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Zeal: Throw away that essay; here is a new one

June 22, 2020

Doctoral Chevrons News

Originally, this was going to be an essay about how the Lasallian virtue of zeal is essential in the enthusiastic and persistent pursuit of business academic scholarship. I had pithy quotes from both the 17th and 21st century, humorous stories, and a “get it done” message to wrap it all up. But all of that changed in three stages. First, a good friend decided to take a new job in Texas, which meant I temporarily added a second job as vice provost to my duties at Saint Mary’s. Next, was a global pandemic that turned our operating world upside down and quickly transformed our planned and organized weeks into running triage between one difficult and unplanned situation to another. Finally, the horrors of murder, civil unrest, and riots. I really don’t have the words to express, nor could I or should I try to explain, all that has happened. I do know it seems that an essay on zeal and scholarship seems incredibly out of place at this time and moment in history.

That said, I think the virtue of zeal, or zele in a 17th century French context, is a worthwhile one and one that has modern-day application. To Saint John Baptist de La Salle, zeal was the synergy of self-effacement and commitment molded into the service and caring for students (Botana, 2004). In his world of 17th century French spirituality, zeal (or zele as De La Salle would have said it) should infuse your conduct and breathe life into all you do. In contemporary terms, this translates to a commitment of thinking and acting beyond yourself for the betterment of others.

Transformational and servant leadership lived in today’s business world have this common understanding of zeal at their base. For me, this connection has a Hebraic spirituality; that is, as theologian David Ranson suggests, that acting with force and energy to help others beyond self is to find vitality in life and to “come awake.” How then, as scholars and practitioners in the business disciplines, can we come awake?

One of my favorite ideas within the discipline of spirituality and management is the concept of discernment, which can be thought of as entering praxis to determine the true calling or direction in your life. Brother Fred Mueller, scholar of Lasallian pedagogy, suggests a deep discernment helps one determine “where your great passion meets a great need of the world.” Authors in philosophy, such as John Dewey and Malcolm Knowles, would suggest this crossroad of passion and need is where one’s true vocation is identified. Some enter into this discernment through meditation and prayer, others through exercise, some through experiences in nature. There is no right or wrong way; just find what works for you.

So as a business scholar and leader, what is your vocation? Where do your greatest passions lead to the betterment and service of others? How can you use this new knowledge gained in a doctoral program for good?

Take a breath, take some time, give it some thought. The business world needs you.


Botana, A. (2004). The educator’s life journey. Rome: Brothers of the Christians Schools.
Ranson, D. (2002). Across the great divide: Bridging spirituality and religion today. Strathfield: St. Paul’s Publications.