A Box of Chocolates
As Forrest Gump says, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I’ll confess to reading Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice like I eat See’s Chocolate Assortments. I turn over each chocolate before I eat it, dig my fingernail just a bit to see what kind it is. If I like it (most of them I do), I’ll eat the rest of the chocolate. Similarly, I find, after reading the introduction chapter by Nohria and Khurana, I dig a little into each chapter, savoring and reading in entirety the topics that most appeal to me, which interestingly are many.
Like churches with theology, the academic world has forfeited leadership to popular culture. The Handbook provides an answer, or at the very least, the beginning of a conversation to retrieve that which has been lost. Raising the value of leadership through research and practice by scholars shows the reality in the complexity and necessity of leadership. What popular authors have noted intuitively, the academic world wants to ensure or dispute through rigorous research in order to provide a sustainability and longevity in what is promoted as true leadership. As a result, Nohria and Khurana offer a source that opens up a way for academics to speak to students in a way that hopes to “improve the supply [of better leadership].” Naming and establishing effective leadership while developing leaders through the sieve of education and research benefit not only the academic institutions but society at large.
The use of duality in the each of the sections of the papers reflects the pragmatic yet theoretical nature of leadership. Ranging from performance and meaning-making to thinking/doing and being, there are five arenas of creative tension that the researchers address in their own discipline of work. This duality brings to mind our conversation about social theory as theology, theology as social theory. For a comprehensive and sustainable picture, in this case of leadership, duality must be acknowledged and addressed to fully understand the complexity.
One article that intrigues and challenges me in understanding leadership, particularly around development is “Pursuing Authentic Leadership Development” by Bruce J. Avolio. He calls for future leaders to be “practitioner-scientists,” again another duality. This concept comparable to a theologian-pastor/ministry leader-social theorist draws my attention to this particular article. The creative tension of praxis and research resembles the church as well as the academic institution.
Avolio’s introductory comment that “quality leadership matters more” in an environment of limited resources strikes me profoundly as I look through a social-theological lens. While the world depletes resources, the generative nature of God can actually restore this world through effective leadership, as demonstrated in Jesus’s work on earth. Throughout Avolio’s research and observation, he names the value of offering transformative leadership as a way to help organizations become more effective and morally responsible. Without realizing it, his words hearken to the kind of leadership Jesus instills in the disciples, a working model of transformation.
Additionally fascinating in the article is the idea that the lack of self-awareness causes some of the greatest harm in leading organizations. Avolio wants to develop a tested theory for self-awareness. By looking at leadership development as something that can be learned (he also admits to some inherited leadership abilities – the made vs. born argument in which Avolio confesses: “it’s both”), he offers the “full range” of leadership that includes individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational, and idealized influence. It is in these qualities that a leader can improve especially as he/she uses the “triggers” – a specific event that leads to personal reflection – to learn from situations. To develop as a leader, there needs to be a readiness to learn. As a result, authentic leadership inherently requires self-awareness, balanced processing, moral perspective, and transparency.
How similar is this to followers of Jesus Chris who recognize the need for self-awareness, which commonly leads to confession? With the step of acknowledgment of sin and assurance of God’s grace, the Christian community becomes even more self-aware and forward thinking, not only learning from that state of heart but also impacting those in leadership and those who follow. While Avolio looks for a measurement to test self-awareness in the development of leaders, there is a place where there’s been an offering on how to do so: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2a To what Avolio intuitively believes and researches to prove, the message of the Gospel actually operates in its inside-out model.
Transformational leadership offers hope through the vision of what could be, opening up the opportunity for a sense of transcendence. Avolio and his colleagues see first hand the value of someone with a “substance beyond the shadow” through a research study in a correctional facility. With the ability to see beyond themselves, the inmates are led by a man, Sam, who demonstrates Christlike qualities in a manner that are “unfailingly humble, genuine, compassionate, ethical, inspiring, … and willing to challenge the core assumptions” of the inmates. Avolio, without acknowledging it, reflects the substance of Jesus Christ’s message of compassion and authenticity in leading others. Once again, through the lens of social theological understanding, the idea of developing leaders requires a “wisdom [that] is developed, [where] we can expect better use of it the longer we sustain a healthy life among leaders and followers.” These words have the sound of shalom to them, which requires a little bit of chocolate which is good for you, right?! 🙂
(By the way, just in case you’re wondering, I don’t eat the entire box, at least in one sitting).
 Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: an Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), 24.
 Ibid, 740.
 Ibid, 740.
 Ibid, 747-748.
 Ibid, 758.
 Ibid, 758.
 Ibid, 745.
 Ibid, 749.
 Ibid, 765.
11 responses to “A Box of Chocolates”
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Really great job tying this back to Jesus. I also was drawn to “Pursuing Authentic Leadership Development” by Bruce J. Avolio. Makes you wonder what Avolio’s background and upbringing are?
I also loved that you highlighted Avolio’s statement, “quality leadership matters more in an environment of limited resources.” When I read that I thought of the local church. Most churches and church leaders I know have incredibly limited resources considering the tasks they are asked to do. Brian talked about this a little in his post but this all really stresses the need for the pastor to be connected to the transforming power of Jesus.
I think part of the draw to Avolio is that he’s from the Pacific NW (professor at Univ. of Wash. where my daughter goes to school). 🙂 Ha!
As well, while the word “authentic” has been tossed around a lot, probably too much, it’s still relevant to what we want our leaders, Christian and otherwise, to be.
I’m reminded by the quote you took from the article about limited resources. Have you noticed that some of our greatest creativity is when we don’t have everything we want in front of us? I think it’s a wonderful example of how our limitations become part of God’s abundance.
I, too, was drawn to that statement. It articulates the reality that when abundance is the order of the day, leadership laziness can occur. It’s like when a person has a comfortable income he is less likely to really check the receipt at the restaurant to make sure he wasn’t overcharged by a dollar or two. But when income is scarce, he’s checking very line item, questioning anything that seems a little it off. “Hey, this iced tea was supposed to be 1.89, NOT 1.99!”
Mary, I love that story of Sam. One comment that is particularly revealing is, “Sam was a transformational leader in every sense, and more important, he was authentic.”(Nohria & Khurana, p179) This reminds me of the story of Joseph in prison. Even in the midst of difficult situations, surrounded by people who could be difficult to work with, God can still use a leader who is authentic and truly cares.
Brian – I hadn’t thought of Joseph. But you’re right – he held onto his integrity in a difficult situation. While that doesn’t mean everything works out the way we want it, the “transformational leader” qualities do seem to have a greater and lasting impact.
Mary and Brian,
I also think of Paul, who led the church through much controversy and difficulty in a time where it was politically dangerous. He faced opposition from the inside of the church and from the outside. He had to see Christ through the mixed messages that culture was sending. Yet, he defended what he knew was right and just. He was willing to sacrifice himself to ensure that the church stayed focused on Christ and operated with solid principles. As in your story about Sam, Paul was “willing to challenge the core assumptions” within the church of the time. If Paul wasn’t lead by the Holy Spirit, then he likely would not have seen all of the issues around him that were infecting the church. He was transformational because he saw the issues and knew what needed to be done to fix them. Paul’s example, reminds us that we must constantly assess ourselves and reflect on our actions to ensure our intentions remain pure and aren’t tainted by culture or popular thought. We must seek direction and walk with the Holy Spirit in order to see what needs transformed.
Mary, I was recently introduced to See’s chocolates. Are there bad ones??? 🙂 I couldn’t agree more with you line, “the idea that the lack of self-awareness causes some of the greatest harm in leading organizations.” I would have to say that the whole art and science (duality:) of a church planter’s formal assessment process ultimately is testing and developing her/his self-awareness. I would consider nothing more dangerous in church planting, or any field of leadership for that matter, than a leader who is lacking self-awareness and . . . doesn’t like See’s Chocolate.
You wrote “Avolio’s introductory comment that “quality leadership matters more” in an environment of limited resources strikes me profoundly as I look through a social-theological lens. While the world depletes resources, the generative nature of God can actually restore this world through effective leadership, as demonstrated in Jesus’s work on earth.”
I’m preaching from Colossians chapter one this weekend and It’s making my head spin. We all know Jesus reconciles man to God. But the text says “all things” are reconciled to the father through the son. All things includes things on earth and in heaven. Yes, I agree that God does have a ‘generative’ nature; He is about reconciling the universe to Himself. Too often we Christians come across as uncaring about the world, about society – it seems like God cares enough to redeem it. Yes our leadership should reflect that too.
Transformational leadership is one of the buzz words for my research endeavors. Its important to many in this ever changing world to practice spirituality for transformational ministry. Denominational leadership structures sometimes foster an environment that is ritual rich and transformational poor. I pray that God with bless the coming years with leaders who are spiritual, educated and transformational so that we can lead like Jesus did. Jesus was the most transformational, radical, and mission led leader ever. I want to be like that or its a waste of time just doing church.
Travis, your post makes me think about the fact that we tend to look backwards at history when we think about transformative church leaders…like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, etc. I’d ask, who are the next major transformational leaders who will take the church into the future?
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