Analyzing Leadership Attributes in Faith-Based Organizations: Idealism Versus Reality

  • Krystin ZiganEmail author
  • YingFei Heliot
  • Alan Le Grys
Original Paper


This paper aims to contribute to the growing discussion about leadership in the contemporary Church of England with a particular interest in the complex interaction between social context and leadership practices. Implicit leadership theory (ILT) is used to explore mutual expectations around distributed models of lay and ordained leadership as well as ‘ordinary’ members’ of congregation. Applying a qualitative research method, we conducted 32 semi-structured interviews in 6 Church of England parishes. Through the systematic analysis of relevant contextual factors at multiple levels, we identify limited congruence between ideal leadership attributes and actual behavior. We contribute to the ILT literature by identifying ethical attributes, such as the ability to help others flourish, as particularly pertinent to the religious setting. We also identify the malleability of some leadership attributes. We further contribute to the literature on organizational studies in faith-based organizations by offering novel insights into the relationship between leadership, followership and contextual factors at local parish level which have significant practical implications for recruiting and training church leaders and followers.


Contextual factors Ethical leadership Implicit leadership theory Leadership attributes Faith-based organizations Qualitative 



We are very grateful for the time and effort taken by the editor and reviewers who provided constructive and insightful suggestions to improve our paper in a substantial way. We also thank Dr. Gloria Appiah for her very helpful comments on drafts of the paper.


Funding for this research has been received from the University of Kent and the University of Surrey.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they are aware of no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures were carried out in accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional Research Committee.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kent Business SchoolUniversity of KentChatham MaritimeUK
  2. 2.Surrey Business SchoolUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  3. 3.University of KentCanterburyUK

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