Book Review: Transforming Leadership

12th century painting by unknown artist called "The Christ from the Vision of Ezekiel"

In today’s post, I want to review a book I read a long time ago but recently reviewed to refresh my memory of its contents. Leighton Ford wrote Transforming Leadership: Jesus’ Way of Creating Vision, Shaping Values and Empowering Change 27 years ago. The book is still a worthwhile read, especially if you are interested both in Leadership and in Jesus Christ.

An abundance of material is available on leadership. Much of it written on a popular level and lacks serious academic research. Occasionally, however, you run into a book that reveals fundamental principles of true leadership. Most of this research has been done in the secular arena. In his book, Transforming Leadership, Leighton Ford examines current leadership theory through the lens of the biblical records that tell us what we know about Jesus Christ.

He wants to answer the question: “How does Jesus fare in light of the Transformational Leadership model?” Will a thorough review of Jesus’ leadership reveal a total divergence from the concepts that are being talked about by experts in the field? Or will we find some significant parallels in the practice of Jesus? As the author states, “we cannot simply baptize secular leadership models and import them into our work for Christ without subjecting them to critical examination” (p. 34).

Ford did an excellent job of showing both the differences and similarities between Jesus’ leadership and secular theory. The answer to the question asked in the previous paragraph is that Jesus not only fares well, He excels in all legitimate criteria for measuring good leadership practice and qualities. Jesus is the supreme leader, the Leader of leaders, the “ultimate leader” (p. 27). He is thus a model for anyone desiring to grow in leadership ability. For us Christians, Jesus is “far more than our example, but he is no less than that” (p. 30).

The author not only examines the life and practice of Jesus to measure how he stands up to current leadership theory, but also how current leadership theory stands up in the light of Jesus. In what ways is Jesus unique in his leadership behavior and qualities? Ford shows how Jesus had a unique vision (centered in the Kingdom of God), a unique method (an emptying of self to the point of dying on the cross), and a unique strategy that saw the power of “the overwhelming minority” (p. 64).

Among the key concepts in this book are empowerment, servanthood, shepherd-making, and vision. These are each interrelated as Jesus sought to pour Himself into a few men so that the movement would expand into the entire world. The book shows that the author has done his research in the biblical text. It provides a novel yet powerful way to study the life of Christ.

What fascinated me about this book was the way it made me look at Jesus as a flesh-and-blood leader. Too often Christians look at Jesus only through theological eyes. This book makes the reader look at him through the eyes of leadership theory and even through the eyes of His followers. The reader is able to see Jesus, not as the focus of worship for millions around the world, but as a leader of a small band of unlikely followers.

My only complaint is that the author did not include chapters on certain qualities I consider valuable in leaders and that I see in the life and practice of Jesus. For example, the following would be great additions for future editions of this book: “The Leader as Motivator,” showing how Jesus raised the level of His disciple’s motivation, and “The Leader as Celebrator,” showing the joyous and humorous side of Jesus.

Christians can learn much from the scholarly research in leadership studies. But also, leadership researchers would do well to study the leadership of the man who transformed the ancient world. Napoleon Bonaparte said it best.

“Between [Jesus Christ] and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”*

That is leadership worth learning about.

*Some have contested the authenticity of this quote, but upon close examination, it seems to be legitimate. For a discussion of it, see https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/7560/are-these-remarks-by-napoleon-on-jesus-genuine.

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

Credits
Photo by Web Gallery of Art. Photo available at Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Image modified for size and space.

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