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

Authenticity: Beyond the Buzzword

Written by: on October 14, 2021

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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1] Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd., 2007), 5.

[2] 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.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

7 responses to “Authenticity: Beyond the Buzzword”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy – “Simultaneously, the leader has both a job to do and a person to become. An over-emphasis either way can produce detrimental results.” What a keen observation and understanding of the tension between being and doing. A professor and mentor of mine has taught over the years how much the genuine doing can only come out of the being, and not the other way around. While his words have challenged and encouraged me, I have also seen where people can only focus on the being and never get to (or are fearful of) the doing. I think they were designed to be in tandem, but I am much more of a Martha than Mary so am probably a bit biased in terms of wanting to get the job done.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli I chuckled at your Mary/Martha reference. I just had a conversation with a dear friend of mine about these two ladies. One thing I said was that Jesus never chastised Martha for the doing…the push back came in the comparing Martha did. Jesus seemed to say that Mary chose the thing that fed her soul. 🙂

  2. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Thank you Roy for your insights!

    It breaks my heart whenever I hear about small, big, and huge moral failures in pastors because of many pressures and responsibilites. It took a while for me to recognize and figure out how to deal with many dissonance between the curtains of front and back stage. Your description of the process of simutaneous awakening where “the leader has both a job to do and a person to become” is very needed in all the leaders. I hear a heart of humility in your prayer. What are some things that God has used to help you in your identity formation over the years?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Jonathan, thanks for you question. Two influences for my identity formation have been 1) the writing of Henri Noun (especially “The Importance of Being Foolish”) and, 2) great people that have spoken into my life. Most of those have been staff members while a few were teachers throughout my education.

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thanks, Roy. That is a very interesting thought about the difference in culture and how the book might be interpreted. I would agree with you that this presentation of leadership fits more of the Western mindset. Perhaps one of our friends in the cohort from a different region of the world (and a different culture) speak to your question!

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, thank you for your AUTHENTIC revealing of yourself! I appreciate the honest reflection of knowing it is easier to point out others flaws and not so easy to own ours…..so very true! I think one of the benefits of being able to say outloud where we struggle helps us to not be held captive by those very flaws.

    Your wondering, ” 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” really made me smile. On page 58 I wrote a note saying “Nurture over nature…it seems very narrow.” I think Friedman would say this allows people off the hook for taking responsibility. What was about Walker’s leaning toward nurture that caused you to mention it?

    I appreciate your question about too much navel gazing at the expense of getting things done. Are there ways that self-reflection can be integrated with prayer and meditation?

  5. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for your question. About leadership as nature – I’ve known too many people who are just naturally gifted as leaders. Many others can learn leadership behaviors but all leadership cannot be the result of nurture environment. People are too complex to simply it that narrowly.

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