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

Differentiating Authenticity

Written by: on March 17, 2023

Leadership, written by Peter Guy Northouse, is a comprehensive guide to leadership theories, research, and practices.[1] This book is much more than Northouse’s opinion about leadership, it is an all-encompassing manual for leadership at its core. Northouse provides a detailed chronology of leadership and provides readers with an understanding of both traditional and contemporary approaches that can be beneficial for any leadership context. It covers various types of leaders, including transactional, transformational, charismatic, and servant-leadership, while also offering insights into ethical decision-making in today’s complex world.

Northouse emphasizes real-world applications and current trends within the field of leadership, such as trait approaches and positive psychology perspectives on effective leader behaviors.[2] The theories apply to any leader and provide practical evidence to confirm them. The text is instructional and includes reflection questionnaires for self-evaluation, and used in thousands of universities around the globe.[3] The relevance is the positive perspective on leadership from every angle and continued refinement with each new edition. For Christian leaders, the skills are not only beneficial, but many of the qualities are also a requirement for spiritual authenticity.


Authentic Leadership

In Leadership, Theory and Practice, Northouse talks about how authentic leadership is a key part of effective leadership but also that it is “still in the formative phase of development,” and “likely to change as new research is published.”[4] He describes real authentic leaders as self-aware and committed to doing the right thing so that they can earn the trust of their followers. His approach is based on the idea that leaders can only be truly successful if they know themselves well enough to make good decisions based on honesty and not just on rewards or punishments from the outside.[5] Northouse gives his readers useful information about how they can develop their style and keep ethics in mind.

While reading the section on authentic leadership, I could not help but reflect on my own leadership style, and more importantly, my own spiritual leadership. I wondered if there was even a difference or if they naturally went hand in hand? If there is a difference, I concluded that there would also be a contradiction in spiritual authenticity for myself and Christian leaders in general. I believe authentic leadership goes beyond an ethical mindset for spiritual leadership. It is more than gaining the trust of those you lead and greater than a strategy for avoiding punishment. Authentic Christian leaders must live and die by their authenticity.


Differentiating Authenticity

A businessman (or woman) in a corporate setting can be an authentic leader by definition and not carry the same responsibility as a Christian leader. Having worked in corporate pharma sales for many years, I speak from experience that the “right thing” is subjective. What if the product or service that a company provides is not unethical, but abominable by God’s standards? An example would be the porn industry which is legal, a multibillion-dollar industry, and has a corporate structure. Could an executive in a porn conglomerate be an authentic leader? Sure.

Many qualities of an authentic leader overlap with Christian leaders but morals (spiritual obedience) and ethics are different. By definition (dictionary.com, britanica.com, and deffin.com), ethics are standards distinguished by social settings whereas morality is personal and relate to “right and wrong.”[6] Christian leaders cannot differentiate the two. So, in theory, the industry applies less to the definition of authentic leadership, and the same definition and rules do not apply to Christian leaders. In industries such as porn, tobacco, processed foods, or secular movies, executives could gain the trust of their employees, conduct ethical business practices accepted by society, and be labeled “authentic” and “successful.”

Authentic Christian Leadership

I believe there is a skewed definition of success and authenticity regard to Christian leadership and modern application. An authentic Christian leader is connected to the Spirit of God and all decisions are made through Him. They are not evaluated on quotas, their leadership style requires hard stances on morality, and their intolerance to worldly influence must be extreme.

An unauthentic Christian leader resembles the authentic corporate scenario above in many ways. They may follow protocol and assume authenticity, however, the product in the corporate example – and a personal struggle a Christian leader may have – separate these leaders from true authenticity. Authentic Christian leadership requires a deep relationship with Christ that carries over into leadership and lifestyle. It is impossible for an authentic Christian leader to take off his/her “Christian hat” at the end of the day or behave in a way that dishonors his/her Christian standards. To be truly genuine in who you are and what you do requires a connection with the Spirit. It requires movement that fulfills an unselfish purpose and frequent repentance through Christ so that purity and authenticity can shine brightly.

Authenticity in Christianity assumes multiple forms of leadership. It is a more serious form of leadership with eternal consequences and standards. Northouse discusses Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership which are two mandatory qualities of a Christian leader. Again, in a spiritual context, a leader must center Christ in their transformation and serving for unselfish gain. Transformation and servant leadership is more than inspiring others and offering practical guidance which Northouse notes. It is the death of the old you and dedicated discipleship of others. It requires full devotion and carries a certain life-or-death philosophy that is often not popular to discuss. An authentic Christian leader can be compared to a lifeguard in a pool of drowning individuals. In many cases, they can save themselves by changing their perspective and using faith to see the hypothetical ladder within arm’s distance away. Some can just climb out and others need Christian leaders to point them in the right direction. Others need us to jump in and save them, while others require coaching to stay away from danger and assist in the saving.

In conclusion, I am proud and excited to be a Christian leader, however, I feel an enormous weight and pressure that I know is not of God. I pray for authentic confidence and strong faith for myself and all of you.


[1] Northouse, Peter, Leadership

[2] Ibid, 19

[3] YouTube, “Peter Northouse discusses Leadership: Theory and Practice, 5th edition.”

[4] Northouse, Peter, Leadership, 197

[5] Ibid, 198

[6] dictionary.com, britanica.com, deffin.com, “morals and ethics.”

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

12 responses to “Differentiating Authenticity”

  1. Michael,

    Incredible blog my friend. I love how you said Christian leadership is based on their relationship of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of gold in the post. Well done!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, sir. Jesus makes it all real and sets the example as a servant himself. He more than defines authenticity, he displays it and humbles himself all for God’s glory. I can definitely see a difference in my own leadership style and lifestyle when I am more or less connected to the Spirit. It is always better with Him.

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    You highlighted the complexity of being an authentic Christian leader in a world full of gray areas. I deeply appreciate that. You then pointed out that the solution is relying on God’s Spirit as our guide. Love it!

    What are some complex, gray area leadership situations or decisions you are having to navigate through right now (or have recently had to navigate through)?

  3. Michael O'Neill says:

    Usually, gray areas that require discernment involve money and the business approach for us at Kinergy. In most cases, it’s not selfishness or a moral issue that’s gray. It’s the appearance of selfishness or profitable gain that we try to avoid. Our ministry involves exercise and we have a membership fee. We also have other things for sale like supplements and personal training. So our goal is to never have the products or services appear to be about the money and more about what we can do with the money to continue to serve our community. We’re still new with our messaging and have a lot of work in front of us but overall we pray that all money that comes through this organization is no different than passing a basket in a traditional church. It’s all for His glory and we have bills to pay. Our approach to a congregational ministry is different so we have to be cautious and back it up. I haven’t had anyone question our non-profit status but I’ve never counted it out so I want to always stand by our principles to take care of the ministry and the staff with as many blessings as possible. Thanks, David!

  4. Tonette Kellett says:


    In your authentic leadership, I love that your dependency is on Christ alone – as it should be for all Christian leaders. Your post is well done my friend!

  5. Michael – I relate to your post on so many levels. It doesn’t often feel that we Christian leaders have a few added layers of responsibility as we lead. However, as you noted, we also have the Spirit of Christ within us to guide us. What are some ways you tap into the power of Holy Spirit as part of your leadership journey?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Laura. I use a “prayer chair.” I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in a post but I take a single issue to God in an isolated environment. No noise or if music is involved, no lyrics. I used to pray for so many things but looking back it wasn’t as impactful so I started taking single issues into a time of prayer and discernment. Sometimes it’s quick and sometimes it’s over an hour or more but I typically leave with a solution or at the very least, the right direction.

      Prayer has helped me with my authentic leadership. The more I pray, the more I feel connected and patient. The less I pray, the more stressed and impulsive I feel and it is in that frame of mind that I tend to make decisions I regret so I am doing my best to stay connected at all times.


  6. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Great post. I like how you brought in other industries and businesses into your examples of leadership. It makes me think of how capitalism does influence the industry and leadership we are in. I doubt that leaders in porn, tobacco, or other “grey area” industries would feel that their industry are wrong (or they have worked through it to work there). In the same way, I wonder about Christian organizations and churches who approach ministry in a way that does “make a profit” or ask people to do things that we would consider unethical on the outside. In particular, how do you think we can evaluate our won leadership within the context in which we work? In particular, I am thinking of those who might work for places that they might not 100% personally align but need to pay the bills. How do they lead in those situations?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Chad. Your questions are great and really made me think about this. As for evaluation, I think this group helps us all self-evaluate. Each book, blog, and discussion is an opportunity to assess ourselves and learn from each other. When this program is complete, I think it would be wise to continue to have a group where people can speak freely and hold each other accountable. I have been feeling a Spirit call to start a men’s group that includes tasks each week and responsibilities such as physical activity, acts of kindness, reading, and discussion. I’m not there yet but it’s coming.

      I’ve been in situations where I am trying to lead in an environment that is secular and discourages spiritual encouragement. I used to be the type of Christian that thought they could walk into any environment and not be affected, however, it’s not like you walk into a job and immediately start partying or talking or thinking differently. The devil is craftier than that. It takes years of little things and the next thing you know you have moved the line between what is and what is not acceptable. I realized this before enrolling in this program and the last couple of jobs I had. I decided I needed to work in a Christian environment for the rest of my life. I realize for some Christian leaders, jumping into the lion’s den is their jam. It’s not mine. I would prefer to lead people to Christ in other ways. I won’t shy away from opportunities but I do not want the daily influence anymore. I think spiritual leaders in worldly environments are amazing and must stay connected. They must shield themselves from negative influence and make sure they evaluate themselves and their mission and not chase the money.

      Thanks, Chad.

  7. Kristy Newport says:

    I am reading the comments and this is catching my eye (quote below). I pray that God continues to show you if/when/why/how/for whom you should start a group for. If we lived near you…I would want my husband to be the first to sign up! May the Lord lead you in this!! I know you are probably busy. I pray God would show you the right timing.

    ” I have been feeling a Spirit call to start a men’s group that includes tasks each week and responsibilities such as physical activity, acts of kindness, reading, and discussion. I’m not there yet but it’s coming.”

    Can I just put a thought out there? I like how you state how you want to have acts of kindness as apart of your initiative. Thank you for NOT saying ‘random acts of kindness’. Acts of kindness are never random. I believe they are always intentional. The Holy Spirit can lead us in “the spur of a moment” but this is still intentional. It is something that is important to me because Jesus was so INTENTIONAL in all that He did. He did not randomly get put up on the cross.

    May God lead you on, brother Michael!!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Sis. I agree on the random. I just like acts of kindness and acts of worship and acts of anything with an intentional effort. I would even be ok with “strategic acts of kindness” over “random.” I am still flirting with the men’s group and started talking about it with a pastor friend who I exercise with. We will do more but the timing is not quite right. The baby has been the top priority these past few weeks.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

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