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Assessing Current Leadership Styles in Biblical Times

On Leadership

Merriam-Webster defines leadership as the “the power or ability to lead other people” and the “capacity to lead” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Ed Benzel also provides a succinct, effective definition. “Leadership is the art of causing others to deliberately create a result that otherwise would not have happened” (Benzel, 2021). The leader is the human representation of a catalyst, someone who initiates actions, even if that action is to cease a previously chosen action, and somehow gets their followers, whether they are employees, volunteers, family members, or subjects, to produce a desired result.

The establishment, exploration, analysis, and critique of leadership styles represents an ongoing academic effort to identify, define, and understand the factors and associated levels of critical characteristics (personal, professional, technical, experiential, etc.) that directly affect or cause (in the case of the Design of Experiments method) positive and negative results in individuals (management, employees, customers, etc.) and organizations, including countries, businesses, departments, and more.

Christians need a methodical approach to exploring and analyzing the Bible, and that’s what hermeneutics (study of the interpretation principles) and exegesis (textual analysis) provide (Roat, 2020). Hermeneutics is a method of study that takes multiple aspects into consideration, including but not limited to literal, moral, allegorical, anagogical or mystical, and more (Roat, 2020).

The goal of hermeneutics as a study, however, is not to look at the Bible with a subjective or tainted lens…but to try to discern what the intended meaning of the passage is, whether for readers at the time it was written or for us today. (Roat, 2020)

This can remove bias by placing an emphasis on interpretation and understanding beyond and outside of the lens of our own temporal or cultural experiences. The exploration of different leadership traits exhibited by historical figures in 1 Kings and 2 Kings requires this type of scrutiny and careful consideration. “We need here to consider the overall cultural context, the Zeitgeist or spirit of the time, and the market forces behind the demand for a particular type of leadership knowledge…” (Alvesson, 2020). This has been integrated into this research involving King Solomon and his practice of authentic leadership, Elijah and his demonstration of transformational leadership, and Elisha and his exhibition of ethical leadership.

On Authentic Leadership: King Solomon

King Solomon, while flawed and often failing, was blessed with and applied God’s wisdom, often as a promotional example for the good of his followers. “…authentic leaders are thought to promote ethical conduct and discourage nefarious behavior among their followers, with a rich body of empirical studies supporting associations between authentic leadership and a host of organizationally relevant outcomes (Avolio and Walumbwa 2014)” (Lyubovnika et al., 2017). Components of Solomon’s prayer in 2 Kings 8:57-58 exemplify this ethical promotion, “…he encourages the people to recognize their need for God’s presence” and “…he prays that God would “incline our hearts to Him” (Merida, 2015). His actions encourage ethical, moral behavior as well.

In 1 Kings 3:16-28, we find King Solomon demonstrating authentic leadership in the account of the two prostitutes and the one child. Two prostitutes, each claiming to be the mother of a single child, come to Solomon for judgment.

The approach defined by the authentic leadership style was effective and produced positive results in this case. It was a direct, isolated instance of local discernment and judgment, the parties involved received righteous justice, and “as a result, Israel was “in awe of the king because they saw that God’s wisdom was in him to carry out justice (v. 28)” (Merida, 2015). This may be considered to be an application of authentic leadership combined with an element from autocratic leadership due to the (testing) threat or command that Solomon issues to spurn an emotional response, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).

The authentic leadership style was extremely effective in this case. To increase the efficacy of the entire experience, a hybrid approach combining the authentic and (a greater proportion of the) autocratic leadership styles may have been applied, cementing the method and the outcome of this case formally in Israel’s code of law including a penalty for non-compliance. This could encourage and enforce replication of the method and the results.

The authentic leadership style is under serious review and scrutiny in recent years, and rightfully so.

…the tremendous attention authentic leadership has received is the result of an unreflective sense of excitement among leadership scholars and practitioners (Gardner et al., 2011), as well as consultants in search of new, attractive-sounding leadership theories to make them into a lucrative enterprise (Gardiner, 2011), rather than an outcome of rigorous academic scholarship. (Lyubovnika et al., 2017)

Simply encouraging or promoting others to follow a leader’s positive example is often not enough to instill long-lasting, positive behaviors in a small or large group of people. Individuals live in varying states of ethical consciousness with different moral standards. Even if the variations and differences are slight, the “baseline” or moral foundation is not uniform across the population, thus successes and failures are difficult to assess for the entire group. In contemporary times, with the horrible, ignorant embrace of the false concept that all religions, beliefs, and cultures are equal, it may be stated that it is impossible to assess the efficacy of the authentic leadership style outside of a very small group of individuals. Again, the integration of aspects of autocratic leadership may increase the potency of this approach.

On Transformational Leadership: Elijah

Elijah demonstrated aspects of transformational leadership, as well as other leadership styles, throughout his life. In specific instances referenced by Merida in 1 Kings 19:1-21, Elijah tried time and time again to teach King Ahab the ways and will of God, and he gave Ahab opportunities to apply the lessons through practical and direct deeds in the hope that the king would improve (Merida, 2015).

…literature has long noted transformational leadership to be associated with delegation and developmental behavior (Bass, 1985; Kuhnert, 1994), and empirical work has shown the role of transformational leaders in cultivating a sense of autonomy by granting opportunities to learn and perform (Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006; Z. Wang & Gagné, 2013). (Jaing & Chen, 2018)

God used Elijah to perform miracles, repairing the altar of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30) and destroying the altar of Baal (1 Kings 18:38), slaughtering the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:40), and sending rain to the famine-stricken land (1 Kings 18:45) (English Standard Version Bible, 2001). This is a prime demonstration of leading by example, showing the king and all of Israel the power that comes from the One True God and the importance of having unwavering faith in His loyalty and might, all with the intent of King Ahab’s replication and assimilation of these characteristics and practices into his own leadership style (thus, “transforming” him). Sadly, the emulation of this behavior (by King Ahab) did not occur as Elijah had hoped. “We hope to find wicked King Ahab returning to the palace to remove Jezebel…is that what Ahab does? No, he doesn’t. He runs back and tattles on Elijah to the Baal-promoting Phoenician queen” (Merida, 2015).

There are issues mounting in the academic evaluation and possible reformulation or reinforcement of the definition of transformational leadership. “…transformational leadership may be viewed as incomplete as a result of an absence of a…moral dimension…leaders, while being “transformational,” may be unethical, abusive of followers, and act in ways that are self-serving…(Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Conger & Kanungo, 1988)” (Hoch et al., 2018). This assessment does not include a negative connotation for the necessity of and benefits of fear in a leader-follower relationship because fear is a healthy trait in some scenarios. After all, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).

…of the six leaders of the united Israel…four are said to be feared by the people: Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and Solomon. The text never comments negatively on this fear, and in fact the people’s fear in each instance strengthens the authority of the feared leader. (Wilson, 2020)

Autocratic leadership may have been more effective in this case. “Typically autocratic leaderships make choices based on their own ideas and judgments and rarely accept advice from followers” (Chukwusa, 2018). This is completely logical rationale for the utilization of this leadership style during the accounts listed above. The Lord’s (former) followers, like Ahab, had no positive inputs to offer regarding the practice of moral or ethical leadership. Including them in the decision processes or plans would most likely be counterproductive. With this in mind, the close proximity (in time) of the miraculous events seems to communicate urgency. While negative concepts are often associated with this more direct approach, “autocratic leadership could be beneficial in some instances, such as when decisions need to be made quickly without consulting with a large group of people” (Chukwusa, 2018).

Transformational leadership has its place in our world, our time, but only if the definition contains not only sentiments of encouragement and mentorship, but of direct accountability as well, including punitive consequences for deviation from the leader’s intent or direct guidance. This style is effective in small group and discrete project settings where the scope is controlled, and lines of authority and expertise are clear and limited. There is a wave of new research indicating the dangers associated with this style due to its lack of ethical components, and further study may yield a revised definition that includes accountability for the leader and their followers.

On Ethical Leadership: Elisha

Ethical leadership is “…the demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal

actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers

through two-way communication, reinforcement, and decision-making” (Huang & Paterson, 2017). Elisha demonstrates this leadership style throughout his life and in an unexpected, seemingly harsh (but righteous) way in 2 Kings 2:23-25 wherein he cursed some younger boys who were “mocking the prophet of God” (Merida, 2015). The curse was delivered by God, and “…two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001).

This was an example of “normative appropriate conduct through personal action” (Huang & Paterson, 2017) in accordance with God’s Word, because “in their mockery these guys are showing contempt and hostility toward Yahweh and His representative” (Merida, 2015). While his actions were not considered normative in Bethel, a pagan-infested land, they are normative under the infinitely larger expanse of God’s domain. Doing the right but unpopular thing is a challenge in any situation, and even more so in a violent, oppositional environment like that presented by Bethel. Elisha could have walked by and ignored the insults, or conversely, he could have taken personal offense and reacted out of indignation. Instead, he was offended on behalf of the Lord, righteously offended at the small boys’ willingness to mock God, and he took the appropriate action by cursing “them in the name of the Lord” (English Standard Version Bible, 2001) which led to their deaths.

To increase the efficacy of this approach in this specific account, Elisha may have incorporated elements from the servant leadership style by recounting the event to others or by involving others in the experience (the latter being outside of his control – this would have required prophetic revelation). Servant leadership "…typically focuses on the growth of those who are being simultaneously led and served (Stone, Russell, & Patterson, 2004)”, so direct experience for any of Elisha’s followers may have cemented and further encouraged this type of faith and, more importantly, ethical enforcement (Sun, 2013).

The application of this leadership style in a similar contemporary scenario would be very effective. When the Word of God is challenged in any manner, a direct, righteous response is not only warranted but is required. With mounting social pressures and the call to conform to the idolatrous ways of the world, the courage this demands has waned considerably amongst visible, public leaders in both commercial and government organizations. This does not excuse anyone, however, from doing the right thing.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (English Standard Version Bible, 2001)

Applied and Adapted Leadership

On review of specific accounts describing King Solomon and his practice of authentic leadership, Elijah and his demonstration of transformational leadership, and Elisha and his exhibition of ethical leadership, the applicability and effectiveness of these leadership styles, in both Biblical and contemporary times, is clear. Modifications to the styles may have improved the historic outcomes, but that is difficult to assess as the outcomes occurred according to God’s perfect will. In current times, the applied leadership styles would produce positive results, and perhaps more so with the adaptation of direct accountability through the introduction of autocratic enforcement mechanisms.


Alvesson, M. (2020). Upbeat leadership: A recipe for – or against – “successful” leadership studies. The Leadership Quarterly, 31(6), 101439.

Alvesson, M., & Einola, K. (2019). Warning for excessive positivity: Authentic leadership and other traps in leadership studies. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(4), 383-395.

Benzel, E. (2021). Leadership. World Neurosurgery, 152, xvii.

Chukwusa, J. (2018). Autocratic Leadership Style: Obstacle to Success in Academic Libraries. Library Philosophy and Practice, 1.

English Standard Version Bible. (2001). ESV Online.

Hoch, J. E., Bommer, W. H., Dulebohn, J. H., & Wu, D. (2018). Do Ethical, Authentic, and Servant Leadership Explain Variance Above and Beyond Transformational Leadership? A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Management, 44(2), 501-529.

Huang, L., & Paterson, T. A. (2017). Group Ethical Voice: Influence of Ethical Leadership and Impact on Ethical Performance. Journal of Management, 43(4), 1157-1184.

Jiang, Y., & Chen, C. C. (2018). Integrating Knowledge Activities for Team Innovation: Effects of Transformational Leadership. Journal of Management, 44(5), 1819-1847.

Liao, C., Lee, H. W., Johnson, R. E., & Lin, S. (. (2021). Serving You Depletes Me? A Leader-Centric Examination of Servant Leadership Behaviors. Journal of Management, 47(5), 1185-1218.

Lyubovnikova, J., Legood, A., Turner, N., & Mamakouka, A. (2017). How Authentic Leadership Influences Team Performance: The Mediating Role of Team Reflexivity. Journal of Business Ethics, 141(1), 59-70.

Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered Exposition Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Leadership. In dictionary. Retrieved from

Roat, A. (2020, June 22). What is Biblical Hermeneutics and Is it Still Important Today? Christianity Today.

Sun, P. Y. T. (2013). The servant identity: Influences on the cognition and behavior of servant leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 24(4), 544-557.

Wilson, S. M. (2020). Fear, Love, and Leadership: Posing a Machiavellian Question to the Hebrew Bible. Journal of Biblical Literature, 139(2), 233-253.


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