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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leadership – Influence and Service

Written by: on November 16, 2016

A Leader is an individual who influences others to follow him or her.[1]

I was surprised to learn that there is a such a huge perceived lag between the need for good leaders and the research and training available to produce good leaders. “A common lament among executives is that their organizations suffer from a shortage of leadership talent.”[2]

My undergraduate degree is in Business/Administration. It seemed like there were many leadership models and structures. Companies have boards, presidents, CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s, upper management, middle management, lower management, supervisors, department heads and on and on. Isn’t everyone getting on ok? Why do we need so much more research?

After reading the book (Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice –  Edited by Nitin Nohria & Rakesh Khurana) and understanding the questions about leadership that are raised, I can agree with the editors and authors that there is a need for more research. There really is a lot more to think about than who to check off on the next Board of Directors election.

The members of the Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium met to address and seek answers to questions in five main areas:
1. Is the leader’s main role to produce superior performance or to make meaning? Is the leader more like a manager or a figure head?
2. Is the leader a special person, or does he or she represent a special role?
3. What are the universal principles (if any) that are involved in leadership and what particular things are unique to each situation?
4. How much control, or agency, does a leader have and what are the constraints that limit his or her power?
5. How much emphasis should be placed on the leader as a “thinker and doer” as opposed to or in conjunction with the leader as “becoming and being”?

All of the books we have read so far touch on, in some way, our social interactions with others. And this book is no exception. Though it has an incredible amount of information on leadership theory and practice from many different perspectives, most of the authors address the area of leadership as a relationship between leaders and followers.

Doing my best to read syntopically (Adler), intelligently (Bayard), creatively, (Pink), critically (Elder), humbly (Lowney), interactively (Elliott), and reflectively (Grenz) I zeroed in on three articles that really resonated with an idea that Jason put into my head a few chats ago. I mentioned that I go to a church that does not allow women into leadership positions. But what is leadership? How do I use the gifts that God has given me to exercise whatever leadership (influence) role I may have? Here are some ideas:

1. “An emerging body of scholarship suggests that the most effective style of leadership in today’s world is ‘Transformational’”[3] Transformational leaders work to gain trust and confidence in their followers and to empower them to develop their own potential.
Furthermore, “Meta-analyses of studies involving thousands of leaders suggest that women are somewhat more transformational than men, especially in providing support for subordinates.”[4] At the minimum, I think a point could be made that an organization that leaves women out of leadership is missing some strengths that it could otherwise have.

2. Jay Lorsch prefers the term “influence” rather than “power” in his essay. “Power” is a situational variable that affects influence. But all leaders to be successful must have influence. He says that “…an individual is a leader whether she is a senior executive leading an effort to change the strategic direction of her company or is a supervisor leading a group of workers on an assembly line.”[5] The task is to influence others to follow her.
Reflecting on Chris Lowney’s book, if we are all leaders then we need to carefully consider how we are influencing others. As a Christian woman in a church where women are denied “leadership” positions, is it possible that in answering God’s call to serve where I am, I have “influence” and don’t need “power”? Of course, power can be good (ethical supervisory) or bad (Machiavelli). How do we choose to use it? Don’t we tend to love leaders who serve but don’t exercise power? (Mother Theresa)

  1. In line with transformational and influential leadership, Bruce J. Avolio sought to lay the groundwork for “the next challenging frontier for both the science and practice of leadership – defining what constitutes genuine leadership development.”[6] Building on the concept of transformational leadership, Lorsch sought to define genuine leaders as those who were “morally uplifting others, including such leaders a Nelson Mandela.”[7] He clarified further, “An authentic leader is someone who is very self-aware, has a clear moral center, is transparent, and is a fair or balanced decision maker.”[8]

4. In his paper on “An Economic Perspective on Leadership”, Mark Zupan declares that an important aspect of leadership is integrity. “without integrity nothing works.” (p. 278) Several other authors said that in order to be trusted, leaders need to walk the talk. (emphasis mine)

The world really wants the Mother Theresa’s and Nelson Mandela’s. People are angry about so many of our current political leaders. Is there something about the attitude of a humble, servant-like leader that is really attractive? Don’t we admire leaders who walk the talk? Does such a leader have tremendous influence?

How about that Man Who started with only twelve followers and then went away after only three years of leadership training leaving them to their task of taking His message of love and peace to the ends of the earth? Did He model transformational, influential, morally uplifting leadership? Did He walk the talk? What was that Man’s last bit of leadership training for his followers?

For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Mt. 22:27)

jesus with disciples

[1] Jay Lorsch, “A Contingency Theory of Leadership”, Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana  Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice (Boston Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press 2010), 414.

[2] Jay A. Conger, “Leadership Development Interventions: Ensuring a Return on the Investment”, Nohria, 709.

[3] Robin J. Ely and Deborah L. Rhode, “Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges”, Nohria, 384. They are quoting from Avolio; I will have more to say from him later.

[4] Ibid. 384

[5] Lorsch, 414.

[6] Bruce J. Avolio, “Pursuing Authentic Leadership Development”, Nohria, 739.

[7] Ibid. 742.

[8] Ibid. 744.

About the Author

Mary Walker

7 responses to “Leadership – Influence and Service”

  1. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “As a Christian woman in a church where women are denied “leadership” positions, is it possible that in answering God’s call to serve where I am, I have “influence” and don’t need “power”?”

    Mary, this is a powerful observation. Last week, we showed our church the film “The Insanity of God” which is about Christians around the world who are persecuted.

    In that film, one specific statement stuck with me.

    After reenacting testimonies of Christians who suffered and died for their faith, the missionary (who is the narrator) told the audience “no matter what country you live in, you are free to share the gospel.”

    One story in the film told us about a father in Russia who began to teach the Bible at his home to his children. The neighbors begin coming to listen. He explained that he was not a pastor, had no training, and the starting a church was illegal. Yet, numbers kept growing. Finally the KGB arrested him. My point is this, if God gives you an opportunity to be an influence for his Kingdom, take the opportunity. It may not look like traditional “leadership,” but it is leadership all the same.

  2. Geoff Lee says:

    Beautifully written Mary – and full of truth. I suspect that you have more influence and exert more leadership than you know. While Katy picks up on the point that, to some extent, leadership must be granted to us, I think there are plenty of cases where people are exerting great influence and leadership, without formal recognition or the support of power structures. Leaders will always have followers, regardless of whether this is officially acknowledged.
    I also remember something Gordon Macdonald said once. Of all the leadership positions and opportunities he has had over the years, it is not the platform that has granted him the greatest levels of influence, but the small group and the one-on-one setting.

  3. Mary, with all you have going on, your writing amazes me. Amazing in the way of inspiration. I love your spunky spirit and I believe that your husband’s support strengthens it.
    Jesus was an awesome leader. He taught, demonstrate, and allow his team to experience it. When they failed, he gave them wisdom and allowed them do experience it again.
    He was an encourager and knew how to empower his team. He is the “Master Teacher.”

  4. Great post Mary! Transformational leadership in the business context is a counter theory to traditional Transactional leadership model. Transactional leaders are those who see their employees as resources who provide a service. Transformational leaders see their employees as people and not resources. They establish a healthy relationship with them the enables them to trust and be empowered to do their jobs effectively.

    I believe as believers we are called to be transformational. Their is an authenticity and integrity that comes with being transformational. If we embraced key aspects from this leadership theory we would see a shift in how men and women lead in our churches and ministries.

  5. Mary, informative and thoughtful post as usual. I learn so much reading your blogs and hanging around you. I enjoyed your thoughts on leadership and wrestling with the concept of do we need power to lead or can we lead with influence? Mother Theresa is an excellent example. The humility and service, mixed with purpose and passion created quite a following despite her lack of power. Mary, you are a leader of influence. I admire your courage and passion to tackle such a controversial topic of “women in leadership” in a place that doesn’t even deem you an acceptable leader! Your determination and courage astounds me. I am continually inspired by your leadership and am grateful for your influence.

  6. mm Katy Lines says:

    Mary, you’ve done a beautiful job of moving us from leadership to Leader, from power to service. While we need to move beyond the discriminatory theology which limits women from serving in structured leadership positions, your perspective is so key to identifying “leadership from below” (see Christal’s post) and ways we can lead IN SPITE OF (or maybe BECAUSE OF) those limitations.

  7. This is so powerful, Mary. Zeroing in on influence rather than power is such a beautiful way to look at the reality of being a leader rather than the theoretical approach to leadership. Thank you for your gentle humility.

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