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

Leading From a Position of Freedom

Written by: on October 14, 2021

The book Leading Out of Who You Are, by Simon Walker is the first volume of his trilogy on this topic. He introduces his work by leading the reader through the faults and weaknesses of a leader who is being driven by the effects of their family of origin. These subconscious forces impact how a leader perceives and engages in the environment in which they are leading. Walker describes four main reaction groups and the characteristics of those types of individuals that are displayed privately and publicly. His position on these types of leaders it that are leading from a place of defensiveness and are in bondage to their need to protect themselves and to maintain connectedness to trusted individuals. The lack of authenticity and integration between, what Walker refers to as the front and back stages creates a tension that can never be resolved and often is the source of either personal or leadership failures. I found this section, the first two thirds of the book quite hopeless. I have observed this type of disconnect in a number of individuals in various forms of leadership. These individuals seem to struggle to find a healthy balance of relationship between themselves and those they lead. I have even heard more experienced leaders say that it is impossible to have a “friendship” or partnership with the ones you serve. Although, many of the pastors I am in relationship with embrace the servant leader role they remain isolated. They struggle with empowering and releasing individuals into new areas of ministry that are under their leadership. I have often struggled with this concept as an educator because I have found ways to be authentic and transparent with my students and still maintain order in very challenging classrooms. I have often taught my own teachers the importance of establishing a good rapport with their students that is clear, open, and honest, when in creating an order in the classroom. While I can see the much of the truth in the characteristics described in this book, I was conflicted. Particularly, that Walker did not see that there was no way to integrate, balance, or restore a healthy front and backstage relationship with oneself.
However, the last third of the book did in fact instill the hope and possibilities that come from a transformed life. Walker outlines the keys to an “undefended” leadership style are found in freedom. The freedom that occurs in oneself when one is fully secure in their self and there is no threat posed by the relationships in one’s life. I found that his description of the undefended leader’s freedom is defined by leading from a personal position of freedom. The inner qualities of that freedom being choice and clarity. I have found that to be so true. When I am in a place where the boundaries of the expectations are clearly defined, with the freedom to choose what and when I do to accomplish a particular task, I do so much better. I even employ these ideas when I created a pilot project classroom for severely behaviorally challenged high schoolers. The clarity of the expectations in the classroom to the mystery out of what would or would not happen and who was responsible for the consequences. The classroom no longer belonged to me, but rather it belonged to us. The emotional and academic atmosphere of growth was determined by all of our responses to those expectations. We all felt safe in what normally would have considered a potentially dangerous situation. My students learned how to own their behavior, to be aware of themselves, their behavior and how it assists them at moving toward their goals or not.
Going back to my conflict. I need to further explore the possibilities of integrating the empowerment aspects of Walker in my ministry world. Particularly, enabling people in their God given “vocation” and empowering individuals to playfully engage in their world with all the God has deposited within them. That each one of us would walk out the fullness of the abundant life that Christ gave us when He set us free.

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

6 responses to “Leading From a Position of Freedom”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Insightful essay Denise. I felt something similar with the first two-thirds of the book, when he discusses front and back stage. There is a balance between authentic friendship and leadership that can be struck. I had many teaches in my educational experience that successfully managed both dynamics. The ending of Walker’s book did bring his ideas together into a thoughtful conclusion however.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Denise – In reading your reflection of this weeks reading, I was stuck on this statement: “Although, many of the pastors I am in relationship with embrace the servant leader role they remain isolated. They struggle with empowering and releasing individuals into new areas of ministry that are under their leadership.” In your identification of areas you want to focus on in your own leadership at the end, I can’t help but wonder if you and me and others might struggle at times with empowerment when the other is reflecting the Lord or functioning in a way that is so different to us. I have found it easier to equip and empower others that fall in a similar vein of personality and capacity to myself which I guess is still holding control. Many things to continue to release to the Lord.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, as a pastor, I can attest to the struggle to find the right relational balance in ministry. Early in my ministry, my most transparent relationships were with people outside of my ministry context. As time has progressed, I have benefited by being less isolated with those in my ministry context. It’s hard for people at a distance to know you beyond what you tell them. You also mentioned the difficulty for pastors you know to empower people into new areas of leadership. I hope there will be a time that we read and discuss the issues of empowerment and mentoring for the leader.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great insights, Denise. Thanks for sharing, and for your vulnerability.

    Have you ever read Allan Hirsch (especially “The Forgotten Ways”). He writes on what he calls APEST (based off of Eph. 4:11), which I find to be fascinating. I wonder if that would provide more insight for your as you seek to find balance within the role of leadership the Lord has given you?

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise, I concur with your feeling of hopelessness in reading the first 2/3 of the book. I think for me it was a sense of false dichotomies he put forth. Thank you for continuing to share from your life experience and your honesty in reflecting on areas of your personal growth.

    I am curious to hear more about this, “Although, many of the pastors I am in relationship with embrace the servant leader role they remain isolated. They struggle with empowering and releasing individuals into new areas of ministry that are under their leadership.” What is the connection between the identity of servant leader and empowering others? It seems there is something underneath this dynamic.

    When considering freedom, what other aspects other than choice and clarity, would scripture lead you to to inform your embodiment of it in your context?

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Denise, for your thoughtful engagement with Walker’s book. I really appreciate the ways you connect his work with your journey, call, and experience. Your classroom description sounds delightful! I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall to experience the ‘us-ness’ of the learning environment.

    I’m curious if any of the ego shapes Walker describes gave you any specific helpful insights regarding the various leaders with whom you engage and how they and you might be differently navigating the leadership journey?

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