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

Good Wine or Vinegar – What Kind of Leader Are You Becoming?

Written by: on October 24, 2014

Throughout my years of study and ministry I have read many books and articles on the topic of leadership. After a while one notices a common theme running through the pages of these leadership books. Interestingly enough, Manfred Kets de Vries is quick to let his readers know that in The Leadership Mystique some of the ideas that he presents are not new and have been around for a long time.itisexam
Yet he also cautions the readers not to be so quick in ignoring those ideas and exchanging them for a set of trendy new ones. For the author it is not about the “long time ideas” being better or worse than the “new trendy ideas” but about how these ideas are played out in the lives of leaders and followers. The author encourages us to look at his observations in light of our own experience and to evaluate that experience critically.[1] He challenges us with the following questions: “What are you doing about the leadership factor?” “How do you execute your own leadership style?” “What have you done today to be more effective as a leader?” “Do you walk the talk?” “Are you making an effort to be as effective as you can be?”

In the fourteen chapters of his book, Manfred Kets de Vries covers topics such as achieving personal and organizational change, emotional intelligence in the workplace, dysfunctional leadership factors, mussel syndrome (resistance to change), leadership in global context and leadership development. As important as all these topics are, the one that caught my attention was the dynamics of succession.

Wine and Vinegar“Some people turn into good wine as they age; others, becoming increasingly sour with each passing year, turn into vinegar…some people immature with age.”[2] In this chapter Kets de Vries talks about the process of aging.

“When we are under 35 we feel immortal; our perception of life is “time-since-birth.” This perception starts to change after 35 to “time-left-to-live.” We begin to feel that time is running out, and we experience a growing awareness of the inevitability of death. Because of this shift in perspective, we begin to feel an urgency about coming to terms with unresolved dreams and unfulfilled aspirations before it’s too late.”[3]


Being slightly over 35 years of age I agree with the author that my perception has changed to “how much time do I have left?” Yet, my urgency is not about unresolved dreams and unfulfilled aspirations but about “What have I done today to be more effective as a leader?” “Do I walk the talk?” and “Am I making an effort to be as effective as I can be in developing future leaders?”  It is very easy to become so focused on one’s legacy than on creating space for others and engaging in leadership development. Yes, it is important to look back and reflect on what you, as a leader, have accomplished. But as the author writes, leaders shouldn’t look in the mirror (or I would phrase it, leaders shouldn’t stay stuck looking in the mirror) they should look out the window!  Looking out the window gives the leader an opportunity to identify people with leadership competencies and then develop them to the required level for succession.

Yet when we get stuck in looking in the mirror we can run the risk of falling into what Kets de Vries calls inaccessibility and game playing. “Inaccessible leaders are full of self-importance that they have no time for others. It would not occur to them to lead by example or walk around their place of work and community to listen to the people.” Instead they are lofty and unapproachable and can only be reached through their secretaries and assistants and closed-door policies.”[4]  Game player leaders are those who are only capable of talking and thinking about themselves. They refuse to let others shine, using and abusing others rather than helping them to grow and develop. They try to hog the limelight, whether it’s aimed below or above them. They are unwilling to plan for leadership succession, envying anybody who might take their place.[5]

As a leader I have the responsibility to walk the talk and empower and enable others to their full leadership capacity. “Good wine” leaders speak to the collective imagination of their people, co-opting them to join in the journey. “Good wine” leaders are able to motivate people to full commitment and have them make that extra effort.[6] “Good wine” leaders are able to adapt their own behavior to lead in a creative and motivating way.

Good wine or vinegar? What kind of leader are you becoming?


[1] Manfred Kets de Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. (Great Britain: Prentice Hall, 2006), xxi.

[2] Ibid., 214.

[3] Ibid., 215.

[4] Ibid., 71.

[5] Ibid., 72.

[6] Ibid., 2.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

6 responses to “Good Wine or Vinegar – What Kind of Leader Are You Becoming?”

  1. rhbaker275 says:

    Hi, Miriam
    Thanks for making me take a second look at this chapter. I expect that, as I perused through the book not having time to read each chapter in detail, the title “Succession” did not seem as significant. I believe I alluded to this before, when I was doing my undergraduate studies there was great turmoil with the announcement that “God is dead.” I remember well an interview that was published with theologian and professor, Harvey Cox. Of course there was some perspectival rational for his theological position but, as I recall it, the one statement that was most illogical was Cox’s comment to the affect that he had turned forty and had not done anything significant with his life. As a young student that was incomprehensible and made no sense. That is, until my fortieth arrived. That was a significant day and I think I had some of Cox’s reaction; it was definitely a retrospective moment.

    Now, almost thirty years after my fortieth, once again I wonder what it was all about. Perhaps for me it was ultimately less significant because I simply did not have that many voices listening to me. As you note, Kets de Vries’ perspective is to look out the window not into the mirror. Actually, I think it is also good to look in the mirror; how else will we comprehend what is “out there” through the window except by knowing one’s self. From my perspective, clinical paradigm, more important than standing and looking out the window is to search for an open door and go through it.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Ron and Miriam,

      I love Ket de Vries’ quote that you called out “perspective is to look out the window, not into the mirror”. I think that describes one of the main problems that I see with church leaders today, at least in America. They are so busy looking in the mirror. Their mirror is their church and their ability to lead that church. If they would spend more time focused on what is going on outside the window, we would see so real ministry happening. Although Ket De Vries’ book is about leadership, it does a good job pointing us away from focusing inward.

  2. Julie Dodge says:

    Thoughtful and insightful writing this week, Miriam. How very curious that succession stood out to you. Or perhaps not, given that you just turned over your pastoral position to another, and you have already recognized that what you really want to do is invest in leaders. So it makes sense. But your post is more than that. You also speak from that place of knowledge that comes from being slightly over 35. You know who you are. You know your call. You know your God. And you have the courage to look inward, and out; to value wisdom and not just trends. Thank you for your post. And wisdom.

  3. Miriam…
    I don’t know about vinegar, just a little more about wine … but what about …? Wait wrong thread! (Just kidding!) You write from within a liminal place, something we do not necessarily think about. You are moving from one place to another, yet your focus remains on investing in others. It is a strange thing (and it humbles me) to recognize that the days ahead of me/us are less than the days behind. What stood out to me is the encouragement to be invested in our leadership every day. This is not a once a week or just update the ‘ole Leadership Plan once a semester (you can insert a smile right here!). There remains an need for intentionality and commitment, along with an openness to change. Thanks for your good (and challenging) reminder!

  4. Miriam,

    I like your post. It gave me a lot to think about. It is nice to be reminded that I am not the only one who has experienced lousy leaders. I have seen so many though, that I often wonder if there are any good leaders out there. I loved this quote, “…some people immature with age.” I so agree. Age does not guarantee maturity. Yes, I have seen immature older people and mature younger people. So how do account for these differences? I am sure part of it has to do with upbringing. Another has to do with temperament and with our individual “wiring.” Another has to do with training, modeling, and education. And another has to do with basic personal experience. But there must be something else that accounts for the differences between mature, good leaders and immature, bad leaders. I wish I could say that the missing link would be having a relationship with Jesus, but that’s not necessarily true since I have met many poor Christian leaders, especially “senior” pastors. Perhaps we should have a new category of pastors; how about “Mature Pastor”? That would be nice.

    Perhaps we will never know the missing link between good and bad leaders. But this I know, I think there have been many well-intentioned new leaders who slowly changed into dysfunctional people. Perhaps it was the power of leading that went to their heads or maybe it was pressure of leading that gutted their hearts. I don’t know; I wish I did. Perhaps then I would write a book on leadership that would have all the answers, but I doubt that such a book will ever be written.

    At least where I am in my understanding right now, I would say that two things are probably true of good leaders. First of all, as De Vries says, self-awareness is pivotal. Without honest self-awareness, a leader falls prey to all kinds of lies and false assumptions. The second part, I think, is having a genuine accountability network. A good leader must have wise and candor-loving advisors/mentors/coaches/friends. Without this, a leader will not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy decisions and behaviors. I know there are many more ideas for what makes a good, mature leader, but those are the two that I think are most important.

  5. Deve Persad says:

    Miriam, thank you for your post, as you address an area of the book that I didn’t take the time to read. Your comments and reflection, given your transition phase, are very sobering to read. In particular you said: “Game player leaders are those who are only capable of talking and thinking about themselves. They refuse to let others shine, using and abusing others rather than helping them to grow and develop.” Those statements certainly capture almost everything that is wrong with our faulty perceptions of a “leader” and speak all the more to the points you raise about looking for the potential and celebrating the rise and progress of leadership being developed in others.

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