Peter G. Northouse, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of Communication in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University. Northouse has spent over 30 years teaching leadership. His book, Leadership: Theory and Practice, is the world’s best-selling academic textbook on leadership. Once you open the book and start to review the table of contents, you know that you have found a gem to keep in your library. It conveys a breadth and in-depth study of every leadership concept and practice since the 20th Century.
For decades, corporations, churches, and academia have been in constant flux trying to identify the ‘it’ factor of leadership. The research Northouse has conducted and written about in his book provides comprehensive descriptions of 15 leadership theories – and, more importantly, easy-to-understand, research-based recommendations that help us understand how to apply each theory in real-life situations. Northouse does not describe the ‘it’ factor. He does much more than that in his book. He provides a working definition of leadership on page 6: Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Additionally, he assures us that leadership is fluid, it is adaptable, and it is situational. The lesson learned is that a great leader understands when and how to use their skill or calling to influence others towards the common goal.
Two leadership theories in his book stood out while reviewing the reading material. The first was Servant Leader. I’ve heard the term/theory bantered about, but not sure I’ve seen it in action. The second was the charismatic attribute of Transformational Leadership theory. I was certified as a Christian transformational leadership coach and the charismatic attribute was foreign to the certification process. So, I wanted to explore further to determine how the charismatic attribute was associated with this theory.
Before I read the chapter in Northouse’s book on servant leadership, I thought the only person who exemplified the qualities of a servant leader was Jesus. The attributes I previously assigned to a servant leader were:
- Wholly self-differentiated.
- Confident in purpose.
- Courage in action.
- Esteem others to encourage growth.
My initial concept or list of attributes only partially correlated with the one’s Northouse lists. The ten qualities Northouse lists for servant leaders are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. Although the two lists are different, I find solace in the fact that all scholars do not agree on the list. Instead, the attributes lay the groundwork for further research. However, in my research, I did find one additional attribute to add to Northouse’s list. The other attribute is the ability to communicate authentically. In the Leadership Bible, the lesson note for Matthew 12:33-37 summarizes that the heart is crucial to communication. John Hardwig wrote the leadership lesson for these verses: “Leaders, by the nature of their title, have to be givers. So, leaders who want to communicate effectively must cultivate their hearts along with relationships; they must communicate as people with “strength, fullness, and vitality.”
Here are my final thoughts on servant leadership. I still believe the only person who truly exemplified and lived out my idea of a servant leader is Jesus. One of Northouse’s criticisms of the servant leadership theory is that it has a “utopian ring because it conflicts with individual autonomy and other principles of leadership.” In western culture, this theory will continue to draw many to study it conceptually – but the likelihood of implementing it to the fullest extent is minimal because it competes with autonomy, consumerism, and competitiveness (to name a few).
Turning my attention to the charismatic attribute discussed in the Transformational Leadership theory, the details used to describe the trait are admirable. Northouse relies on R.J. House’s 1976 charismatic leadership theory description of the personality characteristics – dominance, desire to influence, self-confidence, and to have strong moral values. Some of these same personality characteristics are also criticized because they are traits one is born with rather than a characteristic that people can learn. Although charismatic leaders evoke strong followership and transformation amongst their followers, there is the potential for the charismatic leader to abuse their position.
In the book Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, the authors state that “leadership within the United States is often synonymous with charisma”; however, it is also associated with a persistent messianic call. In a society where some project their hopes for relief from social and economic ills onto a charismatic leader, it often leads to a disastrous ending. The authors contend that time and again in America, a person and their role are conflated. The ease with which the citizens sacrifice their autonomy for the charismatic leader in politics, Church, or business and then reject the person occurs more frequently than we might want to admit. This rejection can lead to a literal and symbolic assassination of the leader. Some examples listed were Abraham Lincoln, J. F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Malcolm X.
In conclusion, the most crucial consideration is the type of leadership exemplified in the Church because spiritual leaders impact my personal and spiritual growth. So, my question is, what leadership qualities work best in the Church? Short term, it might be the charismatic leader, but then again, long term, I suspect the servant leader would be the most beneficial for all who follow.
 Peter G, Northouse, Leadership: Theory & Practice, Ninth ed. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2022), xxii.
 Ibid., 255-256.
 Ibid., 259.
 Dr. Sid Buzzell, General Ed., NIV The Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles From God’s Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 1998.
 Peter G, Northouse, Leadership: Theory & Practice, Ninth ed. (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2022), 270.
 Ibid., 189.
 Ibid., 206.
 Simon Western and Eric-Jean Garcia, Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis (London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2018), 174.
 Ibid., 175.