What is “Christian” about Christian leadership? In this article, I propose that theories of Christian leadership can be defined, implemented, and evaluated through qualitative and quantitative research (Alvesson and Skoldberg, 2000). Qualitative-research methods suit the complex (Heifetz, 1994), context-embedded nature of leadership, which involves an interrelation of contextual boundaries and leader characteristics (Antonakis, Cianciolo, & Sternberg, 2004). Qualitative research can prepare the way for quantitative research, which is better suited to testing theories (Lowe & Gardner, 2000). At the pre-theoretical level, leadership is common to all people. Everyone participates in leadership within his or her spheres of influence, and everyone does so with or without refined reflections about leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002). Various models of leadership exist at the theoretical level. In this article, however, I focus on a specific model of Christian leadership. In that model, leadership is “a dynamic relational process in which people, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, partner to achieve a common goal . . . [which is] . . . serving others by leading and leading others by serving” (Christian Leadership Center, 2005). The CLC model for Christian leadership may be evaluated and its implications explored by meta-theory dialog (Dyck, 1970; Meeks, Moltmann, & Trost, 1999) with a model of Christian theology as a study of God which is as Christ-centered, biblical, and relevant to the world in which we live (Hanna, 2006). The Christ-centered characteristic corresponds to the term “Christian leadership” because the disciples, or followers, of Christ (Jones, 1995) are called Christians (Acts 11:26). The biblical characteristic provides a way of evaluating the Christian authenticity of Christian leadership (Malphurs, 2003) in terms of faithfulness to the Christ of Scripture (Hanna, 2006). The characteristic of relevance to the world encourages the evaluation of Christian-leadership theory according to leadership research in general (Plantinga, 2002; Wheatley, 1999). Spiritual leadership is increasingly recognized in leadership literature (Dodd, 2003; Greenleaf, 1988). At the same time, researchers acknowledge that not enough study has been given to models of spiritual leadership (Hunt, 2005, 1-2; Heifetz and Laurie, 1998). In the subsequent sections of this article, I present a discussion of what is “Christian” about Christian leadership in relation to these four elements of the CLC defi nition: • Th e infl uence of the Holy Spirit. • Th e dynamic, relational, partnership process. • Th e implementation of servant-leadership. • Th e necessity of a partnership to achieve a common goal. In addition, in dialog with Christ-centered, biblical, and relevant theology, I present four leadership initiatives of the Holy Spirit in relation to current leadership-research issues. (Note: All scriptural citations are from the King James Version of the Bible.)
What Is “Christian” About the Influence of the Holy Spirit?
Th e most obvious “Christian” dimension of the CLC definition of leadership is the reference to “the influence of the Holy Spirit” (CLC, 2005).Th is idea is compatible with the fact that Scripture does link the influence of the Spirit to leadership. For example, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abeizrites to follow him”(Jud. 6:34). Scripture does not limit the ministry of the Spirit to those who regard themselves as the people of God. In the Old Testament, the Spirit is active in the creation of the heavens and Earth (Gen. 1:1-2; Ps. 33:6, 9)and the four spirits of the heavens go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth (Zech. 6:5). In the New Testament we read of the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the Earth (Rev. 5:6). So, if the ministry of God’s Spirit is worldwide, what is “Christian” about the influence of the Holy Spirit?It is Christ who sends the Holy Spirit to be a Christ-centered guide or leader. “When He (the Spirit of truth) is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak of Himself. . . . He will glorify me for He will receive what is mine and show it to you” (Jn. 16:13-14). Four Christ-centered leadership initiatives of the Holy Spirit take place in cooperation with the actions of those who follow the Spirit’s leading. Th is action involves four leader-follower synergies: conviction-confession, conversion-repentance,consecration-obedience, and confirmation-perseverance (cf. Stagich,2003). Leader-follower synergy is central to Christian leadership. “He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk”(Maxwell, 1993, p. 1).Th e Spirit’s first leadership initiative is conviction. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness,and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). Judgment includes the condemnation of sin. He convicts “of sin” (Jn. 16:8) “because they believe not on me [Jesus]” (16:9; cf. v. 11). Judgment is also the gift of discerning the difference betweens in and righteousness. “He will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:19). The Spirit’s leadership initiative in conviction calls for a human response in confession. “If we confess our sins, He [Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). Weare also to confess the truth about Christ into which the Spirit leads. Jesus said: “I am the truth” (Jn. 14:6, King James Version) and the Spirit “will guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). As Paul put it, “if you confess . . . the Lord Jesus, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).How is the conviction-confession synergy relevant to Christian leadership and to leadership research in general? In the research literature, one point of contact is the frequent discussion about the overlap between management and leadership—and of the distinction the two roles. Although leadership is applied in management (Bass, 1990), it is a completely different role from management (Burchard, 2003). According to several researchers, management maintains the status quo whereas leadership points out what is wrong with the status quo and identifi es the ways in which to make it right. Management is not necessarily evil, because the status quo may be good. At the same time, a leader has gained followers when he or she has persuaded others to confess or admit that there is a problem and that they can participate in its solution (Nelson & Toler, 2002). Poor leaders manifest an attitude of unwillingness to confess and correct mistakes.Effective leaders make themselves vulnerable by modeling a will ingness to admit, acknowledge, apologize, accept, and then to act (Malphurs,2003, p. 69). In addition, Christian forgiveness is relevant not only fors in against God; it also is relevant for offenses against human leaders and followers. Christian leadership fosters communities of people who forgive each other. Jesus said, “forgive and you will be forgiven” (Lk. 6:37). This admonition is part of the dynamic relational processes among members of a team fostered by Christian leadership.
What Is “Christian” About a Dynamic, Relational, Partnership Process?
At the beginning of the CLC defi nition, Christian leadership is described as
“a dynamic relational process in which people . . . partner” (CLC, 2005).
Th is idea parallels elements of non-Christian definitions of leadership. For
example, according to Centerpoint for Leadership, a non-sectarian organization,
“Leadership is a dynamic relational process of influencing the thinking,
behavior, and actions of others toward a shared purpose” (Grey, 2005).
Similarly, one of the insights of feminist research is that “relational leadership
is dynamic” (Regan & Brook, 1995, p. 103). Th is overlap of Christian and non-Christian definitions suggests this question: What is “Christian”
about the dynamic, relational, partnership processes of Christian leadership?
Each of the leader-follower synergies discussed in this article is a
dynamic, relational, partnership. On the side of the initiative of the Holy
Spirit, Jesus referred to conversion as a new birth through the Spirit without
which one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:3, 5, 6). As
Matthew expressed the thought, “Except you be converted . . . you will not
enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
The concept of conversion, or new birth, is relevant to the debate concerning
whether leaders are born or made. Some researchers suggest that
leaders are partly born and partly made (Drucker, 1986; Goleman, 1986;
Kouzes & Posner, 1987). Christian leaders are made through the new birth
in the Spirit (Ford, 1991).
Effective spiritual ministry flows out of being, and God is concerned with
our being. He is forming it. Th e patterns and processes He uses to shape
us are worthwhile subjects for leadership study. Those who study [these]
patterns and processes, and use insights from them in life and ministry,
will be better prepared leaders. (Clinton, 1988,
Dynamic, relational partnership in conversion is evident on the side of
the human response in repentance. Conversion is a unilateral or arbitrary
act of the Spirit. As the apostle Peter preached, “Repent and be converted
that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Th e relation between conversion
and repentance is dynamic. Repentance is directly related to the
reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), to the adding of persons to the
Church (Acts 3:41, 47), and to the maturing of members of the Church.
Paul writes this to a divided church: “I travail in birth again until Christ is
formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).
As implied above, Christian leaders are not only born; they are born
into a Church community (Clarke, 2000). Th is corporate result of conversion-
repentance is relevant to the strong move in leadership circles toward
team-development. Lessons learned with teams on the sports fi eld (Gangel,
1997; Parcells, 1995) have produced much of the creativity that we see in
the high-tech fi eld (Klopp, 2004, p. 135). Similarly, an important strategy
for Christian leadership is developing genuine team ministry and team
leaders. Some elements of such a strategy are evident in Paul’s reference to
the Church as “the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), which, although fl awed,
is called to model the ways in which dynamic relationships among diff erent
persons may manifest an ever-growing unity in diversity. To this end,
we must “endeavor to keep unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) “till we all come into the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13). Each member is a team leader in
harmony with the chief leader who is Christ. Th is is how we “grow up
into Him . . . who is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body
increases, fi tly joined together and compacted by that which every joint
supplies, according to the eff ectual working of every part” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Christian team leadership also has worldly relevance. “It is God’s will
and purpose to gather all things in heaven and earth in Christ who is head
[leader] over all things to the Church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:9-11,
22-23). “Unto Him [Christ] be glory in the Church in all ages, world without
end” (Eph. 3:21). As we shall discuss in the next section, like Christ,
Christians are servant-leaders to the world.
What Is “Christian” About Christian Servant-leadership?
The concept of servant-leadership is presented in the CLC defi nition in
terms of “serving others by leading and leading others by serving” (CLC,
2005). It is important to note that some non-Christians also practice a
leadership model that is described as servant-leadership. Robert Greenleaf,
a Quaker Christian, presented servant-leadership as a model that works
in the non-Christian world (Malphurus, 2003, p. 21). As a result, the
Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership defines the term without any reference
Servant-leadership is a practical philosophy which supports people who
choose to serve fi rst, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals
and institutions. Servant-leaders may or may not hold formal
leadership positions. Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust,
foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment”
(Greenleaf Center, 2005; Greenleaf, 1977, 1991).
Greenleaf’s defi nition provokes the question, What is ‘Christian’ about
Christian servant-leadership? Th e answer is implied in the biblical teaching
on the third Spirit-initiated leader-follower synergy of consecration-obedience.
Only those who follow God’s lead as servants are qualifi ed to be leaders.
Th e leadership initiative of consecration persuades and enables those
who are led by the Spirit to follow God’s lead by the practice of obedience.
Consecration (or sanctification) prepares human beings for righteous
actions. Such persons are “elect . . . through sanctifi cation of the Spirit,
unto obedience” (1 Pet. 1:2). Th e same point is emphasized in another
Bible text: “As you have always obeyed . . . , work out your own salvation
. . . because it is God who works in you both to will and to do his good
pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Christian leaders delight in the leadership of God
(Klimes & Klimes, 1977). “Leaders are responsible for influencing specific groups of people to obey God. They will not achieve this unless they themselves
know how to obey” (Klopp, p. 109). Christian leaders must “lead
with a follower’s heart” (Habecker, 1990).
The Bible also makes explicit that servant-leadership is connected with
Christ-centered, Spirit empowered consecration-obedience. Th e Apostle
Paul presents servant-leadership as a “consolation in Christ” and a “fellowship
of the Spirit” (Phil 2:1). He writes, “Let this mind be in you, which
was also in Christ Jesus: who . . . took . . . the form of a servant, and . . .
became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:5-9). God does not call all his leaderfollowers
to give up their physical life as part of their consecrated obedience.
However, He does call us all to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice fully acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1). We do this because, in harmony
with the mind of Christ, our minds are “renewed” so we may know and
follow or obey the “will of God” (12:2).
In reaction to the concepts of “obedience till death” and “living sacrifices” (Carson, 1993), even Christians sometimes question the relevance of
servant-leadership, because they view it as powerless. It is important to note
that servant-leadership is not weak leadership. Servant-leadership redefi nes
leadership and redefines service: “it is serving others by leading and leading
others by serving” (CLC, 2005). Servant-leaders serve as well as lead. Th ey
are “focused, intentional, and proactive” (Clinton, 1988; cited in Klopp,
2004, p. 84).
Paul encourages those whom he leads to “follow me as I follow Christ”
(1 Cor. 11:1). Many individuals . . .
are trying to lead based only on the servant side of the servant-leader
model. Why is that? Jesus was willing to serve and give his life for his followers,
but he also had a plan and a strategy for what he wanted to do
with his disciples. His strategy was not to get up every morning, turn to
his disciples, and say, ‘I have no idea of what we should do today, so what
do you think? What would you like to do?’ Jesus exemplifi ed in perfect
form how to be both a servant and a leader. (Klopp, 2004, p. 39-40)
In fact, servant-leadership leads to greatness for the leader as well as for
those who are led. Jesus said, “Th e one who would be fi rst or chief should
be the servant of everyone.” He adds, “Many that are fi rst will be last, and
the last fi rst” (Mk. 10:44, 31; cf. 9:35). Th is is demonstrated in the case of
Christ. Because He humbled Himself,
God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above
every name: Th at at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in
heaven, and in earth, and under the earth; And that every tongue should
confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:
Th is thought brings us back to the issue of cooperating with God’s leadership
through obedience. Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord while you
refuse to do what I say?”(Lk. 4:46). Fortunately, Christ is the model for
Christian servant-leadership, and He provides the power to practice it: “We
are buried with Him [Christ] by baptism into death, that just as Christ was
raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should
walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). “All His biddings are enablings”
(White, 1900, p. 333).
When Christians contemplate the challenges and sacrifices involved
with servant-leadership, it is reassuring to recognize that leadership is
not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. Servant-leadership is relevant
because it is consecrated and obedient to God’s ultimate purpose for
What Is “Christian” About Partnership to Achieve a Common Goal?
Let us now examine the aspect of the CLC defi nition that describes
Christian leadership as a “partner[ship] to achieve a common goal” (CLC,
2005). As with other aspects of the CLC defi nition, this one parallels non-
Christian defi nitions. Most non-Christian leadership researchers would
agree that the considerable time and eff ort required to fi nd real partners
inside and outside one’s institution who share the same goals is well worth
the endeavor (Linsky & Heifetz, 2002). Therefore, it is important to ask
this question: What is “Christian” about Christian leadership as “a partnership
to achieve a common goal”?
Th e partnership aspect of Christian leadership may be illuminated by
the fourth leader-follower synergy initiated by the Holy Spirit. Th e Bible
highlights the purpose and process of Christ-centered, Spirit-gifted confi
rmation-perseverance in terms of waiting and ministering until the end
and until the perfecting of unity in Christ: “Th e testimony of Christ was
confi rmed in you: so that you come behind in no gift [of the Spirit while]
waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall confi rm you to
the end, that you may be blameless” (1 Cor. 1:5-8). Th e gifts of the Spirit
equip leaders (Eph. 4:6) “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of
the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come into
the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect
person, unto the measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12; cf. 1
Encouragement in pursuing the high standard of confi rmation-perseverance
may be found through focusing on Christ. We are to “run with
patience the race set before us looking unto Jesus . . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down
at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12: 1-2). Additionally,
Christian leaders should not expect absolute perfection from themselves or
from those they lead. A progressive attitude constitutes Christian perfection.
Paul wrote, “I don’t count myself to have attained perfection. Th is
one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching
toward those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize
of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be
perfect, be thus minded” (Phil. 3:12-15). Ironically, when we Christians
think that we are perfect, we are not; when we acknowledge that we are not
perfect, we are perfect in Christ.
Some people have questioned the relevance of Christian leadership by
suggesting that the focus on God’s ultimate purpose makes Christian leaders
so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good (McIntosh, 2000).
In response, it is important to point out that perfectionism does no good
on Earth or in heaven. Even “in heaven we are continually to improve”
(White, 1900, p. 331). Th is perspective is compatible with leadership
research on the importance of measurable and dynamic goals that can
change (Riley & Louis, 2000). Anyone who expects to attain absolute
perfection is engaged in mere rhetoric. At the same time, nothing releases
organizational energy, generates creativity, and satisfi es human beings,
as does a meaningful goal! It is important, therefore, that Christian leaders
develop the ability for goal re-orientation along a path of continual
progress. Th eological absolutes never change, and philosophical purposes
seldom change. We need dynamic long-range objectives and short-range
goals. In addition, we need to change activities or methods in order to
achieve fl exible objectives and goals under the umbrella of absolutes. Goals
are valid if they are defi nitive, inspiring, embraced by the group, and useful
for choosing suitable activities. People do not have diffi culty achieving realistic
goals; they have diffi culty setting them (Hendrix, 2000).
Th e relevance of the Holy Spirit initiative of confi rmation-perseverance
is evident when the various goals of Christians are viewed as stages along
the way toward God’s ultimate purpose for the world. God’s plan is for
the universe to be the context for divine fellowship with all His creatures
(1 Cor. 15:28). In Romans, Paul announces that “those who are led
by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). He then develops
the theme of perseverance in light of God’s glorious purpose for the
The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the
glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation
eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . Th e creation
itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation
groans and labors with birth pains together until now. (Rom. 8:18-19, 21-22)
Th is biblical personifi cation of the desire of the non-human creation for
the Spirit-led children of God calls for Christian leaders to recognize the
relevance of a new field of research on the ecology of leadership (Edginton,
In this article, I have begun to answer the question, What is “Christian”
about Christian leadership? Th e qualitative investigation in this article
needs further development through ongoing dialogue with other leadership
researchers. Clarification of specific implications for leadership formation
and behavior is also needed. Doing so would build on research already
begun at the CLC and elsewhere. Additional quantitative research projects
are also needed to evaluate the eff ectiveness of the actual implementation of
The meta-leadership dialog with theology suggests that the Christ centered
leadership infl uence of the Holy Spirit is relevant to the world in
which we live. Th e dynamic, relational, partnership process of Christian
leadership includes relations between Christ and the Church, among the
members of the Church and between the church and the world. In addition,
the posture of Christian servant-leadership, as modeled by Jesus, is
progressively manifest in the Church for the benefit of the world. The flexible
goals of Christian leadership are stages along the way to God’s eternal
purpose for the ecology of the world.
Through the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders are commissioned to cooperate
in the divine-human synergies of conviction-confession, conversion repentance,
consecration-obedience, and confi rmation-perseverance. They
are to foster dissatisfaction with the status quo, redirection of perspectives,
empowerment, long-term motivation, and fl exible short-term action plans.
In this way, Christian leaders also foster synergy among human leaders
and followers. They inspire responsiveness on the part of followers. The
leaders lead and the followers cooperate. At the same time, Christian leaders
are responsive to those whom they serve. Christian leaders lead with a
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