Amid a time when the over-used word “authentic” means so many things that it means very little, Simon P. Walker offers a foundation on which genuine, personal leadership can emerge. “Leading Out of Who You Are,” the first in a trilogy, clearly identifies leadership as the topic. The subcategory of self-leadership puts Walker’s book a nuanced place within the broad field. In contrast to other theories, Walker states, “Leadership is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have.” The majority of the book serves as a reflective tool to allow leaders to identify how they are “defended,” and how to overcome barriers instilled in their upbringing to lead with authenticity. Walker contends that all leaders live defended and, as a result, utilize specific strategies to protect themselves. He identifies four ego “shapes” and how they get formed in relationships between oneself and caregivers. Each ego type, Shaper, Definer, Adapter, or Defender, results in defensiveness to protect oneself. A central metaphor of the stage portrays a leader with a front-stage role in front of others and the private person and their inner world experienced on the back-stage.
Walker provides detailed insight into self-leadership, which offers a needed correction to an over-emphasis on results as the essence of leadership. When I began ministry thirty years ago, the emphasis on leadership centered mostly on results. For example, statements like, “if no one is following you, you are not a leader” evaluates effectiveness externally. In my undergraduate and graduate studies in a Christian context, self-leadership amounted to your walk with God, not to your thinking, feeling, or growing within a leadership role. The consequences of avoiding self-leadership can prove costly.
Many years ago, when I assumed the role of Lead Pastor, I “inherited” a Youth Pastor who fits Walker’s description of a “Defining Leadership Ego.” On the front-stage before others, he was driven, self-assured, and successful. On the back-stage, he exhibited suspicion and distrust of anyone not viewed as a supporter, which for him, included me. He subtly crossed lines into inappropriate relationships on several occasions. He rebuffed attempts to counsel toward relational integrity. He viewed my concern about his relational morality as my insecurity toward him. To those who saw only the front stage person, he manifested a strong, natural leadership gift. In contrast, the distinct difference between the person up front and the one in private evidenced plainly to those who saw both the front and back stages of his life. He left for another role after a one-year rocky relationship between the two of us. Sadly, this past summer, he lost his marriage and his ministry due to a moral failure. Since I do not know all the specifics, I wonder if the result would prove positively different if alignment occurred between the person on the front-stage and the one on the back-stage.
Of course, writing about someone else’s issues proves easier than writing about our own. I land mainly in the category of the “Adapting Leadership Ego,” marked by anxiety and over-responsibility. A calendar full of commitments evidences a tendency that struggles to say “no.” A bottled-up back-stage due to a lack of trust in myself makes it difficult for people to penetrate my inner world. I would like to think those issues trend in a positive direction. I believe I have learned that relationships are not as fragile as I thought. I say “no” more now than ever. Learning to trust myself continues as a work in progress. Before reading Walker, I understood those traits belonging to introversion, but his characteristics ring true. I would ask Walker, if I could, “Is there any aspect of the Leadership Egos you describe that results from nature and not nurture?” His book stresses the nurture aspect of our formation to a great degree.
As a critique, his lens on the formation of self sounds Western in its orientation. It fits a culture of individualism and guilt rather than an Eastern culture of honor and shame. I wonder what a person with Eastern cultural mores would say about his diagnoses and prescriptions. I also wonder how much self-reflection and self-leadership focus becomes too much and an over-correction. Just as an emphasis on role and results can produce an unhealthy leadership, so can an unbalanced focus on ourselves when there exists a mission to fulfill and responsibilities to carry out. In ministry, Sundays keep coming pretty regularly! All leaders must encounter moments of dissonance between who they are on the front-stage versus the back-stage. Simultaneously, the leader has both a job to do and a person to become. An over-emphasis either way can produce detrimental results. Perhaps the balance needed comes from another metaphor, namely, “building the plane while we are flying it.” Lord, help me to do my job to the best of my current ability and help my ability to change for the better to grow.
 Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd., 2007), 5.
 My distinction here comes from recently reading, “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible” by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien.