Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Power of a Skillfully Crafted Facade

Written by: on February 1, 2021

In 1922, Italy’s government and King were powerless to bring about change for the struggling nation. With a general strike from populous looming, the might of Mussolini and his followers rose to the occasion. On October 27, 1922, the Fascist March on Rome was met with zero opposition from the Italian Army or police. Rome fell to the mere threat of violence. Within hours, the King invited Mussolini to Rome to hand him the reigns of the government. Mussolini arrived that evening, disheveled, apologizing for his appearance, claiming he had just come from “the battlefield,” when he had actually just arrived from his headquarters in Milan.[1]

Mussolini implemented his authoritarian government quickly, giving himself full governing power for a full year so as to implement all necessary reforms. In office, his appearance and health diminished. He dedicated all energies into his work, while also taking great pride in living a rigorously simple lifestyle, including a bizarre diet and wardrobe. Though content in marriage, he saw little of his wife and children, yet maintained violent relationships with a number of mistresses. Those who worked with him thought him genius, others thought him mad, but behind the façade was a man who lived in an illusion of who he wanted to be perceived to be- a ruthless yet caring intellectual.[2]

Within a few months of taking over the nation and implementing his policies, people began to settle back into their workspaces. Production output and national pride once again increased. People remained cautiously optimistic that all would be well, as they embraced the myths that Fascism had come to save the country from Bolshevist Socialism, and that Mussolini was not only “all powerful and all wise,” but also “God-like, just and merciful and benevolent.”[3]Mussolini’s savior-like propaganda reinforced his belief people had no need for understanding the tenants of Fascism, as much as they were to experience Fascism via emotional responses to choregraphed techniques that supported a “mystical vision” of the “classic Roman spirit.”[4] His leadership approach, once in power, was quite reserved, even careful. He slowly removed freedoms of the individual to benefit the State, in a way that few would deem repressive. In general, Italians felt the “benefits of Fascism outweighed its disadvantages and faults.”[5]

Over the course of five years, Mussolini abolished free press, opposition parties, and free elections. He restructured the corporate and economic landscape and began indoctrinating the young with Fascist ideology. He supplied Italy with the “peace and quiet, work and calm” it wanted through “love if possible, and with force if necessary.”[6] The more prosperity and peace he provided, the more the Italians loved, cheered, and idolized him. But behind the scenes, Mussolini was a lonely man. Women were to be used; his relationship with his wife, though cordial, was distant; and he had no close friends.[7] Still, he found great joy in spending time with his five children.[8] Though he chose to forgo a salary because he despised the rich, he did   manage to enjoy the finer things of life, like flying lessons, driving his sports car, riding his horses, caring for the zoo of animals he possessed, watching films in his personal cinema, and enjoying the sea in his seaside homes.[9]

As I reflect upon Mussolini, I find him to be complex yet shallow. His ideas and drive were tenacious, calculated, and manipulative. His intentional and steadfast commitment to the nation and himself outweighed his commitment to the people; the people were but a means to an end that included power, prestige, position and platform. He punched his working-class ticket by being born to a blacksmith yet chose to live in the world of the intellect, indulging in ideas and a contradictory lifestyle. His keen use of rhetoric and charisma allowed him to strategically control the masses. His ability to demonstrate compassion on cue provided enough credibility that the majority of people followed without question.

It would be easy to categorically place Mussolini in the “monster of a leader” category; but it is just as easy to replace his name in the preceding paragraph with the names of some popular church pastors or Christian leaders. Underneath the façade presented to the world lies skewed motives, harsh internal realities, and inflated egos. Is it not just as despicable to use them for perceived good in the Kingdom of God, as it is to use them for evil?

To date, Mussolini’s life has provided a warning and a challenge.

The warning: It actually takes very little to sway masses of people toward a particular position when calculated rhetoric is charismatically presented with a well-structured façade. That holds true for regardless of ideological perspective, whether Socialist, Fascist, Democratic, or even Christian.

The challenge: Being a leader who refuses to live and lead from behind a façade is more difficult than living in façade mode. Leading from a place of integrated integrity takes courage, a boatload of hard work, and healthy accountability partners who won’t let you get away with smoke and mirrors bullshit, but rather spurs you on toward wholeness and love.


[1] Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 32-34.

[2] Ibid., 35-39.

[3] Ibid., 41.

[4] Ibid., 42-43.

[5] Ibid., 44-45.

[6] Ibid., 50-51.

[7] Ibid., 59.

[8] Ibid., 57.

[9] Ibid., 43-44.

About the Author

Darcy Hansen

13 responses to “The Power of a Skillfully Crafted Facade”

  1. Jer Swigart says:

    Another troubling idea is that it seems far easier to sway the masses in the direction of racism, violence, and chaos than interdependence, peacemaking, and wholeness. While leaders like Mussolini and Hitler are heralded as potent leaders, I wonder if they would have been as successful had their purposes been righteous rather than racist.

    I appreciate your articulation of the challenge of living & leading in integrous ways. Just last night, I was watching an interview in which the Chief of Medicine for Walgreens was openly discussing how they had botched a shipment of COVID vaccine resulting in the loss of several hundred, if not thousands, of doses. The anchor was left speechless at the admonition and vulnerability of the CMO and then praised him for leading in such an honest and upfront way. The CMO responded, “Building trust and our collective learning requires honesty…especially when we screw up.”

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      “I wonder if they would have been as successful had their purposes been righteous rather than racist.” Such a haunting question. The reluctance of other nations to get involved in WWII makes me think that stepping boldly in righteousness is tough. War is a hard sell as a righteous response, but easier sold as a power grab- maybe they are the same, depending on how the story is shared? I think people are more likely to get on board when their comfort and position is at stake. The Italians just wanted peace and answers to challenges they faced. Mussolini provided those. The people were willing to concede to his ideologies as long as their needs were being met. The hard thing about virtuous or righteous acts, is that they often are looking out for others more than self- and that really is a hard sell, as we have seen here in our country. Christians like to talk big Christian-y talk, but seems we have a difficult time walking the walk. Doesn’t Bonhoffer call that “cheap grace”?

      And I have heard of more leaders owning up to their mistakes, learning, and adjusting, during this pandemic. It is refreshing. I think we’ve come to the point where we realize we actually don’t know a whole heck of a lot about many things. I wonder if having Trump’s quieter public presence has given space for others to begin to speak and lead more authentically? I think they were always there, quietly on the sidelines getting stuff done. But now that things are quieter, their leadership voices can actually be heard.

      • Jer Swigart says:

        We’re willing to follow so long as our “needs are being met.” Isn’t that an apt description of humanity generally and White American Evangelicals more specifically?

        There are so many problems that that sentiment and inertia…the most obvious being that a prioritization on “me” and “my needs” seems antithetical to the Way of Jesus.

        • Darcy Hansen says:

          Agreed. But shaking Empire, Reform, Protestant/evangelical, exceptionalism theology which provides much of the foundation upon which many stand is tough. I’m grateful for your presence in that space. But I wonder do you ever feel like you are chipping away at the foundation with a toothpick? Or that your invitation to step off one foundation onto the foundation of Jesus is disregarded to maintain personal comfort? The Way of Jesus is slow, intentional, and super uncomfortable. Pretty much the antithesis of the American way of living.

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    You have to hand it to him that the slow and steady approach to casting his nets out wide and then slowly tightening them to get what he truly wanted was a brilliant idea. When you cast broad visions to capture people’s imaginations, you’re influencing their identity to get them on board with you. Once they’ve accepted the narrative and you begin tighten it, people are more okay with it.

    I remember one of my profs in undergrad told us that it takes a minimum of three years in a church context to fully gain the trust of a congregation. When you try to change to bring change immediately, people push back against it because you don’t have their trust or they are so fixated on the way “things have always been” that they refuse to budge on issues.

    Of course, the danger is that when you have a charismatic leader who may have ill intent behind their actions put this into practice, the results can be devastating.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Insightful post. As I read your post I found myself wondering how much of Mussolini’s life was driven by a situational ethics mindset? I also wonder if he had an end result in mind or was just responding the the current challenges with no direction in mind? It appears his reign of power was made possible through the frog in the kettle approach. Small unethical changes over a long period of time by leaders over unhappy disgruntle people has led more than one nation/ church to destruction throughout history. Within the realm of situational ethics standards for right and wrong get blurred and are based on an individuals personal beliefs and character. People throughout history have can condone a lot of actions without regard to others in and out of the church. Is it possible that as followers we get so caught up in our own pain and anguish that we welcome change even if it can lead to destruction? How often do we condone actions that we know aren’t ethical because the situation appears to call for it?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I haven’t heard the phrase “situational ethics” before, and appreciate you defining that for me. I definitely think Mussolini falls in that category in many ways. He mostly existed of his beliefs (which Taleb would say is just “cheap talk” meaning no real skin in the game). His beliefs were such a mush-mash of others’ beliefs. Since he was anti-Christianity (or religion), he never had a compass of what is true and good (not that all Christians even utilize that compass), thus anything goes when God is out of the equation. Good and evil no longer exist.

      I don’t have specific answers to your last questions. But regarding the church, I think we’d rather be blind than see, because to see means we have to act; we’d have to be responsible. It is easier to walk through life blaming one person or a specific group for their shortcomings rather than taking responsibility for the ways the masses contributed to the short comings or the culture that leads to destruction. Indeed, our own pain and anguish often outweighs the pain and anguish of others- don’t we see this playing out everyday in some way in our current environment?

  4. John McLarty says:

    The contrasts between your posts and mine are striking- this lonely man, operating almost entirely from the front-stage as Walker would describe, with seemingly no real regard for the personal back-stage work. It’s sad. And even more sad is how the masses will both feed and consume a person like this, even help shape them into the savior they so desperately want.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      So how do the masses help form and shape a person more behind the curtain than in front of the curtain? Is there a way we can encourage such transformation rather than simply gobbling up the harsh behaviors that serve our immediate needs? How do the masses and a leader work together to build each other up for the benefit of all?

      • John McLarty says:

        I don’t think the masses can do anything from behind the curtain. That’s where the leader has to be differentiated and determined enough to do the inner work, even without anyone noticing or asking them to. Problem is, there’s no applause backstage.

        The other problem with “the masses” is that they aren’t rational. “They” don’t think- they just react. They are easily manipulated and focused on short-term fixes. Even if a leader might want to take the time to do more backstage work, there’s the fear that the masses will move on without them, following someone else. In my readings, both Lincoln and Roosevelt were able to do this- to spend time in reflection and thought- but neither of them had to lead in the age of instant news.

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    Narcissism is everywhere. I think we had some conversations regarding narcissistic behaviour in Oxford?

    Eventually, narcissists use up their energy sources, leaving them feeling utterly depleted. While there is a spectrum, I see NPD influencing many leaders toward climbing ladders to positions of power.

    I love how Jesus chose his disciples. They did not hand in resumes.

    Like the greatest empaths of history, so the most deviant narcissists have had the most horrible of endings.

    The evil and the good. I wonder, what would Socrates have to say?

    I appreciate your challenge. We can live in a shadow or we can live in the light. There’s a soul within each one of us that is affected by the stories we live into.

    We have examples in our lives and others as to the difference between goodness and fallacy. Do you think with Jesus there is a calling to choose?

    Could that middle place be that of deepest Narcissism and, place of greatest dissociation from soul?

    All with wonder and interest toward the attitudes of those like Mussolini, both great and small.

  6. Shawn Cramer says:

    I’m taking your warning seriously. I’m wondering what future generations will critique as blind herd-mentality. I’m thinking our blind eye towards consumerism and (often) overseas labor to be among those.

Leave a Reply