My wife and I were once invited to a Notre Dame football game. The Irish were playing Army that day. We saw the game from the “VIP” lounge -- which meant all the hot dogs, potato chips and (for me at least) soft drinks we wanted.

At one point the university official who had invited us told me that the then-president of Notre Dame, Father Edward “Monk” Malloy CSC, had sent word for me to stop by his special private viewing box to say hello. When I walked into the box I saw the two academic leaders of that day’s competing schools -- the Notre Dame President and the Superintendent of West Point --  watching the game together. Monk was wearing his clerical garb. The West Point leader was in military uniform. I was wearing chinos and a sweatshirt.

Each of us was the CEO of an academic institution, but our three “uniforms” represented three different contexts of leadership.

I think a lot about leadership contexts. I worry that some aspects of leadership in one kind of institutional setting do not transfer easily to another. I know of a case, for example, of a failed academic presidency, where the new leader came to the presidential role from a “tall steeple” pastorate. He failed in this new role primarily because he treated his faculty as if they were just like the lay board of volunteer elders in his previous church setting.

Or imagine a congregation where an emphasis on “leadership teams” has developed. Suppose they discover that a successful football coach, who also happens to be a seminary graduate, is available for appointment as an executive pastor. What might be the pitfalls of applying the leadership lessons learned on the football field to a pastoral leadership “team”?

I’m not preaching against generic studies of leadership. Max DePree’s “Leadership is an Art” offers wisdom to leaders wherever they are developing their skills. And Peter Drucker did a great job of moving back and forth in his research between profit and not-for-profit leadership contexts. On the ground level, however, we cannot simply assume that successful leadership in one context translates easily to other leadership arenas.

But there are benefits to be gained from paying close attention to different spheres in which leadership is exercised. Suppose, for example, a group of elected politicians were to meet regularly to discuss St. Benedict’s “Rule” -- exploring honestly and candidly how a legislator might learn positive lessons from a properly functioning abbot? Or suppose a group of academic presidents and deans spent some serious time discussing what they should not learn from Machiavelli’s “The Prince”?

To be sure, there are excellent books available on context-specific leadership patterns: good advice books for pastors, business CEOs, academic presidents. But maybe we need to do more in comparative leadership studies: what can we learn about the things that must not change, no matter what area of life leadership is being exercised, and what must change when we move from one context to another?

Richard J. Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.