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

Leadership: Theoretical or Practical

Written by: on November 5, 2015


Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana is a collection of almost fifty contributing scholars on the subject of Leadership. Much is written mainstream and in popular culture on the subject of leadership. Thousands and even tens of thousands have been written on the subject and line both virtual and real shelves of the likes of Barnes and Nobel to Amazon. Yet very little is truly academic scholarship on the subject. That is the chasm that this book is attempting to bridge.





This book offers an academic, yet realistic perspective on the subject of leadership.

In order to accomplish this task, the book moves beyond a layman’s perspective and looks at the science of the leadership. All the contributors are highly educated, published and known in their areas of leadership expertise, yet they vary in their perspective of the practical verses theoretical. This difference is illustrated in that its contributors work in both pubic leadership business sectors as well as private academic sectors. For instance, Walter Freidman is a faculty member of Harvard Business School and reoccurring contributor and co-editor of Harvard Business Review (Harvard’s journal on leadership) and touring lecturer on the subject, especially in it’s historical implications in light of economics. Freidman approaches the subject in a more academic and theoretical perspective. The opposite contrast of contributors for this book is Joel M. Podolny. Although he holds a Ph.D. from Harvard, he illustrates the “practical” dimension of leadership with holding employment in the business sector as an executive with Apple.




As I read through the five sections of organized data on leadership, from leadership meaning and definition to its effect on relationship and reality, my analysis is that this “difference” or “bridging of the chasm” between practical and theoretical is its genius. It does not choose a “side” between practical or theoretical, which are what most books on the subject do. Instead it allows each to prove the other. Of the almost 30,000 leadership books offered on leadership this this is in the small 10% that do both practical and theoretical. I liked that book addresses questions such as: “What kinds of leaders are these institutions [i.e. business, government, other spheres of public life] developing that have caused so much hardship for so many?” “What is the vision or model of leadership that animates the curriculum and developmental models in these institutions?”; “If there is such a model, does it need to be revisited, reexamined, and revised in light of the widespread failures in leadership?”


I also liked that it address’ the subject is not just a mechanism for “getting ahead.” It is a responsibility. It makes the reader contemplate and formulate his or her own thoughts and ethics on the subject. In chapter 15, Jay Lorsch explains that leadership is based on “relationship” not achievement alone. The relationship is a connection between leader and follower, not merely based on employment but on alignment of values shared, two-way communication, and power shared. This results in healthy relationship, which begets healthy leadership, which produces results. Bottom line is important, but it is the root and not the fruit of leadership.


My favorite portion of the book was section four, especially chapter 16 on the CEO’s responsibility to organizational success. This resonated with me, primarily because this is how I view my role organizationally as a Senior Pastor. I am the primary leader of the organization, thus the “buck” stops with me. I agree with Porter and Nohria on the growing complexity of the role of CEO. It’s indeed a job “rife with paradoxical opportunities and constraints.” The demands are ever growing and “endless”. I most identify with the “discomfort of being exposed, vulnerable, and even overwhelmed.” I have spent half of my professional life as a team member and the other as the primary leader (CEO). I found solace as team member because there was security in the “final” decision not being mine, but the team leader there are often lonely and unprotected decisions that leave me feeling very vulnerable and quite frankly uncomfortable.


I REALLY enjoyed this book. I am so glad that it was apart of our reading. Because of its subject matter and mix of theoretical meets practical it’s my favorite.






About the Author

Aaron Cole

6 responses to “Leadership: Theoretical or Practical”

  1. Hi Aaron.
    Love your post. You summarize this huge text really well. I too like the book and found a ton of help.
    Your description of being uncomfortable in your role as senior pastor is common I think and part of what makes being a senior pastor so difficult these days. Sounds like you are doing a great job at it. Keep up the good work!
    I also like the Lorsch point that leadership is so relational. This is huge nowadays. A good reminder. What has helped you navigate that tension between being a church members friend and leader? Sometimes I find this very difficult to do.
    PS: I notice your post is “uncategorized.” This means we can see it on the general page but not on the lgp6 page. I did this too a couple weeks ago. You should go edit your post and on the bottom right of the page choose Category LGP6. Cheers!

  2. Aaron…good post. I came to the same conclusion. Many leadership books focus on getting ahead, but this one did focus on the responsibility….which is a sobering reality for me. What would you say are the biggest pressures of the responsibility of leadership?

  3. Aaron Cole says:


    I think the “pressure” of being the leader is the biggest pressure or responsibility of leadership. It is not one action or decision. It is not one hire or fire. It is not one single responsibility. It is the almost ominous feeling or knowledge that YOU as the leader are responsible, That your actions not only count, but also effect you, your family, and others.


  4. Kevin Norwood says:


    I to have enjoyed this book the most and for many of the same reasons that you have. The issue is compounded when you start to apply this to church leadership because of the complexity of the issues and the tasks. I do see that this book is not about the popular view of leadership but about the skills and practices of the leader. I do see these translating to the CEO leader (lead pastor). You do have to put on all those hats and you are faced with the final decision. But I believe that is where spirituality and spirit empowered comes along and equips with another level of leadership but I see that it can coincide with these practices as well and they are not foreign to each other but compliment each other completely.

    Keep leading!!


  5. Phil Goldsberry says:


    Amazing how many of us took the book and transformed it to the role of pastoring. So many books have been written on leadership.

    It was refreshing to read scalable, practical, and usable information that was more than theory. Many of these writers have proven track records that are more than a stint in a business school.

    It seems that both of us are “addicted” to ministry. We funnel life through our calling. I am not sure that it is all bad. Pastoring has been more than just a source of income….its what we have chosen to give our life to.


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