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

“Kinder, gentler American leaders…”

Written by: on September 16, 2015

“Kinder, gentler” American leaders…  Is that what we need more of?  Do we need leaders who are just real thoughtful and ponderous, you know, consensus seekers leading from the middle?  I guess the answer to that is, if we’re happy with the overall direction of the leadership trends in America, YES!  But if we look around and find that maybe we’re not so satisfied with the politically-correct climate that seems to persist today then, well… maybe no.

Friedman’s observations that the “most dependent members of [our] organization (America) set the agendas and… adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength”1 articulated a nagging sense that I have been wrestling with for a long time.  If no one differentiates him/herself from the rest, the steady migration toward mediocrity as a society is inevitable.  Weakness defines us rather than greatness.  So how has this come to be the norm?  How is it that we tend to pull over-achievers down a few clicks closer to the under-achievers in the name of “fairness?”

I have often considered whether or not we, in the Christian community, have misappropriated meekness and humility in this regard.  Because we “ought not think more highly of ourselves that we should” and “there but for the grace of God go I…” we excuse-make for those who are living below their potential.  The progression of thought goes something like this: “Well… we can’t really blame that meth addicted loser who is turning over his 3rd son to the Department of Family and Children’s Services for his condition because after all… there but for the grace of God go I…”  We’re being empathetic right?  Isn’t that a characteristic of a leader to be pursued?  “However lofty the original concept of empathy (a word that only came into the English language in 1922), societal regression has distorted it to the point at which it has become a power tool in the hands of the weak to sabotage the strong.”2  Then our misguided empathy drives us to create policy that is wrapped around the needs of the weak while demonizing those that buck the system and do well for themselves!  It seems that this is the end result of group-think.  Individuals that distinguish themselves from the crowd are shouted down and accused rather than celebrated and learned from.  This is the social environment in which American leaders are expected to lead.

So, how can a leader be self-differentiated with being a jerk?  Can he/she be gracious, merciful, kind, a defender of the oppressed and downtrodden while still being willing to distinguish him/herself from the rest by making decisive, principled decisions even without the support of a consensus?  Can a leader REALLY be a leader or does he/she have to be an organizer?  I tend to agree with Friedman that if we are to survive this “nationalized neurosis of anxiety”3 we had better hope that more real leaders will emerge.  Let’s hope we don’t allow a failure of nerve to mark our leadership.



  1. Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: SEABURY BOOKS, 2007) Kindle. Loc. 296.
  2. Ibid. Loc. 520.
  3. Ibid. Loc. 1031.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

12 responses to ““Kinder, gentler American leaders…””

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, I smelled the sarcasm at first glance of the title:)! I love how your mind poses great questions. I wonder what research methods could produce answers with more quantitative answers to such questions. Qualitative opinions and understanding of issues almost seem to breed the “nerveless” leadership we create and get caught up in. I think our research methods class this semester is going to touch into a bit of that. Are you seeing any research tools that you will use on your topic?

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I find that I always naturally move towards research conversations that are akin to what Elliot Mishler advocates in the book Research Interviewing. it is a conversational approach that allows narrative to unfold naturally. However, for the kind of answers I am going to need this year I will need to put together some standardized surveys to reach across a wide cross section of respondents first then narrow the pool to engage in more substantive conversations I think.

      Working on those questions now. I had the opportunity to interview Bella Galperin who first used the term “constructive deviance” in her phd dissertation 15 years ago and she had some good ideas for some questions to use in a broad ecclesial context that will help unearth where CD is taking place… Excited about getting going on that!

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Great post and great questions, Jon. This book seems to really touch your study of edges and centers too. Looking forward to seeing you soon and getting to talk through more of this.

  3. Dawnel Volzke says:


    Hear, hear! Well-written post! The results of groupthink and mediocrity aren’t comforting… We see this in our school systems, where children are often chastised when they think differently or form their own opinions. We see this when we teach to the level of a group vs. pushing individuals to grow in their own areas of giftedness.


  4. Dave Young says:


    I’m couldn’t help but think of the hoard of republican candidates trying to show themselves as leaders, trying to differentiate themselves from one another – and ultimately shine as the leader the country wants to get behind. Frankly I can’t believe that a narcissistic, blowhard like Trump without any substance to his dialogue is actually leading this. Could it be that the country is so sick of our government and sick of kinder, gentler, leaders with plastic veneers that this self-differentiated moron will win? Sorry I guess I had to let off some steam.

    • Brian Yost says:

      I was also thinking about the slew of candidates trying to convince America to put them in the White House. As I listen to them, most offer what they think America, especially the Republican Party wants to hear (other than Trump, who seems more entertained with himself). I don’t want a dictator, but electing a president based on popularity and pandering generally eliminates those with the greatest potential to lead from a healthy emotional and moral center.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Brian and Dave. Yeah, it is a bit of a head-scratcher how Trump continues to show himself as more than just a flash in the pan. It may be that people have grown weary of the sameness that seems to pervade most all politicians of ANY party. It’s as if the DIFFERENCES between the most liberal of Democrats/Socialists and the most conservative of Republican/Libertarian are minuscule when measured against how different that all are for the rest of us, the REAL us. SO a kind of watering down of the political class has occurred where they all kind of get melted into a gooey stew of idiots and you can’t tell where one ends the other begins!

        A guy like Trump simply and CLEARLY is differentiated from the rest and maybe that’s why people continue to stand with him. Love him or hate him, you could never say he isn’t a differentiated leader!

        For what it’s worth, I think Carson stands alone as well. He is extremely thoughtful and guided by a core biblical world-view. In case you couldn’t tell… He’s my choice!

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    No failure of Nerve!!! Jon i feel like i am on track with some of the things i am pursuing even in this program. The thing about nerve to me is when you are alone and could quit at anytime you don’t. I mean you can begin to rationalize and it seems more comforting when you are alone and not getting much support for the change you aspire. But i realize that leadership requires us to be alone and bear our burden for change to leadership with “nerve.” And we cant fail in this or everything will be the same! See you in Hong Kong

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    “Weakness defines us, rather than greatness.” Great line…and then I read Mark 9:30-37 that catches the disciples trying to figure out which one of them is the greatest. Why does Jesus make this walk of faith so difficult sometimes? If it was only so easy – seeking one extreme or the other. But I keep coming back to a both/and. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a standard of sorts, but there are times when I’m called to turn the other cheek, and then other times I need to make a stand. The only option, it would seem, is to be moment-by-moment dependent on the Holy Spirit’s movement and guidance as I continue in God’s word.
    I love your provocative approach…..forcing me, once again, to have to ponder a bit more deeply. Thanks John.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Good, very challenging observations Mary. I think your response is causing me to rethink my choice of words… Maybe I would replace the word “weakness” with “cowardly entitled-ness” and the word “Greatness” with “strength.”


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