead, and how others will experience their leadership. Holistic leaders know they are continually on a journey of becoming the best leader they can be, and that they can never truly arrive at that destination. They are lifelong learners, they want and ask for feedback, and they are willing to invest in their own ongoing formation and development. They are courageous enough to face even uncomfortable truths, and are willing to do the “inner work” of continually becoming more self-aware.

When leaders understand the importance of these three elements, they are able to connect the organization’s goals with the goals of individual employees. These leaders make their coworkers and direct reports feel valued as human beings. As a result, people become more motivated to reach their full potential, and to help the organization fulfill its mission and goals.

It isn’t a complicated leadership model to follow, but so many organizations and individuals overlook the obvious. If you want to achieve excellence, lead transformational change and reach goals in your organization, start with these three principles.

My future blogs will more fully describe this leadership model and its characteristics, how leaders can become holistic leaders, and how organizations can select and develop these leaders.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at and or e-mail him at

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