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

Leadership Status: It’s Complicated

Written by: on September 15, 2022

My research for my project necessitated me to articulate a definition of leadership. That task proved challenging because there are thousands of definitions. The sheer number of definitions makes it obvious that leadership cannot be reduced or simplified. Beyond trying to define it, leadership also gets applied in real and diverse ways. Leadership never takes place in a vacuum. There always exists a culture and a context in which any form of leadership takes place. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Letter From Birmingham Jail sought to answer critics by explaining the context of his actions that led to his imprisonment. Without understanding the context, leadership proves an easy target for faultfinders.

Many approaches to teaching leadership, especially in America, teach as though leadership can be defined within certain parameters of performance, traits, and personality. Simon Western and Eric-Jean Garcia challenge that understanding of leadership in Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis. The two premises of this management book seek to “allow leadership to speak with different voices” and “to open up new spaces for leadership to speak, reflecting historical, cultural, economic and sociocultural influences.”[1]The book contains two main sections. The first section collects insight from twenty different countries, sharing unique traits that shape the current leadership culture there by those residing there. The second section provides an analysis of the first section, seeking commonalities and differences. The authors rely on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, “searching for ‘symptoms’ of leadership”[2] in each country profiled. The Lacanian approach seeks to reveal “what unconscious dynamics determine and shape leadership.”[3]

In the analysis, common and uncommon factors and patterns of leadership are defined. The authors use the phrase “insider-leadership” to refer to “common leadership factors, present in the dominant theories and practices found in Western literature.”[4] Most of that Western literature comes from prominent business schools at leading universities and influential publications. A fascinating part of the authors’ analysis explores “outsider-leadership,” which searches for leadership traits that are uncommon and not found in the dominant thinking and practice of leadership.[5] These existing expressions of leadership often get overlooked or ignored due to their disconnection from the dominant discourses. Analyzing the outsider-leadership looks “for gaps, for what is left out, what is lacking, and what is left over, ‘the remainder.’”[6] The lack “points to what Lacan calls ‘the Real’, which is unnameable and yet points to a subjective truth.”[7] The reality of effective leadership cannot always be reduced to principles or even words. It simply exists and works in the real world.

The authors break down leadership traits into four discourses. The titles for the discourses include Controller, Therapist, Messiah, and Eco-leadership.[8] In addition to placing countries within a discourse, the authors identify the uncommon traits of all twenty countries studied. South Africa’s outsider-leadership (unique) trait they call “paralysed (sic) leadership” due to recent and past history.[9] Recent readings of Mandela and Tutu give ample illustrations to support the label and the reason for it. In our upcoming Advance, it will interesting to get a first-and view of that dynamic. America receives a diagnosis of “melancholic leadership” due to a collective loss of the American Dream.[10] Current polarization betrays a collective culture of denial about what has been lost, making people discouraged without a conscious sense of why.

Of the four discourses, America scored the highest on “messiah” leadership. This leadership form possesses charismatic leaders who create strong cultures. Anecdotally, I agree with that on a national level and a church level as well. We have recent examples of this leadership type from the ballot box to the pulpit. From my journey in pastoral ministry, the influence of John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, the Willow Creek Association, and others, pointed to a style marked by strength, vision-casting, and culture creation. Rather than a personal application of those principles, imitation often resulted instead. As some church leaders discovered, you can find yourself up a Willow Creek with a Hybels. In recent years, we have witnessed falls by high-profile ministry leaders that I would put in the “messiah” leader category. The result? What the authors attribute to the nation as a whole, I would apply to the church also. A current state of melancholy aptly describes the American church culture.

So, what is a leader to do? Using the author’s term or discourse, the future points toward “Eco-leadership” incorporating networks and a decentralized leadership model. Connection with other leaders and groups can lead away from the Christian celebrity culture toward a united effort to make the name of Jesus famous. Eco-leadership is “about realizing that twenty-first century organizations are better understood as interdependent and interconnect eco-systems.”[11] The church should not merely understand that principle biblically as part of its identity. It could also lead the way in making it real.

[1] Simon Western and Eric-Jean Garcia, Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2018), 267.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 182.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 186.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 191.

[9] Ibid., 252.

[10] Ibid., 259.

[11] Ibid., 198.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

10 responses to “Leadership Status: It’s Complicated”

  1. Excellent post Roy. I feel like you summarized things so clearly, which brought Western’s book particularly into focus. I feel the industrialized DNA is so prevalent in American Churches, that it’s impossible to imagine church leadership not functioning on that plane. How do you imagine church leadership realizing a more “ecological” structure?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Michael, thanks for you question. Just off the top of my head, I think eco-leadership within a church context would have a flatter structure than often found, job descriptions that articulated how leadership roles are interdependent. On a bigger scale, I believe it would join churches and associations within a city or region to work together to serve without promoting any particular church. Are we spending more time building our kingdom or the Kingdom??

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    I had to reread the author’s section on “insider” and “outsider” leadership traits to understand what they are analyzing. I had never come across that distinction before but I think they were on to something there. There is something that gets missed and the authors are trying to explain how the gap can be filled. It was a good read, did it help you in your project? Will it be a part of your bibliography?

  3. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, Thank for your summary on insider and outsider leadership. I find it very helpful.

    What could happen if we began to understand Messiah Leadership as defined by our Messiah, Jesus, instead of defining it like the disciples originally applied it? Oh wait….maybe Jesus didn’t really mean it lolololololol

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, haha – I think Jesus used lots of humor but He did not joke about the task of leadership. I just read a tweet that says, “Following Jesus should a lot like…Jesus.” That seems so self-evident but I wonder how many times we get far afield from that target?! When I read the Gospels, that would extend a lot of grace to those far from God and challenge to the self-righteous religious folks. Sounds like something Friedman would give two thumbs up.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great blog, Roy. I especially enjoyed this line: “The reality of effective leadership cannot always be reduced to principles or even words. It simply exists and works in the real world.” As you think about the process of leadership development and process, how do you hold this reality in tension with the practical steps of reproducing leaders?

    Also, I would be curious to know where you landed with your definition of leaderhship.

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      To piggy-back off of Eric, how have your answers to his questions then shaped your NPO as you enter the final phase?

      • mm Roy Gruber says:

        Kayli, I included that in my response to Eric. The more I read the Gospels, the more I’m convinced Jesus used a multi-faceted approach to developing His disciples. I believe the American church has put most our “eggs” in the content “basket.” I believe we need a significant shift to be effective with the emerging generations.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, I believe it’s time to leave behind a leadership process that was heavy on content, often written, and we need to move to a dynamic, multifaceted approach to leadership development. The core principles of my NPO are digital content processed in a relational context while gaining experiential learning. We need a relevant medium, trusted relationships with those already in leadership and learning “on the job.” The leadership definition I landed on comes from Robrert Clinton:“Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.” I like this because it specific enough to to be able to measure it but also broad enough to encompass the diverse roles of leadership.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nice post Roy.
    I agree with you that American leadership struggles with how to effectively function as a body. I think that you hit the nail on the head, with the church experiencing a grief in regard to what they have lost. I am reminded of an old Keith Green song “So you want to go back to Egypt.” While it is important for the church to grieve its loss, I think they need to remember they are sojourners.

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