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

Going Deeper

Written by: on October 15, 2021

Simon P. Walker writes Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (The Undefended Leader Trilogy Book 1) out of his experience working with The Leadership Community.[1] That alone sets his work apart from many other books classified under leadership development based on psychological insight. Walker writes for the purpose of identifying, understanding, and sharing the mechanisms by which leaders can be set free from the defended chains that limit their capacity and effectiveness as leaders. He writes to empower leaders towards developing moral authority exemplified through “remarkable character”[2] and the practice of compassion. Courage and integrity form the bedrock of remarkable character. After describing the challenging landscape of idealization, idealism, and unmet emotional needs most leaders must navigate, Walker elaborates the defensive survival tactics utilized by many leaders in order to survive: developing a front- (public) and back- (private) stage life, exercising control, and making use of power. He adds to this a loose psychological analysis of how individuals develop their basis of trust throughout infancy and childhood. Using research by Kim Bartholomew and Leonard M. Horowitz (1991), he contends four distinct ego types tend to emerge and that these ego types influence how one leads. The ego types are identified as shaping, defining, adapting, and defending. To move from being a defended leader to an undefended leader, one must first identify a source of approval who will “…not be overwhelmed by our failures and weaknesses.”[3] For Walker, this can only ultimately be found in God, though he doesn’t ever come out and directly name the being he describes. Being securely held by this source of approval allows one to grow in the freedom to give, to lead in the direct and vulnerable manner of a child, to more fully develop one’s moral authority, and lean into the humble journey of maturing as an undefended leader.

As I made my way through Walker’s book, I tried to keep myself mindful of my NPO and my posture as a leader in my upcoming Design Workshop. Walker’s description of the shaping ego resonates deeply for me. I regularly see opportunity where others see threat, or a dead end, or non-starter. I love engaging those types of dynamics. It is very energizing for me. “What might be possible if…” is one of my mantras. Rescuing others has been part of my journey. I’m at a different place with that now—inviting others to engage with discerning their path forward and accompanying them in that work and journey. Defining my own reality is also central to how I have operated and continue to operate. It’s a frequent experience to be told my perspective is ‘unique.’ That is often not meant as a compliment. So, I’ve had to work at inviting people to unpack ‘unique’ for me so that I can better evaluate the critique (or compliment when that is the case) and keep on growing. Walker’s front-stage and back-stage descriptions for the shaping ego didn’t resonate as strongly with me, so I need to sit with that a bit more.

Based on Walker’s insights, I am mostly pondering the following dynamic as I prepare for my Design Workshop. I find idealism is a close companion to seeing what might be possible in a given situation. Walker writes about the dissonance between the ideal and reality and the challenge this can be for leaders to navigate with those they are leading. Most people don’t want to deal with the tension between ideal and reality. They would rather let go of the ideal and/or learn to tolerate the reality. My NPO is inviting young adults in Sidon, Lebanon (and Salem, Oregon) to develop practical skills for translating the values of justice, equity, and reconciliation into lived reality in their contexts. Right now, given the complex and discouraging situation in Lebanon, most young people are deeply depressed. To ask them to be part of this NPO is inviting them into significant dissonance between the ideals they have been trying to work towards and the brutal realities they and their families now face. For most people their energy is going towards basic survival—finding work to pay for very minimal food supplies, adapting their daily life around when there is electricity for an hour or two, waiting in hours-long lines for fuel, scrounging the country for now impossible to find basic medications. Optimism is not a sufficient bulwark against this overwhelming flood of despair and rescuing these communities from their country’s disastrous leadership is beyond my ability to do. And yet the heartbeat of this NPO is more needed than ever. I find myself returning to one of Walker’s closing comments:

“Our task, as human beings, as human leaders, is far more humble and close to home. It is to grow up. It is to learn, through the experiences we are given, who we are—what it means to be courageous, what it is to serve, what it is to be loved and to love, what it is to be real, what it is to be fully human. True leadership is leadership of ourselves and others into this kind of life: embracing our full humanity, discovering what it is to be fully human, to participate fully in the world.”[4]

Perhaps through this insight I can find a way forward. Perhaps there is a way I can facilitate the collaborative exercises to invite participants to discover how they are living examples of courage in their current context, even as we also explore possibilities for how they could further develop their capacities to serve their local communities guided by the values of justice, equity, and reconciliation.

[1] Walker, Simon. 2007. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Carlisle: Piquant, 1.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 132.

[4] Ibid., 196.

About the Author

Elmarie Parker

17 responses to “Going Deeper”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great thoughts Elmarie. I agree about Walker’s discussion on the human ego. All people and not just leaders can feel incredibly threatened at times and assume a defensive posture. The ideal -vs- the reality of our lives at time can be disparate and as undefended leaders we have to learn to live with that tension. Ultimately, leadership is leadership of ourselves.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Thank you, Troy, for expanding the ‘defensive posture’ conversation to include not only leaders, but those who are part of the larger community around leaders. As I reflect on your comment, it drives home for me even more the importance of self-leadership and staying mindful of the projection/transference issues that were part of our cohort discussion last Monday in the context of Friedman’s book.

  2. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Elmarie! Thank you for your insightful thoughts.

    I resonated with how you described about your journey in serving others…”Rescuing others has been part of my journey. I’m at a different place with that now—inviting others to engage with discerning their path forward and accompanying them in that work and journey.” I find myself now too in trying to equip others to own their work and journey. What are some probing questions you use to help them open up and help them unpack their ‘unique’ journey?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Jonathan. It is good to know there are many of us on this journey of shifting from rescuing to encouraging others into deeper ownership of their own journey. I appreciate your inquiry about probing questions I’ve found helpful in these types of conversations….I’d value hearing some of your top probing questions as well. Of course, the person’s unique context influences the questions I choose and how I choose to pose them, but they are often questions along the lines of:
      1. You have a lot going on. What do you think is most important for you to focus on right now? What might prevent you from focusing on that priority? What resources (social support, developing specific skills, therapeutic support, journaling, vocational support, etc.) could empower you to focus on your chosen priority and navigate through the challenges or potential barriers you described? What steps could you take to begin accessing those resources?
      2. When have you experienced courage in your response to a challenging situation in the past? What do you imagine showing courage in this current situation could look like?
      3. If you could design the perfect solution to your current challenge, what would it look like? What might be a first step you could take toward living into that solution? What adjustments do you think you might need to make to bridge the gap between your perfect solution and reality?
      4. What’s within your control to do in this situation? What is not within your control? What specific prayer disciplines could help you relinquish the things not within your control to God’s safe-keeping? What action steps could you take to move forward on the things within your control?

  3. mm Andy Hale says:

    I love that thought, “Dissonance between the ideal and reality.”

    I resonate with that as I’m researching the idea of liminal spaces and thinking. Too often, we fail to recognize that our beliefs and ways of looking at things are completely limited to our experience and worldview.

    So I’m wrestling with how we help those that we are leading to open their minds to see a greater reality.

    What have been good resources for you?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hey Andy…I’m looking forward to hearing more about what you discover about “liminal spaces and thinking!” I can see how your focus has potential intersections with what I’m working on in my NPO. A resource I’ve just been certified in that holds tremendous potential for inviting people to consider realities and perspectives beyond their own is the Intercultural Development Inventory. It’s very practical and invites people to put together their own development plan for steps they can take to increase their effectiveness at working with people across many types of differences (including different world views). I went through the certification seminar/workshop to assess its usefulness in my NPO and found it to be a well-researched/supported tool that is normed across cultures within the USA and across the globe. I’d love to talk with you further about it. You can read more about it at: https://idiinventory.com/

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, thanks for connecting Walker to your upcoming Design Workshop. It will be a day of idealism and optimism while we live in a world of reality that often falls far short of the ideal. I appreciate the school’s encouragement to us that we will not solve all problems with our project. Also, you wrote about dissonance between the ideal and the reality. It makes me think of theologians like Rheinhold Niehbur who wrote the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.” I wonder if Walker would evaluate that perspective as a healthy balance between idealism and reality.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Roy. Thank you for bringing to my mind again the Serenity Prayer. I’m not sure how Walker would evaluate it, but I find it to be a helpful reminder of how to prayerfully navigate the tensions between idealism and reality.

      I’m not sure a balance can ever be found. For me, when I hear the world balance in this context, I think of a standing at the mid-point of a teeter-totter. It feels like a static position to try and maintain. I think instead that I experience the tension between idealism and reality more like a river to run. It’s a fluid situation where sometimes there will be quiet moments and other times there will be rapids. It requires staying mindful of the context and utilizing the most helpful tools at the moment to keep moving forward and not crash on the rocks. It also puts me in a posture of humility…the river and its tensions are greater/more powerful than I am. I need to respect the currents and work with them, not against them.

      Thank you for the prompt to think more deeply about this tension between idealism and reality. What metaphor best captures this for you?

      • mm Nicole Richardson says:

        oooo, I like that mental image…standing in the middle of the teeter totter as a static image. I am not sure Walker really wants to engage balance in terms of movement. I don’t hear a lot of both/and with him. I would say balance is more fluid….as with self-differentiation, it’s a state of being not a destination.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Wow! Elmarie! Really well written. I can really related to your reflections in terms of your NPO. I have to say that I have appreciated your “unique” world view over the last year. Your life experiences in Lebanon provides for special windows into the life and culture of people that I have no experience with. I find that incredibly insightful when I attempt to engage with the people I have been serving in Poland. Those intercultural experiences can make such an impact in knocking those rough edges of our own cultural biases.
    Your conclusions of being a leader who shows up in the present and owns their part is so insightful. Thanks so much for your reflections.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Thank you, Denise, for your encouragement. I’d love to hear more about how insights on Lebanon have related to your work with people in Poland!

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post and summary of the book. Very well done.

    I love that you are applying this to your workshop and NPO. I will be very curious to hear what you learn. At some point, we should chat about your NPO as I think we have some similarities in our work and NPO.

    Well done.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Thank you, Eric, for your encouragement.

      I’d love to hear more about your NPO and possible intersections with mine! Let’s find a time to talk further.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie, I so appreciate your summary of Walker’s book. But I appreciate even more your connections to the reading and your process approach for your NPO. Although we are still getting to know each other, I am curious how you resonate with the Shaping Ego Leadership? Your big empathetic heart for others pain is a part of why you may have been inclined to rescue. And I have experienced you as one who “sees opportunities”….It is one of the aspects of you that is beautiful. But I question the aspects of Paternalism and Self-defined Reality. Are there aspects of the other egos that describe you?
    Both Walker and Friedman talk about how humans in chronically anxious families have a low threshold for pain which makes the working out of cognitive dissonance a challenge. As you hold tenaciously to the hope of a better future for the young people in Beirut what might be a way/s you can honor their humanity while intentionally addressing the cognitive dissonance to envision a way forward? What do you need to have in place for you to be empathetic without enmeshment?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Nicole. Thank you, as always, for your thought-provoking questions that take the conversation and my reflection to a deeper place!

      In terms of the Shaping Ego, the facet of Paternalism that resonated most is rescuing. This was a much more present feature of my life in my 20s. But brick walls (metaphorically speaking) challenged this in me and I quickly began to realize I needed a more effective way of interacting with others…learning and implementing these new ways has been part of my journey since then. I connected with the self-defined reality piece in a number of ways…everything from making up my own words for things to stubbornly seeing the positive or opportunity or gift in a situation or person or community that others around me only saw as doomed. My stretch over the years has been learning how to be willing to really hear the cautionary note of wisdom from those God has placed around me, and cultivating the humility needed to receive their wisdom and have it impact my discernment, strategy-development, and decisions.

      The other ego descriptions didn’t really resonate for me. What descriptions most caught your attention?

      Responding to your other two helpful questions:
      1. What might be a way/s you can honor their humanity while intentionally addressing the cognitive dissonance to envision a way forward? One of the collective exercises I intend to utilize during the opening chapter of my design workshop is the Empathy Map (65-66 of “Game Storming”). My hope this that this will allow participants from both Lebanon and Oregon to identify the challenges facing themselves and their peers and to do so in a way that also gives them room to express the strengths that are helping them to navigate the challenges of their respective contexts. From there I intend to move to the Affinity Map (p. 56-58 of “Game Storming”) to invite participants to begin identifying resources and other assets in their experience that could help activate my NPO. I think these two opening exercises will make evident the dissonance and offer us the opportunity to talk together about how best to navigate those tensions at this point in each context’s journey.
      2. What do you need to have in place for you to be empathetic without enmeshment? Thank you for this question. Being in the facilitator role where I need to remain attentive to inviting participants to share their insights will help provide a tangible boundary for me to remain empathic without enmeshment. Remaining mindful of the complexities facing my stakeholders, as well as seeking a posture of humility in the face of those complexities will also help me to remain empathic without moving into enmeshment.

      • mm Nicole Richardson says:

        I am grinning ear to ear because of your response. The title of your blog this week is so apropos.
        I think that from the Adapter I see you as a “giver”…describe as one of the hardest workers. However, it seems that you are a receiver as well.

        I am so impressed by your thoughtfulness to answer these questions! That thoughtfulness is clearly a part of your process in organizing your workshop. Being able to apply your awareness of the challenges to shape the conversations is brilliant. I believe you will indeed remain attentive to inviting others into the dialogue.

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