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

Compulsion and Control

Written by: on March 2, 2018

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon 
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. – Pink Floyd

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown, the dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb. – Also Pink Floyd


This is my second attempt to write this post. My first post was chirpy and light, talking about the joy that can be found in redeeming the dark side of leadership. It was (excuse me) utter crap.


There is something distinctly uncomfortable about seeing yourself, even your younger self, described in print. When that description is of the darkest parts of you, it is downright paralyzing. To be honest, reading Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership made me sick to my stomach. I tried to avoid it all week because I knew it would bring me face-to-face with the ugliness of the leader I have been. I skimmed and read reviews hoping to avoid the one chapter I knew would expose me and bring regret bubbling to the surface of my core. Chapter Eight – The Compulsive Leader.


It was kind of the authors to frame the compulsive leader in light of Moses –it let me whisper, “At least I never murdered anyone…” Well, not physically anyway.


There are many good explanations as to why I am a recovering compulsive leader. Childhood trauma, my personality type, and a good dose of being the firstborn helped me establish myself as a control freak. But there are many who have faced the same things that never unleashed compulsive leadership on unsuspecting colleagues and staff members. What does that look like? McIntosh and Rima say it better than I can:

“The compulsive leader pursues perfection to an extreme, both in personal and organizational life…Compulsive leaders also tend to be very status conscious and as a result are deferential and ingratiating with their superiors, often going out of their way to impress them with their diligence and efficiency…often becoming workaholics.” (106)

Compulsive leaders need to control everything. What looks like hard work is a sick need to prove that we are the only ones who can do the job well. If need be, a compulsive leader will be subtly (or not so subtly) critical of anyone who seems to be getting ahead of her, taking the glory that she ‘deserves.’


I sound like a lot of fun, don’t I? I say I am a recovering compulsive leader because I have worked hard to move from being the Moses who murdered and tried to run the whole show, to being the Moses who sought humility and accepted the consequences of bad behavior while training a better leader for the future. I’m not there yet, though. I know this because not too long ago I found myself feeling threatened by a colleague and began to subtly denigrate this person to another leader. I felt real panic over the idea that this person (who is a friend) was going to get a job I had applied for and really wanted, and my first reaction was sabotage. I became numb to compassion and empathy and my compulsive dark side splattered all over the place. Fortunately, after about 24 hours, I remembered that my worth as a person and as a leader is not in whether or not I got that position. It would not fill the void left from my childhood pain, and it most certainly was not worth hurting someone over. As McIntosh and Rima put it, I remembered that my dark side has been redeemed. (156-157) I called the leader I had talked with and confessed my attempt at sabotage and apologized. I am deeply fortunate that this leader is also a recovering compulsive leader and, while not excusing my behavior, showed grace that was so undeserved.


In the last several chapters of Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, the authors provide helpful steps to overcoming our dark sides while not losing the part of them that can be positively channeled. I am particularly glad that they included the instruction about seeking professional help. (205) Without the help of a professional counselor and a professional spiritual director, there is no way I could have even begun to navigate the murky waters of compulsivity and control. I also could not have forgiven myself and moved forward to a healthier understanding of my identity in Christ. I still have such a long way to go, but there is no longer a dam of pain waiting to burst, and the numbness has worn off so that I feel again. It is a more painful way to live sometimes, but worth it.

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

14 responses to “Compulsion and Control”

  1. Mary says:

    Kristin, thank you for trusting us with your “dark side”. Your openness and honesty is proof that you are changing.
    But Macintosh and Rima also gave the strengths for people who are in control – somebody has to be. I would be glad to work for you!!!

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Thank you, Kristin!

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Meeting you at this leg of your journey does not compare to what you claim your past to be. One thing about the dark side, it no longer holds you, hostage, when you shine the light on it.

    So if you are a recovery compulsive leader, what type are you now

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      That’s very encouraging. Thank you Lynda! I would say that the positive things about compulsive leadership (drive, working to complete a job well, directing traffic) are strengths I try to hone because I know they can be used with kindness, compassion, and balance.

  4. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    So good Kristin: “I remembered that my dark side has been redeemed.” All of our parts are loved, not just the pretty parts. Gives us so much more freedom to just be yourself. This saying has haunted me from the moment it was uttered to me over a decade ago, “Let the full weight of who you are fall on those around you.” When we accept who we are, know we are redeemed and working on growing insightfully and humbly, we are free to just be. Your post reminded me of this again. Thank you.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Oh my, Jen. I love that statement! I spend a lot of time holding back that full weight because of pieces of my past, but you remind me that we are created to lean in to who we are. Thank you!

  5. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “What looks like hard work is a sick need to prove that we are the only ones who can do the job well. ”

    As a fellow Gen X-er, I assumer you have some of the same issues that I have with millennials…especially millennials in ministry.

    The “latchkey” generation, who cooked many of our own meals, rode the school bus to school, and NEVER ONCE showed our parents our college report card does not know what to do with a generation of young ministers who tell church members “don’t call me on Saturdays (even if you are in in crisis) because that is my “sabbath”. And “I don’t take appointments on Fridays, that is my study day” and “After the Sunday Service is over, please don’t expect anything of me…that is my family day” and. “I need a six week sabbatical during the summer to recharge my batteries.”

    OK. I realize that I took advantage of your post to rant. But, part of our focus on compulsive hard work may be generational.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      I very well think it could be generational, Stu. My parents and grandparents exhausted themselves in ministry.
      When I was first in ministry I would get frustrated by people who sought balance, as if somehow working ourselves into a state of exhaustion is the new martyrdom. What I am learning from my millennial (and younger) friends is that we can’t minister from a place of imbalance. My former prof, Dr. A.J. Swoboda has a new book out called “Subversive Sabbath.” He taught much of this material to us in class and really impressed on me what imbalance can do to us and to our communities. I don’t go as far as he does, but I know I need to keep sabbath. I have watched my parents and grandparents and other give everything and struggle with health and wellness in their later years. I do not think that is what God calls us to.

  6. Katy Drage Lines says:

    I, too, am thankful I am not still like my younger self (delightful though she was).

    Sometimes those parts of me I thought I’d buried like to resurrect and remind me that the Spirit’s transformation of us is ongoing.

    Thanks for putting words to the reality that we are all recovering crumbly leaders

  7. Kristen,
    Thanks for the honest post….. you are living proof that we can overcome the dark side!

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Kristin you are not alone! I too have some traits of a compulsive leader. While it is not difficult to identify, it is hard to recover from. Thank you for your candor! 🙂

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