Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Challenging My Own Status Quo

Written by: on November 27, 2023

Familiar Territory?

I was excited to see that we had Leadership: Theory and Practice[1] on our reading list this term. I will be candid: I was excited to have a book I had already read because it meant I had less reading to do. This was territory I had already covered, so “I should be able to crank out a blog post on this quickly,” I thought. I know. I should be ashamed of myself for looking for shortcuts, but there we are. This idea of looking for the quickest distance between two points is relevant for my reflection this week. Let me explain why.

When I was first exposed to Northouse’s work, and his catalogue of diverse leadership models and theories, it was for a class I was teaching on leadership. I appreciated that there was a one-stop place to go to expose new leaders to varying approaches to leadership. I liked that each chapter reviewed a model, examined its strengths, its liabilities and even provided an instrument to measure an individual’s aptitude for each particular technique. At the time, I knew that no leader could embody all these characteristics, so I approached it with my students as an opportunity to find their natural style, and to understand those natural assets and liabilities.

Flash Forward to Our Doctoral Program…

Last year, in Why We are Wrong About Nearly Everything[2] and Thinking Fast and Slow[3] we read about the likelihood that we are wrong and how hard it is for us to see our own wrongness. Almost as if to add insult to injury, two weeks ago, in Spellbound, we learned about this mystical subconscious that frequently sabotages our conscious and pushes us to move us into places we don’t want to go. These authors all point to the need for us to take time, slow down, and not to rely on short cuts. If I layer these principles onto Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice, I am left to ask: “I wonder if my default leadership practices are really serving me and others as well as they could?” In other words, should I be looking to discover new ways of doing things that push me out of my comfort zone? That may sound obvious, but the deep ruts of habit can sometimes channel me into blindly doing what I have always done instead of looking for what could be. Perhaps I am starting to get a glimmer of understanding. 

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. Proverbs 4:18 (NLT)

In a recent sermon at my church[4], the story of Joseph was retold. It is a story of leadership. If you read between the lines, it was also a series of decision points. If I had been there, it would also have consisted of a lot of hand wringing and asking “how do I respond to this situation?” I wonder if Joseph felt the same as he was launched from:

  • “favored son of rural farm family,” to
  • “slave to be traded,” to
  • “chief of staff,” to a national leader to
  • “prisoner,” to
  • “second in command” in a nation

And yet, we read that God was intentionally preparing Joseph, as well as those around him, to be instruments in His plan to preserve a people.

Moving Beyond an Instinctive Approach to Maturity

How Does Joseph Tie into Northouse’s Treatment of Leadership? While I cannot point the same level of altitude fluctuations in my career as Joseph experienced, and I do not see any evidence in Scripture of Joseph intentionally relying on specific leadership models in his work, I do get inspiration from the idea of a kid who starts out as an annoying little brother who probably tries to lead out of instinct, to a grown adult who matures into slowing down and thoughtfully weighing out what leadership response makes sense in his current situation. In the roller coaster ride of Joseph’s life, I imagine he grew to know his natural strengths and more importantly his weaknesses and became aware of the reality is that what he had done before may not be what he needed to do in the moment.  Additionally, I believe I could also learn from Joseph’s repeatedly turning to God for wisdom and guidance (which beats my hand wringing approach by a long shot).

So, in the current workplace situations I am facing, should I, for the moment, shelve my default Authentic Leadership approach and its interpersonal nature which comes so natural to me[5] and instead try something new like the Path-Goal theory to bring new voices into the work to help the team accomplish our goals[6]? Additionally, as an internal consultant with little Positional Power, should I take a beat to carefully consider the Personal Power[7] I wield in a scenario and how I am using that to reflect God’s glory… or not? Is Northouse giving me a gentle nudge to challenge my subconscious and to take the time to think outside of my default presuppositions? Probably.

Even more to the point, rather than looking for shortcuts, should I be inquiring of God for his wisdom and to gain understanding regarding the higher purposes behind my experiences? Definitely.

Every week, someone on the staff at my church writes a benediction for us to reflect on as a closing activity for the congregation. Last week it included a challenge that applies to us in our pursuit of leadership:

“… use whatever comes my way as an opportunity for me to pursue repentance, reconciliation, and relationships. Let every minute be a moment that You are shaping me.”


[1] Peter G. Northouse, “Leadership: Theory and Practice” (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2019).

[2] Bobby Duffy, “Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding” (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019).

[3] Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

[4] November 12, 2023  Sunday Gatherings (Full), 2023, https://vimeo.com/884873770.

[5] Northouse, “Leadership,” 198.

[6] Northouse, 118.

[7] Northouse, 11.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

11 responses to “Challenging My Own Status Quo”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    I have couple of reflections from your post — First, when you said that you have little positional power, I get it. Yet, as I think of how many authors define leadership as influence, including how Northouse defines leadership (“influences a group…to achieve a common goal”), I wonder how that might change (or not change) the way you might reframe your role or re-think your presuppositions.
    Second, you said that you imagine Joseph “grew to know his natural strengths and more importantly his weaknesses and became aware…that what he had done before may not be what he needed to do in the moment.” Is there a particular strategy he might have deployed, in the spirit of Walker’s ecology of power, knowing that a different situation required something different…or do you think he led more intuitively as he trusted the Lord (or perhaps there was a combo of these)? Or maybe there’s a different question to ask regarding the use of power and different situations in the Bible.

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      I am chewing on this idea, Travis. As an internal consultant, any positional power I may have is defined within the scope of a particular project, rather than leading an piece of operations. So, I may have some authority, but it only comes in service to a particular initiative. In the past, I always defined positional power by who reports directly to me in an org chart, but now you are getting me to challenge my assumptions. Thanks!

      Regarding Joseph: I don’t know. But my GUESS would be that he was leading by God’s supernatural guidance, and that is probably the most effective. In fact, I think that all of these “theories of leadership” will break down for us without a similar strategy of inviting God’s involvement.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Jennifer,

    I too read this book sometime in the distant pass.

    You wrote, “but the deep ruts of habit can sometimes channel me into blindly doing what I have always done instead of looking for what could be.”

    Ah, there is the rub. I too fall into leadership ruts.

    As I skimmed through Northouse, I have been taken by the Strengths and Criticisms section for each leadership style. For the first time I am looking at Team Leadership for one of my projects in Ukraine.

    It is making me reevaluate the four individuals who are hesitant about “leading” but are called to ministry in Ukraine. Perhaps they will lead according to their strengths (or calling) but will take their turn when the mission moves between relief work, rebuilding, and our children sports/ESL ministry.

    Hmmm…Northouse gives me pause to rethink.


  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Interesting that you taught this text. You said, “At the time, I knew that no leader could embody all these characteristics, so I approached it with my students as an opportunity to find their natural style, and to understand those natural assets and liabilities.” That makes me think of Simon Walker’s various leadership styles (8 if I’m remembering correctly?) and how he suggested that a leader needs the agility to switch between them. I’m still a little in awe of that idea, but I like the way you call it a “gentle nudge to challenge my subconscious” and step out of our comfort zones.

  4. mm Tim Clark says:

    First, can I say there should be no shame in the thought of being able to crank this post out quickly. Even though that may not be the direction you landed on, it seems part of our work is learning to quickly interact with and present something that might take hours and hours but do it in few.

    –I’m just being a pastor here, pointing out that “there is ‘therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” 🙂

    Second, I’m with Kim above. The posts I’ve read so far have brought to mind Walker and the different leadership approaches and needs.

    But I really appreciate your reflection on Joseph; our Biblical leadership models didn’t read a leadership book and then decide how to lead. They were sensitive to God and led out of who they were.

    I think at the end of the day it’s not as much about our becoming a different person to lead a different way but appreciating the various styles and philosophys of leadership and having an intentionality to identify where we land in them and what might help us to be MORE of who we are and who God is calling us to be, and to be ok discarding what doesn’t fit.

  5. Your reflections on leadership and the insights from Northouse’s work, especially in the context of your personal experiences and recent readings, are thought-provoking. It’s interesting how you’ve connected the concepts of habitual thinking and leadership styles. Regarding your inclination towards the Authentic Leadership model, have you found any specific challenges or advantages in applying this approach in situations where you have limited positional power, but significant personal influence?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      This question made me smile, Mathieu, as I think about how little power I have as an internal consultant! I think the reason Authentic Leadership works for me, is because it keeps me humble, and I don’t get any delusions of grandeur. I am clearheaded what I am there to do and not do, I know the strength I can bring and don’t bring, and the deciders in my organization can opt to use that help if they discern it is needed. Did that answer your question?

  6. Esther Edwards says:

    I smiled as I read your post. I, too, took the shortcut and was excited about having a book I already read.
    However, reading everyone’s posts makes me realize delving deeper would be good when I have a bit more time.
    The quote from one of your church staff members gave much food for thought: “… use whatever comes my way as an opportunity for me to pursue repentance, reconciliation, and relationships. Let every minute be a moment that You are shaping me.”
    The status quo drifts along, but transformation and growth require intentionality to gain the higher purposes you mention.
    Thanks for challenging me to read and apply myself with intention.

  7. Adam Harris says:

    Great posts Jennifer, loved how you weaved other books into your thoughts and how it flowed. Your posts is a great reminder that we do get entrenched in what comes natural to us and our personalities. It’s useful to step out of our box and subconscious instincts to try a different way. This book is a great resource for that. Also, Joseph is one of my all time favorite Bible stories. So much wisdom in that narrative!

  8. Jennifer! I love the way you process life emotionally, mentally, and spiritually! WOW!
    Here is something to consider:
    “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield

    Your passion will keep you from living the unlived life!!!

  9. Jennifer,

    In your reflection, you share your initial excitement about familiar territory in leadership theory. However, as you delve into Northouse’s work, you consider the importance of resisting shortcuts and embracing growth. Drawing parallels with the story of Joseph, you highlight the value of adapting leadership approaches and seeking divine wisdom. This reflective journey reinforces the idea that leadership requires continuous self-examination and openness to new perspectives. I love it!

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