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

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Written by: on October 13, 2021

Simon Walker, the author of The Undefended Leader, is a professor, writer, and leadership coach committed to developing leaders from all walks of life. In the introduction, he writes, “some of us long – and hope – for a different kind of leadership. We still believe that a leader should say what he means and mean what he says.”[1] Such leaders work toward a greater end, are willing to make sacrifices, and demonstrate a mindset of service. In the words of Walker, these are undefended leaders whose “deliberate acts of weakness and courageous self-sacrifice” have given us the “likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth.”[2] While there were many great concepts and leadership models to reflect upon from this book, in consideration of my understanding of leadership development, Walker’s contribution led me to the following conclusions:

Leadership is about character.  Specifically, Walker claims that leadership “is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have.”[3] This concept of leadership flowing out of being is a common thread among such leadership gurus as Robert Clinton in The Making of a Leader. A close companion to flowing out of who you are is a deep understanding of the freedom a healthy leader experiences. This is a “freedom from the need to be great… freedom to be fully available,” and the “freedom to lead with nothing to lose.”[4] According to Walker, unless a leader operates with this sense of freedom, their influence can be misappropriately used and damaging to those they lead. In a word, leaders cannot effectively lead apart from strong character development.

Leadership is a calling. Walker asserts that the desire to “create our world” is a common feature of humankind. I might add that it is a part of our DNA as people made with imago Dei. We long to create as He created us. However, the reality is that few people have this unique capacity, at least to do it well. What sets leaders apart from others is their authority and position. Such leaders have “the positional power to make changes, to dictate timing and establish rhythms and determine what happens when and how.”[5] Continuing on, Walker states that the personality of a leader is reflected in the organization. More or less, the opportunity to lead serves as a litmus test as to what kind of individual is leading. Do they have integrity? Are they serving with a greater purpose in mind? Are they leading for the good of others in service to God? As I evaluate the organizations I have led, I am challenged to ask, “What do the people I lead look like? Are they modeling concern for others, or are they only seeking to serve themselves?” For these reasons and more, I am led to believe transformative leadership is indeed a high calling.

Lastly, leaders don’t take themselves too seriously. Sixteen years ago, I was granted a unique opportunity to take the helm of a robust nonprofit in Memphis, Tennessee. There were a few unique challenges to my stepping into this role. First, I was an outsider to the community as a white guy from Wyoming who was now asked to lead a Christian work in an all-black ghetto. Second, my predecessor was a seasoned and well-known leader in our city, so needless to say, he was leaving behind some big shoes to fill. But not only that, I was only 27 years old at the time. About two months into the role, I realized that I was in way over my head. Firing off an email to my old boss, who was now living halfway around the world, I will never forget what he said – “Don’t take yourself too seriously!” I was reminded of this profound leadership principle reading Walker’s words, “Remember that your greatest achievement as a leader will not solve the world’s problems. It will not bring about heaven on earth or save the planet. Make your contribution with a smile, thankful for the opportunity and delighted to see other people make theirs.”[6] At the end of the day, it is the Lord’s work; we are merely His servants, so do your part, rest in Him to take care of the outcome, and have fun.

[1] Simon P Walker, The Undefended Leader (Carlisle: Piquant, 2010), 4.

[2] Ibid., 8.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 303–304.

[5] Ibid., 47.

[6] Ibid., 130.

About the Author


Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

4 responses to “Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Eric – I appreciate and am challenged myself by the questions you are asking when reflecting on what those you lead look like and what they are modeling to others. I think these are the questions that Jesus asked while he was in his ministry and what scripture points us towards when discussing his return. Do we look like him? Model our lives after him? Value what he values?

    Thank you for a very thought provoking reflection.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:

    Considering the Walker reading was a bite of humble pie, your reflection was the cream on top.

    How often do we take ourselves too seriously because we are the supposed experts in our organizations?

    Every time I’m faced with challenges or challenging people, I’m reminded how much Jesus, who is the expert, dealt with know-it-all people and incomprehensible conflict. And yet, Jesus lived out his purpose to bring about the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

    I’m challenged most by the pursuit to do the next innovative thing when our work can be a simple as being present with people in their most significant time of need.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, such good conclusions from reading Walker. While I appreciate all three conclusions, your focus on character is so needed. Through undergrad and grad school, there was little to no emphasis on that needed element. I wonder how many of the high-profile failures are due to a reliance on behavior and results versus the growth of character. I love your last sentence in the that section: “In a word, leaders cannot effectively lead apart from strong character development.” Hopefully, we live at a time when a needed correction balances out external growth with internal growth that builds organizations that thrive and last.

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Eric, I appreciate your reasoned thoughts from Walker’s book. As you know I struggled with some of the points in the book that resonated with you lol.
    We obviously come to these books from our unique space and experience. I would love to hear how your experience shaped your reading of Walkers premise of , “Walker states that the personality of a leader is reflected in the organization”.

    Thank you for highlighting the importance of “not taking ourselves too seriously.” Both Walker and Friedman make this point about playfulness. They do have different locus of the playfulness or the lack there of. Which locus do you find to be more impactful?

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