the weblog of Alan Knox

Transforming leadership is mutual leadership

Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in community, elders, fellowship | 4 comments

In my research on the topic of mutuality, I’ve recently come across an article by Mary Miller called “Transformational Leadership and Mutuality.” (Transformation 24.3-4 (July-October 2007), 180-92) This is the abstract of her article:

What does leadership research and literature have to say about the mutuality of transforming leaders, and is being transforming synonymous with being charismatic? Transforming leadership and charismatic leadership are two distinct and different theories in the field of leadership research, so understanding the distinctive between these theories is essential. Importantly, the definition of ‘charismatic’ leaders within a church context is completely different from use of the term within leadership research. The discussion thus identifies the conceptual basis for the term ‘charismatic’ leadership within leadership research. The conceptual basis of transforming leadership within theory provides a frame from which mutuality between the leader and others can be understood. (p. 180)

There are a few definitions that are important to understand. For example, leadership research uses the term “charismatic leadership”, but the term “charismatic” does not indicate spiritual giftedness as it often does in theological discussions. Miller describes “charismatic leadership” as follows:

Charismatic leader takes time to enhance how they are perceived so they receive recognition from followers. This is because the charismatic leader is seeking for an emotional appeal, so his or her aura is the deciding factor of being a charismatic leader. It is through and from the use of emphasizing their personhood and their gifts that the charismatic leader has impact on the follower….

Central to the definition of charismatic leadership is the perception that the leader is exceptional in some way, and the charismatic leader has the ability to make followers believe in them. The belief in the charismatic leader is the main means of impact and influence on the follower….

The charismatic leader’s focus is on their own abilities as a charismatic leader to formulate, articulate, and motivate followers to join with him or her in fulfilling the vision. (p. 182)

What about “transforming leadership”? This is the way Miller describes “transforming leadership” from leadership research:

Transforming leadership was conceived… as leaders who valued a learning process, specifically leaders who were able to learn from others. The fact that the leader seeks to receive from the follower, in Burns’s definition, profiles the transformational leader as a learner, not the one who has all the answers. It is this modelling of learning that impacts the follower to perceive that they, as followers, are also learners and as such can enter into a free exchange with the leader.

The emphasis on mutuality [in transforming leadership] allows the follower to help frame her/his own vision as part of the overall vision setting process, as well as impacting the leader to further develop the vision. (p. 185)

Next, Miller compares and contrasts “charismatic leadership” and “transforming leadership”:

The process that is used by charismatic and transformational leader also has substantive differences. The charismatic leader is the ‘head of the show’, ultimately responsible to not only articulate his/her vision clearly, but also gain agreement and commitment to that specific vision. The transforming leader has openness to follower input and impact of the vision, which involves power sharing and participation….

The charismatic leader is responsible for ‘buy in’ of followers for the vision that s/he establishes. The dynamic in this type of process is leader focused. It is the leader’s responsibility to continue to stimulate and envision. In contrast, the transforming leader operates on the assumption that followers have vision and need to be able to have a context where that vision is allowed to come forward. There is respect towards the follower’s contribution to articulating the vision. (p. 185-86)

Don’t let the nomenclature become confusing. All leaders in the church have some type of charism and charisma, and all leaders desire to see lives transformed. But, that is not the point of the article above. Notice the definitions and distinctions between “charismatic leaders” and “transformational leaders” described above.

I can see how these different understandings of “leadership” come to play in our interpretation of Scripture. If the apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders, teachers, and other leaders in Scripture are to be “charismatic leaders” (as described above), then their leadership styles and methods and processes and goals will be different than if they are to be “transformational leaders” (as described above).

As far as I can tell, in order to determine how leaders in the church are to acts (i.e. as “charismatic leaders” or “transformational leaders”) we must answer the following question: Is the leadership that we see modelled and taught in Scripture a sole leadership style or a mutual leadership style?

According to Miller, transforming leadership is mutual leadership. If the Scriptures indicate a mutual leadership style (and I think they do), then we should see more of the “transformational leadership” style as described above. However, I think we primarily see the “charismatic leadership” style (as described above).

If you agree that we primarily see the “charismatic leadership” style, but should see the “transformational leadership” style, what suggestions would you have for churches to begin to see more “transformational leadership”?

If you primarily experience “transformational leadership,” share how leadership is mutual in the church.

If you disagree, and think that the “charismatic leadership” style is right for churches (that leadership should not be mutual), what brings you to this conclusion?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-17-2010

    1. This sounds trite; however, I think we first start by removing the “influence by title” menatlity that dominates our churches. We actually go out and “hire” people to come in and be “charismatic leaders”. But I think the proper model are home-grown leaders who are already being influential and are already equipping and entrusting people to shared ministry. This means that there are multiple teachers, mutual sharing and participation throughout. If we don’t move past are current class distincitions no matter how hard we try “charismatic leadership” will continue to dominate and these men will continue to reproduce the same type of leadership.

    2. N/A in my personal experience

    3. N/A

  2. 2-17-2010


    Most traditional churches (in my experience) want “charismatic” leaders, and are extremely proud of them.

    Traditional church people already recognize the difference, but not the terminology, and also recognize the implications for themselves if they have a “transformational” leader.

    If folk like yourself, Lionel and others, persevere in remaining faithful to Scripture, the Holy Spirit will change the hearts of people, and change will happen.

    In the words of a hair shampoo advertisement, “It will happen, but it won’t happen overnight!”

  3. 2-17-2010


    Those are my thoughts as well. Do you think the change will have to come from the “leaders” down, or from the “followers” up?

    Aussie John,

    If folk like Lionel and me continue to have folk like you encouraging us, then I think we’ll persevere and God willing, change will happen… I know that I’m changing.


  4. 2-17-2010

    I think primarily from the “top down” because as you posted, Charismatic influence is very gripping and until such leaders become trasforming leaders the change will only happen in spurts. There is a change happening now, but usually that is because the followers are deciding to become pioneers/leaders blazing a different trail.