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

Leadership: Practice vs. Power

Written by: on November 15, 2018

Moving to the Washington, DC area from the Midwest of Michigan presented a different perspective of leadership.  Leadership in the blue-collar states of the Midwest for me was represented by hard work and dedication to a company.  Many believe if you work hard for a company, you will gain new knowledge, and move up in your career, ultimately into a position of leadership.

By contrast, leadership in the Washington DC area seems to me to be represented by appointed or elected power and authority. It seems many attend business schools studying business management and aligning themselves with leaders and are thereby appointed to positions of leadership or authority based on power relationships.  Depending on the type of leadership one is exposed to, it may cause you to judge one style as more valid than another.

Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, provides an academic treaties on leadership theory divided into five sections comprising, The Impact of Leadership: Performance and Meaning, The Theory of Leadership: Personal Attributes, Functions, and Relationships, The Variability of Leadership: What’s Core and Contingent, The Practice of Leadership: Agency and Constraint, and finally, The Development of Leaders: Knowing, Doing, and Being (Nohria and Khurana 2010). Leadership presented in these categories help to understand and validate a variety of leadership theories and practices.

I would identify the Midwest blue-collar type of leadership with Identity-based leader development as described in chapter 22 of section five, The Development of Leaders: Knowing, Doing and Being by Ibarra, Snook and Ramo.  The authors state, “Our Identity-based leader development model posit that leader development unfolds as an identity transitions in which people disengage from central, behaviorally anchored identities while exploring new possible selves and eventually, integrate a new, alternative identity” (Nohria and Khurana 2010, 662).  This position assumes that leadership is a process where leadership is gained through experience by taking on new roles and taking on the identity of the new role.  This seems to me to fit with working your way up by hard work and following role models, which is typically the blue-collar work ethic.

The example of leadership I see in the Washington DC area relates to Power and Leadership as described in chapter 12 of section two, Power and Leadership by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.  Nye states, “Leadership involves power, though not all power relationships are instances of leadership” and, “Leadership is a social relationship with three key components—leaders, followers, and the contexts in which they interact.  One cannot lead without power” (Nohria and Khurana 2010, 305-306).   Nye further divides power into hard, which uses inducements and threats, and soft, attractive power; (Nohria and Khurana 2010, 309). These examples remind me of the political work environment of Washington DC where many jockey for power and leadership using both hard and soft power.

Interestingly, these two examples of leadership are also found in the Bible.  We see how David worked in the fields watching the sheep, fending them off from dangers such as lions and bears, moving up to slay a giant, taking on the identity of a great warrior.  Even before David took on the role he was anointed for, King, he walked in that identity.

Conversely, King Saul was described in I Samuel 9:2 as, “a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.”  We see that Saul often used soft and hard power to rule the people of Israel; using the power of attraction, as well as breathing threats against David.  Later we also see Absalom using the same combination of soft and hard power to first persuade the people to turn from David, and then threatening to kill his father, King David.

Although I focused on two types of leadership discussed in the readings, it is clear that there are many types of leadership, and leadership is truly a great gift.  The study of leadership is not an exact science but there is much that we can learn from leaders both in the past and the present.  The book, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, is helpful in identifying the various theories and practices of leadership along with their advantages and disadvantages helping us to grow in our responsibilities as the next leaders.


Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: A Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2010.

About the Author


Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

5 responses to “Leadership: Practice vs. Power”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    This is fascinating Mary. I noticed a similarity when I moved from Michigan to New York City. I grew up being told to pay my dues, work hard, slowly work my way up, and good things will happen. Upon moving out East, I learned that there is no such thing as working hard, it is more working ‘smart” and aligning yourself with the right people. I am not so sure that smart is the appropriate term to describe this style but it was the term that has been used.

    I love this post Mary. There must be more research on regional leadership styles.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, I wonder if it’s regional or old school vs. new school thinking. It could be that the middle of the country is slower to change. It seems like everyone uses the work “smarter” method. I do not think any system is totally fair because good people get passed up all the time.

  3. Hi Mary. You point out something that if it could be reducible, then yes an appropriate definition of leadership is one who has followers. It’s always interesting to me how these leaders lead and the people who follow them. It’s so disparate that I’ve given up trying to understand.

    I think this is what our book calls the “it” factor. I’m sure there’s a whole body of knowledge waiting to be discovered on this one.

  4. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thank you for sharing your perception of cultural overtones of leadership style differences in Michigan versus Washington DC. Too often we perceive cultural differences as “better than” rather than simply “different”. This came up for me today in discussing coaching methodology in the UK versus the USA. This added layer of complexity illustrates that, along with different leadership concepts and styles, locales may also have leadership cultural overtones. This is yet another reason that leadership development must be contextual to be effective. Mary, thanks again for your thoughts! H

  5. Mary, I like your discussion of the different types of power, hard and soft and the illustrations you have used of David and Saul and the contrast in their leadership. David is described as just a ruddy boy with nothing to attract any following, yet became such a great leader; while saul was tall and handsome and naturally attracted following, yet was such a failure and was rejected by God. At the root of this contrast was the motive and the state of the heart where: David’s heart was after God and his motive was to please God and was therefore driven by the good of his followers; while Saul’s heart was not after God but was driven by self and self aggrandizement which became a stumbling block of his leadership. As Christian leaders, we have to continually examine the state of our hearts and our motive for leadership, lest we fail in our leadership calling and duty.

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