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

Front to Back

Written by: on November 15, 2019

I really enjoyed reading this week. In fact, The Undefended Leader may be my favorite book of the semester. I wish I had more than one week to devote to reading it, and I hope to return to it after my DMin projects have been turned in. Admittedly, I read too slowly and did not make it too far.

Simon Walker, an Oxford professor, and Anglican clergy offers excellent insight into why we do the things we do as leaders. I felt a bit exposed as I read through some of the sections, wondering how Walker managed to have direct access to my thoughts, emotions, and motivations. I am grateful this exposure was coupled with an invitation to lay down my defenses. There was no unruly fight in this book.

I do enjoy empowering others and would like to consider myself a good team player, but I was struck by Walker’s explanation of why leaders have such a difficult time releasing control and being vulnerable with their followers: “No leader is free from exerting control in order to create a world in which they feel safe – and, unlike others, the leader has the opportunity actually to take control.”[1]

In the first book of the trilogy, Walker invites us to consider the control we exert when we refuse to engage our moral responsibility to know ourselves. He describes the inner and outer workings of our leadership as what we present on the front stage (projected image to the outer world) and backstage (inner life and behavior) of our leadership.

“For us, therefore, there is a moral responsibility and an ethical imperative to know ourselves, not for our own benefit for the benefit of our followers. And not only to know ourselves nut to be free from ourselves. It is freedom that is the critical factor: freedom to make decisions and choose courses of action that in the end may lead to personal loss rather than personal gain.”[2]

Until this program, I admit that I had given in to some notion that my job is simply to produce good work. No one really needs to know me, and I certainly do not need to use my time to know myself. This is a luxury I simply did not believe I could afford. Through my cohort friends, colleagues, teachers and readings, I have been forced to come face-to-face with who I am. Both Walker and Friedman have re-introduced me to myself in a way that I did not realize was necessary.[3] In all honesty, I have given much time to the development of my front stage persona, and have worked on the backstage when I had a few moments to spare. Thankfully, the backstage isn’t too messy, but it is barren at times and tends to accumulate cobwebs. Walker had my attention when I read this phrase:

“…the backstage is not only the place for the messy stuff: it is also the place where the script is written, learnt and rehearsed. Here, new ideas are generated and tried out. Here, the leader works with the material the audience could not cope with – the radical thinking, the new possibilities, the real issues.”[4]

I am grateful for the reminder that it is not one or the other. Walker has invited me to spend some time backstage learning, rehearsing and dreaming. He has raised the curtain a bit on my leadership, allowing me to break in a new pathway from front to back.

Thanks, LGP9.


[1] Simon P Walker, The Undefended Leader (Carlisle: Piquant, 2010), 49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, ed. Margaret M. Treadwell and Edward W. Beal (New York: Seabury Books, 2007).

[4] Walker, The Undefended Leader, 31.

About the Author

Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

17 responses to “Front to Back”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Rhonda. I will be spending more time with this book over the Christmas break as I know it will help my writing and me personally as well. I think we all forget how important the backstage area is for the front stage. Great reminder indeed that it is both/and not either/or.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Mario. I wonder if there are ways that the cultures of our church traditions make it more difficult to focus on the front or backstage. Your research is valuable for all of us.

  2. Wonderful post Rhonda, like you I really wished that I had more time to read through the books, I will certainly go back to the book. I so much related to a lot of insights from this book and got new insights for my dissertation work. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I appreciate your vulnerability, Rhonda. For some of us we were forced to the backstage through burnout, brokenness, and pain. I resonated with Walker’s description of the choices we make in the midst of those trials and how they shape us. I found the opposite can be true and we get stuck in the backstage and have to force ourselves back out front. It really is a rhythm back and forth that keeps us whole and flourishing.

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Great insight, Tammy. It seems the path between front and backstage should be well worn as we learn to spend time in both places. You have modeled this well for all of us.

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Great Post Rhonda. I really resonated with the Front/Back Stage image, since I feel like the back stage of my life is such a mess right now. I hope to be able to get through this book during the break as well. I think can be very helpful.

  5. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Ah! I love this Rhonda and am so grateful our paths have intersected. Your insights into your front/back stage are helpful to me. Thank you.

  6. Karen Rouggly says:

    Great post, friend! I, too, am grateful for you and our cohort as we navigate this changing world!

  7. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your honest vulnerability. You are obviously a very capable and effective leader. I am grateful that you are taking to heart the lessons of Friedman and Walker that I wish I had addressed decades earlier. Your recognition and understanding of how your front and backstages work together in concert will serve you well throughout your leadership and ministry. Thank you for sharing and reminding us all as we journey together!

    • Rhonda Davis says:

      Thank you, Harry. I wish I could say I always learn these lessons the first time they come my way. I am sure Walker and Friedman will become regular voices in my leadership journey.

  8. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thank you LGP9 indeed! Great post Rhonda, it is good to know that we will have these books to go back to once we are all officially Dr.’s and have more time to reference and reflect on them. This was a great reading week!

  9. John Muhanji says:

    Rhonda, you are incredibly great and sharing your vulnerability here after reading Galloway through the undefended leader. I agree with you too that this professor of oxford did write something that equally touched me. Sometimes we read some books and they speak to us as a living spirit that transforms your mindset. Thank you for sharing this.

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