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

L’eggo My Ego: Integrating Our Leadership Shadow

Written by: on October 13, 2021

Simon Walker defines a leader as one who takes responsibility for other people. This is curious and counter to Friedman’s definition of leadership which emphasizes self differentiation. Leadership, for Simon, is about who you are, and rather than placing responsibility on the system, Walker believes such weight rests on individuals leaders and their relationships with followers. External battles are first won inside the life of a leader where the seat of power resides. When a leader is undefended she can empower others to accomplish desired goals and outcomes. Walker’s book is structured around three parts, 1) how leaders defend themselves, 2) the social-pyschological “roots” that cause such defensiveness, and 3) secrets of leading undefended.

In part one, Walker cites idealization, idealism and unmet emotional needs as the three primary seeds to defensive leadership. Idealization is what Jungian psychologists might call a golden projection; this happens when a leader represses and disowns a part of themselves in their personal shadow, and projects it onto someone they deem more capable. When leaders are unconscious of their golden projection they seek its idealic glimmer, always unsatisfied with their reality and anxiously looking for the imago dei in others. When a leader can hold in tension the world they want (idealism) and the world they have (reality) a third option will appear. This third thing, birthed out of the tension of the opposites is due to what Jung called the Transcendent Function. When idealism dies, it is met, not by the cold reality it feared, but a reality that transcends both. When leaders address neither their golden projections (idealization) nor the tension of opposites (idealism), leaders’ live with deeply unmet emotional needs, which pillage their relationship in search for the kingdom of God within.

Walker expounds on three strategies for defended leaders: Stage-splitting, usage of power, and control. He frames these strategies around Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgy from the classic sociology work “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”. Essentially, life is stage upon which we enact our lives. We have a front (public) stage and a back (private) stage. Defended leaders section these off and live differently depending which stage they primarily inhabit. Jungians call the backstage the shadowed-self and good leadership does not empty the shadow, but grows in awareness of its contents and power. Walker concludes: “This is my proposition: all of us create worlds in our own image, but the difference for leaders is that they have the positional authority to do so […] therefore, there is a moral responsibility and an ethical imperative to know ourselves.” (47)

Simon Walker lays out four leader ego types: the shaping leader, defining leader, adapting leader, defending leader. As a psychologist he uses this Fruedian-Jungian term ego (Latin for “I”) to refer to the known, established, and functional aspects of a person. Our ego is essentially all we are conscious of ourselves to be. These four types are not four separate buckets which all leaders fall into, but similar to four cardinal directions upon which all leaders orient their leadership style. Walker’s polarities are only meant to orient readers to understand leader ego types and identify patterns. Ultimately, all leaders are a mix of the different types, with perhaps one dominant style/type. These types are profoundly impacted by our childhood attachments – an assertion Friedman would see as secondary or irrelevant.

Part 3 offers secrets of the undefended leader. Walker’s key offering in this chapter are the four truths, actions, and attitudes for each leader ego type. If leaders can bring these into conscious action, their communities that follow them will be profoundly transformed. He writes, “Leadership is any activity that leads other people into full humanity: which enables them to take hold of, and take responsibility for, the life that they, as unique, particular persons within the created human race, have been given to live” (154). In short, leadership exists to help people become human. The etymology of human is from hummus meaning ground or earth. It is also connected to the word humility. Humble leadership requires leaders to embrace the humility (sometimes seeming humiliation) to become human, so their followers can as well.

I feel Walker’s work offers nuanced images and language for my work around initiation, specifically when dealing with leaders (though I think his concepts are archetypal and universal to the human experience). I’m curious about practices or avenues the author would offer for this doing this kind of inner work and self knowledge. I have my own practical process, but I would love to know others. I also highly disagree with how he defines leadership in terms of responsibility of other people. This definition does not seem to truly continue through the end of the book other than his assertion of the moral responsibility of leaders to know themselves. Ultimately, knowing thyself is an individual process, and though birthed in community, self differentiation requires leaders to allow others the freedom to follow or not.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

8 responses to “L’eggo My Ego: Integrating Our Leadership Shadow”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:


    I’ve an idea for a side hustle for you… writing book reviews! Seriously, well done.

    In light of this statement you quoted- In short, leadership exists to help people become human – do you agree with this or not? That is an interesting statement that I would have to give more thought to myself.

    • Eric! I didn’t post much this week with all I had going on, but I wanted to respond to you. I hadn’t specifically thought about initiation of leaders until now. It’s needed, but most of my work has been initiating individuals who’ve found themselves wounded or ostracized by power. I think Goffman’s image of backstage and front stage provided a simple metaphor for possible inner work for leaders.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Michael – I must agree with Eric. You have a gift to take different concepts and perspectives, boil them down into understandable pieces and provide thoughtful and substantive feedback. I especially appreciate your insight on his definition of leadership in relation to the responsibility of others. I think of all of the times in scripture where people were given the option to follow or not — and Jesus allowed them (and us too) to choose, even if it was not the choice he desired for our ultimate good.

    • Thanks Kayli! Yes, my next challenge will be to apply these leadership principles to parenting! When my daughter wants another snack, when she’s perfectly capable of getting it herself, I need to “let her walk away sad” so she can gain the ego structure that she’s perfectly capable of getting her own snacks 🙂

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, like Eric and Kayli, I admire your ability to distill large concepts into short, clear synopses. I also believe some bloggers should hire you just to write their titles as you have a gift for that too. You noted, “Leadership, for Simon, is about who you are, and rather than placing responsibility on the system.” I wonder what the other two books in Walker’s trilogy hold as content. It seems to me that Walker’s first focus is on the leader as a person. My assumption is that the system comes later for him. One day, I hope we can chat about initiation and rights of passage. You’ve spoken and written about both and I would like to hear your take on the value and the implementation of them.

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Michael, I appreciate your comment,” Ultimately, all leaders are a mix of the different types, with perhaps one dominant style/type. These types are profoundly impacted by our childhood attachments – an assertion Friedman would see as secondary or irrelevant.” I didn’t hear his voice saying that people are a mix of the 4 types and therefore it was difficult for me to locate myself in a single ego. I believe, too, that Friedman wouldn’t care about the nurture component of the egos.

    You say, “I feel Walker’s work offers nuanced images and language for my work around initiation”…I am curious what some of the nuanced images would be.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Michael, for this thoughtful analysis and integration with other writers/thinkers. I found it very helpful.

    I’d love to learn more about your own practical process for doing this kind of inner work and self knowledge. And, it would just be great to meet in person! Let’s get on each other’s calendar sometime in the next week or two.

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