As Forrest Gump says, “Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I’ll confess to reading Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice like I eat See’s Chocolate Assortments. I turn over each chocolate before I eat it, dig my fingernail just a bit to see what kind it is. If I like it (most of them I do), I’ll eat the rest of the chocolate. Similarly, I find, after reading the introduction chapter by Nohria and Khurana, I dig a little into each chapter, savoring and reading in entirety the topics that most appeal to me, which interestingly are many.
Like churches with theology, the academic world has forfeited leadership to popular culture. The Handbook provides an answer, or at the very least, the beginning of a conversation to retrieve that which has been lost. Raising the value of leadership through research and practice by scholars shows the reality in the complexity and necessity of leadership. What popular authors have noted intuitively, the academic world wants to ensure or dispute through rigorous research in order to provide a sustainability and longevity in what is promoted as true leadership. As a result, Nohria and Khurana offer a source that opens up a way for academics to speak to students in a way that hopes to “improve the supply [of better leadership].” Naming and establishing effective leadership while developing leaders through the sieve of education and research benefit not only the academic institutions but society at large.
The use of duality in the each of the sections of the papers reflects the pragmatic yet theoretical nature of leadership. Ranging from performance and meaning-making to thinking/doing and being, there are five arenas of creative tension that the researchers address in their own discipline of work. This duality brings to mind our conversation about social theory as theology, theology as social theory. For a comprehensive and sustainable picture, in this case of leadership, duality must be acknowledged and addressed to fully understand the complexity.
One article that intrigues and challenges me in understanding leadership, particularly around development is “Pursuing Authentic Leadership Development” by Bruce J. Avolio. He calls for future leaders to be “practitioner-scientists,” again another duality. This concept comparable to a theologian-pastor/ministry leader-social theorist draws my attention to this particular article. The creative tension of praxis and research resembles the church as well as the academic institution.
Avolio’s introductory comment that “quality leadership matters more” in an environment of limited resources strikes me profoundly as I look through a social-theological lens. While the world depletes resources, the generative nature of God can actually restore this world through effective leadership, as demonstrated in Jesus’s work on earth. Throughout Avolio’s research and observation, he names the value of offering transformative leadership as a way to help organizations become more effective and morally responsible. Without realizing it, his words hearken to the kind of leadership Jesus instills in the disciples, a working model of transformation.
Additionally fascinating in the article is the idea that the lack of self-awareness causes some of the greatest harm in leading organizations. Avolio wants to develop a tested theory for self-awareness. By looking at leadership development as something that can be learned (he also admits to some inherited leadership abilities – the made vs. born argument in which Avolio confesses: “it’s both”), he offers the “full range” of leadership that includes individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational, and idealized influence. It is in these qualities that a leader can improve especially as he/she uses the “triggers” – a specific event that leads to personal reflection – to learn from situations. To develop as a leader, there needs to be a readiness to learn. As a result, authentic leadership inherently requires self-awareness, balanced processing, moral perspective, and transparency.
How similar is this to followers of Jesus Chris who recognize the need for self-awareness, which commonly leads to confession? With the step of acknowledgment of sin and assurance of God’s grace, the Christian community becomes even more self-aware and forward thinking, not only learning from that state of heart but also impacting those in leadership and those who follow. While Avolio looks for a measurement to test self-awareness in the development of leaders, there is a place where there’s been an offering on how to do so: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2a To what Avolio intuitively believes and researches to prove, the message of the Gospel actually operates in its inside-out model.
Transformational leadership offers hope through the vision of what could be, opening up the opportunity for a sense of transcendence. Avolio and his colleagues see first hand the value of someone with a “substance beyond the shadow” through a research study in a correctional facility. With the ability to see beyond themselves, the inmates are led by a man, Sam, who demonstrates Christlike qualities in a manner that are “unfailingly humble, genuine, compassionate, ethical, inspiring, … and willing to challenge the core assumptions” of the inmates. Avolio, without acknowledging it, reflects the substance of Jesus Christ’s message of compassion and authenticity in leading others. Once again, through the lens of social theological understanding, the idea of developing leaders requires a “wisdom [that] is developed, [where] we can expect better use of it the longer we sustain a healthy life among leaders and followers.” These words have the sound of shalom to them, which requires a little bit of chocolate which is good for you, right?! 🙂
(By the way, just in case you’re wondering, I don’t eat the entire box, at least in one sitting).
 Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: an Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), 24.
 Ibid, 740.
 Ibid, 740.
 Ibid, 747-748.
 Ibid, 758.
 Ibid, 758.
 Ibid, 745.
 Ibid, 749.
 Ibid, 765.