A critical and complex commodity
Northouse’s excellent analysis of leadership in every generation since Aristotle highlights the critical nature of this subject. Indeed, from the beginning of time, long before Aristotle came on the scene, God demonstrates leadership by initiating creation, modelling character, facilitating change, and influencing many individuals and groups for good. Inspired by God, several individuals continued this trend of showing how significant leadership is by achieving exploits such as conceiving and leading a food security program that helped the whole world escape starvation (Joseph); facilitating freedom for a nation after four centuries of slavery under a super-power (Moses); and communicating the most important message on earth to the then known world (Paul). The high volume of leadership research since the beginning of the twentieth century suggests leadership continues to be a valued commodity.
Indeed, as Joseph Campbell shows in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, every culture has leaders, albeit with a leadership style that best suits the context in which the leader finds himself or herself. Like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, some of these individuals, historical and contemporary, assembled a respectable team of dedicated staff that facilitated remarkable transformation within their context. Today, Singapore is respected as one of the most competitive nations on earth, but it will probably not be what it is today without the critical contribution of Prime Minister Lee.
In addition to being a critical commodity, leadership is also a complex one. Northouse points out that there are over 200 definitions of leadership, with each emphasizing an element of the concept: traits, behavior, influence, transformation, situation, process and a host of other factors. I think it is imperative that there is no one size fits all approach to leadership because of the significant difference in contexts and worldviews around the world. Sometimes, even within the same context, a difference in seasons may signal the need for a different type of leadership. During the era spanning the exodus from Egypt to the appointment of King Saul, Israel was led by prophets and priests. But with the introduction of kings, an important leadership shift took place that sometimes resulted in prolonged seasons of idolatry and injustice.
Within my ministry context among low-income communities in my city, I am not certain what might be the most appropriate leadership style. It seems like what will work best would be a combination of styles. For example, a situation of extreme deprivation and broken relationships seems to call for a combination of transformational and situational leadership, as there is significant need for political leaders dedicated to changing a culture of corruption to one of service delivery. This could tackle widespread hunger, homelessness, poor sanitation facilities and other challenges. Yet the transformation needed goes far beyond addressing material needs. The worldview, cultural values and belief systems also need to change. Otherwise, we run the risk of achieving a transformation that is shallow and temporary. For mindset change to happen, spiritual leaders, educators, and media practitioners actually play a more critical role than political leaders. As such a combination of leadership approaches might be best, rather than one single approach. Perhaps this is part of the lesson learnt in combining prophets, priests and kings to lead Israel in Old Testament times. Each might emphasize a different aspect of leadership and ultimately, provide the nation with the right combination of leadership approaches required. Indeed, two heads are better than one.
 Northouse, Peter, G., Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Kogler Hill, Stefanie Simon. Leadership: Theory and Practice. (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2019), 53.
 Northouse et al., Leadership. 33.
 Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). xxvi.
 Northouse et al., Leadership, 33.
6 responses to “A critical and complex commodity”
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Thanks Henry. I would agree with you that for my low-income context a variety of these models would be ideal to employ in developing leaders. As I was reading, I saw aspects from nearly all of the models that I have deployed at various times.
If you had to say one model that best describes your leadership style, what would it be?
Thanks Eric. I think the model that would best describe my approach might be transformational. I want to be continually transformed into the image of Christ; and hope I can be used by Him to help those I’m privileged to meet to also experience transformation in Christ
Henry, thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciated the way in which you wove the lessons of leadership from the biblical text into the lessons of leadership from Northouse and Campbell. You contextualized biblical leadership by using contemporary language–a helpful touch to bring ancient journeys into conversation with today’s journeys. I also appreciated your reflection on your own context and what types of leadership would truly lead to deep change/transformation.
What edition of Northouse are you using? I ask, because his 6-8th editions had a chapter on Culture and Leadership that I found fascinating (and only accessed through summaries; thankfully one of our colleagues just scanned me a copy of the chapter from the 6th edition!). If you have access to this chapter, I would be interested to hear your evaluation of the valued leadership behaviors identified through the GLOBE study that are important to people living in the sub-saharan area of Africa. How do the values identified in the GLOBE study compare to the valued leadership behaviors you see in your ministry context?
Elmarie, thanks for your kind words and questions. I’m using the 8th edition and think the GLOBE study is very enlightening. I think the autonomous and self-protective leadership styles are most prevalent across Sub-Saharan Africa, but I believe most people living here would prefer a style that combines the charismatic/value-based, team-oriented, participative, and humane-oriented leadership behaviors. Within my ministry context, we also tend to see the autonomous and self-protective leadership styles
Henry, I am impressed by your ability to connect the biblical leaders into this week’s reading. I think in most situations a combination of leadership styles provides the best approach. I would like to learn more about how you might implement Transformational Leadership into your personal style of leading.
Thanks for your kind words Denise. I think unless i am constantly being transformed into the image of Christ, I cannot be a transformational leader. Two ways I believe this can happen is by regular self-assessments and meetings with an accountability partner. I’m ashamed to say that these are not happening regularly in my life. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future. If these happen, then I think I’ll be in a better place to be used by God in transforming others