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

Leading Out Of Who You Are (Called To Be)

Written by: on March 15, 2024

I am often working with high-calibre and high-level leaders from the Canadian church landscape. Reflecting on thousands of conversations I have participated in as a friend, coach, director and consultant, I think the call to ‘lead out of who one is’ is both quest and struggle. I know firsthand the real battle of reactivity to pressures from external criticism and the real struggle to respond humbly to accolades. I know the internal struggles of cultivating a healthy inner life as a Christ-following leader. And this can lead to problematic responses.

Simon P. Walker, in his work, “the Undefended Leader”, argues that leaders must become more self-aware, by recognizing ‘defended’ behaviour which stems from our ego. Walker presents four aspects of the ego, which begin forming in infancy: the Shaping Ego of Over-confidence, the Defining Ego of Drivenness, the Adapting Ego of Anxiety, and the Defending Ego of Suspicion [1]. His thesis connects these to 3 major problems: front stage / back stage duplicity, use of power, and control, but maintains that leaders can learn to become ‘undefended leaders’, like “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Aung San Suu Kyi—and, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth” [2].

Walker’s goals for undefended leadership and his premise that leadership is more about “who you are, not what you know or what skills you have” [3] are not universal. They are in contrast to leadership models that include being and doing, or a balance of defended and undefended, such as the motif presented by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, which includes being both a warrior and a peacemaker [4]. Since the roots of leadership are in war, as Eve Poole expresses in her work [5], is it any surprise that the conditions of defensiveness are real issues for leaders?

My key take-away from Walker is his metaphor of the front stage and back stage [6]. Here, he connects visible behaviours with where they stem from. He connects who a leader is in both the public spotlight and out of the limelight, with the crowd and with their closest ones.

For me, this as the call to integrity or the pursuit of wholeness. And it helps me process what follows in his recommended undefended leader goals: Embrace struggle, develop and lay down skills, know the kairos moment, and clarify and own vocation [7]. It helps me to form an invisible reconnection of being with doing as I seek to incorporate these practices in my own leadership. But the doing comes from a sense of call to not allow my ego to foster defensiveness or bring harm, but to learn from crucibles, inner battles, and to live to fight another day.



[1] Walker, Simon P. Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Piquant Publishing, 2007, 80. He bases this on the 1991 work of two psychologists, Kim Bartholomew and Leonard M Horowitz, who “wrote a paper suggesting that there may be four different ‘shapes’ of ego that emerge out of different nurturing environments in infancy”, 80.

[2] Walker, 11.

[3] Walker, 17.

[4] Bolman, Lee G, and Terrence E Deal. How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand, 2014, 94. Chapter 7 fleshes out these concepts, in counterbalance with one another.

[5] Poole, Eve. Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. London ; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Business, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017, 8.

[6] Walker, 36-50. He frames this on the work of 1960s psychologist, Erving Goffman, who theorizes about human behaviour using the metaphor of a theatre.

[7] Walker, 206. See his diagram with the four undefended leader goals.

About the Author


Joel Zantingh

Joel Zantingh serves as the Canadian Coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance's Peace and Reconciliation Network, and as Director of Engagement with Lausanne Movement Canada. He has served in local and national roles within the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, and led their global mission arm. He has experience teaching in formal and informal settings with Bible college students and leaders from various cultures and generations. Joel and Christie are parents to adult children, as well as grandparents. They reside in Guelph, Ont., situated on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and home to many past, present and future First Nations peoples, including the Anishinnabe and Hodinöhsö:ni'.

11 responses to “Leading Out Of Who You Are (Called To Be)”

  1. Nancy Blackman says:

    Thank you for sharing more of how you are invited by God to be, as a leader. You mentioned knowing firsthand the “internal struggles of cultivating a healthy inner life as a Christ-following leader,” which is what Walker mentioned as being key to being an undefended leader.

    What would help you get over the hump of struggling to practicing nurturing your inner life more?

    • Thanks for the question, Nancy.

      I could have phrased that better. I don’t see it as a hump, but a spiritual practice, if that makes sense. I wrote this phrase in first person to reflect that cultivation of my inner life is an ongoing, continuous practice which I am called to pursue.

      I have some tools which I have found helpful, such as my ‘rule of life’ (a la Ken Shigamatsu and Pete Scazzero), and the Way of Jesus (wayofJesus.ca), which I use confessionally, and in discussion with mentors and close friends. I am ‘learning to be like Jesus in my attitudes, behaviours and character’ (Way of Jesus), but new elements get revealed along the way.

  2. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hi Joel,
    I agree with your thoughts on the key takeaway – the call to integrity/pursuit of holiness. That was one of my thoughts as I wrote my post. Integrity is the key.

    I’m curious to hear more if you have your own experiences in this area. What practices have helped you cultivate self-awareness and lead with authenticity?

    • Akwese says:

      Hi Joel, I too agreed with this call to integrity or the pursuit of wholeness and was curious to hear more. You may hit on this in your response to Chris but I specifically would love to hear how this book has supported how you’re revisiting this larger call and thinking about the practices that enable wholeness in your NPO…

      Since you’re work is focused on reconciliation would think wholeness ( both seeing yourself as whole and the Other as whole) would be an essential element of healing and conflict transformation.

    • Self-awareness has grown for me, like many of us, through God’s love and friends’ patience in the face of extraordinary arrogance, veneer, and concern with outward appearance.

      This is why I’ve had to write about the quest of it all…

      What I can say is that I am learning to apply God’s shalom to the work of ‘inner reconciliation’ – towards becoming ‘my true self, not my false self’ (Thomas Merton, David Benner). I’m learning to base this on God’s reconciling heart or love for me, and us all. I’m learning to let others in to those places of vulnerability, that include mind, body and soul.

      Authenticity is not a goal I’m trying to check a box on. Rather, I am learning to operate in and rest in the extraordinary reconciling heart of God, which helps me become more undefended with self and others.

      [Hope that picks up some pieces of Akwése’s question as well].

  3. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Thanks Joel. How do you navigate the complexities of ego-driven defensiveness and the call to authenticity in your own leadership journey within the context of these dynamics?

  4. Debbie Owen says:

    Joel, as you aim toward integrity and wholeness, which of the undefended leader goals are most challenging for you, and why?

    • Debbie, I love your coaching questions 🙂

      Developing and laying down skills is the trickiest goal for me as an undefended leader. In this current season of leadership, I still have a desire to look to my accumulated skills, but am convicted by the instructions God gave to the Levitical Priests in Numbers 8:23-26 when they reached 50, and move from doing the work to assisting younger priests. This is a fresh challenge for me, operating less in the area of practical skills, and more in the spiritual, social, and emotional realms. (Walker, 200)

      • mm Kari says:

        Hi Joel,
        I’d like to contrast Debbie’s question. As somebody with fast experience in life, what do you believe are some of the well-developed “undefended” leadership traits that you have?

  5. Hmmm. While I would agree with the traits that Walker proposed as undefended leader goals, and see them gaining in my life, I do not claim to have any of them well-developed.

    How about what resonates with me in this season? Understanding kairos time.

    This quote stands out:
    “Higher-level leadership involves helping people to understand the times in which they live. In part, this is a matter of appreciating the historical, social, political and spiritual context we find ourselves in. It is about helping people to learn how to see under the surface, to read between the lines, to discern the larger patterns and bigger forces at work. It is about helping people to notice things that would otherwise pass them by, to teach them to be good ‘seers’ whose eyes are always open. It is about helping people to discriminate between truth and lies and to pursue the truth with all their heart. It is about fostering the poet, the artist and the prophet in our followers: those who see beyond the veil that is drawn over our eyes”. (Walker, 205)

    These concepts and approaches to leadership are prevalent in my current chapter, like growing convictions. It was incredible to read them all in one place.

    Which undefended leader goals resonate the most for you in this season?

Leave a Reply