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

Not A Fan of Itty Bitty Living Space

Written by: on October 14, 2021

“Phenomenal cosmic power.  Itty bitty living Space.” These were Genie’s words to Aladdin as he described the give and take of being a Genie in a bottle.  I thought of this line when reading our book this week.  Simon Walker’s book  “The Undefended Leader” promises to take the potential leader to the top of a mountain to reveal what it takes to lead as undefended leaders of the ilk of Ghandi, Winston Churchill, and Jesus.  Walker’s premise is that leadership is lived out of “who you are, not what you know or what skills you have” (pg 5 ) rather than having it grow out of situations or behaviors.  Friedman would agree that data and skills don’t make the leader. He would counter how one leads through situations in their very behaviors define the leader; Friedman says that the leader who is self-differentiated models how leadership is lived within healthy systems. I think this distinction is important because it means leaders are not merely born; they develop out of intentional work on self-awareness and embodiment in praxis. Friedman and Walker’s similar concept of healthy leadership includes self-awareness. Walker is more focused on the awareness of FOO (Family of Origin) development, while Friedman is focused on awareness of one’s emotions and how to regulate one’s response within the chronically anxious organization.  Friedman and Walker agree that systems functioning out of a low threshold of pain are not capable of doing the undefended work.


Walker uses the phrase “Undefended Leader” as the lynch pin for a thriving leadership identity.  It wasn’t until I was halfway through the book that I understood what he meant by that distinction; Undefended means undefensive; being able to lead without rationalizing, being compelled to defend choices, or feeling a need to coerce or manipulate others to get one’s way.

Walker outlays a trinity of “bad strategies” leaders use poorly – when they are lacking self-awareness or efficiently – when they are tuned in to their selves.  These strategies are the workings of the Front of stage and Back of Stage self, Power, and Control.  The big takeaway from this section is a leader must engage this trinity of strategies for good not evil.


I appreciated Walker’s unpacking of the psychology of the 4 types of Leadership Egos as it relates to dynamics of trust.  If found myself enthralled because it helped me put some understanding around my daughter’s anxiety and behavior. She has endured great worry that has impacted her decision making process as well as personal relationships.  I’ve spent many a sleepless night fretting over why she frames her world the way she does.  Walker’s unpacking of the Definer and Adapting Egos provided some important A’Ha’s.  And still, I really struggled to embrace The Undefended Leader as a foundational resource for deepening leadership identity.  Some of this struggle for me is due to the poignant echoes of A Failure of Nerve.  My husband commented that I am now a Friedmanite. Although Walker makes his Christian background explicitly known and works to create theological space for his argument, I felt there was a disconnect between his statement of Jesus’ intentional act of laying down power and ultimately his life in self-sacrifice, while making the argument throughout the book seems to fly in the face of these undefended leader actions.  For Walker, it seems an undefended leader takes up his power, whether it is  personality, resource, experience, expert, positional, or given and uses it (as long as it is for good).  Reading through these sections I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, but this isn’t connected deeply to how Jesus lived as a leader.”

Another pushback for me is that Walker seems to support the use of coercion through guilt, shame, manipulation of social forces including belonging and acceptance by a leader to bring about behavioral change in a system…which is very Augustinian.  Augustine believed that the way to curtail humans inclination toward sinful behavior was through fear/guilt/shame.  However Friedman might say that a leader using these tactics indicate the leader is not self-differentiated and is reacting to the anxiety of the system.  And if we take Walker’s statement that an organization is a reflection of the leader how different is the organization of the “child leader” (pg127-128) than the organization lead by the undefended leader in Jesus?  In all transparency, I finished Walker’s book very discouraged in my leadership.  Based on Walker’s presumption, I would have to describe my leadership as one without influence, energy, direction, and imagination because the congregation I serve lacks passion for engagement in deeper community.  But I struggle owning the church personality as a reflection of my leadership.  Shawn Holtzclaw, speaker at our Advance, talked about being aware of our own DNA and differentiate that from the DNA of the organization we serve.  Holtzclaw has a “balcony” view while Walker has an “orchestra” view. So the GIF I used illuminates my reactivity to this book; I came out swinging because I felt a need to defend my identity; I just keep swinging even when no one is there.  Walker would consider me the epitome of a defended leader.

This book also made me wonder, what about the prophets of the Old Testament? How does their leadership fit into the constructs of the book? The shape of my call to ministry is prophetic in nature.  It’s what gets me into trouble.  My leadership has been lived out of that identity.  It’s why “A Failure of Nerve” resonates with me, for Friedman seems to understand the risks involved in leading from that place amid anxious people. While Walker hints at the symptoms of a hostile environment he seems to have an oversimplified notion of the dynamics between leader and organization that neglect the prophetic leadership in which he frames his book.  Walker paints leadership as one with phenomenal cosmic power with itty bitty living space.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

7 responses to “Not A Fan of Itty Bitty Living Space”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole – I appreciate your contrast between Walker and Friedman. While I didn’t have the same initial reactions as you to Walker, I can see your perspective on some of the views and statements he made. I do wonder if some of the ongoing tensions or questions you have with Walker are addressed in the other two books of this trilogy. From a quick glance, it appears he focuses in the next book how a leaders’ weakness is what often becomes more powerful than a use of strength. I also wonder if you connected more with Friedman as he was a rabbi and family therapist rather than Walker who is ordained, but primarily is an academic and trainer in Oxford. Thanks for a thoughtful response!

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli it certainly could be that the other books might lighten my angst over his first book.

      What is funny to me is that I thought that because Walker is a Christian pastor we would have more of an affinity. But I found Friedman to be more spiritually grounded in his premise/arguments. And even when I struggled agreeing with Friedman I still felt invited in to wrestle with him until I got the blessing…so to speak…lol
      Thank you for your wonderings!!

  2. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Thank you Nicole! I enjoyed reading about your different insights into Friedman, Walker, and the connection to Augustine.

    I minister to lot of youths and young adults in my ministry context and I also find “lacks passion for engagement in deeper community” too. I am curious, what are some anxieties your congregation deal with and how do you respond and navigate with them?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Jonathan, thank you for your question. The big, but unspoken anxiety for the congregation is a sense of never being good enough for a pastor to stay with them. That feeling of rejection influences how they embody relationships with leaders. They have a lack of trust of upper judicatory leaders because they feel that they have been ignored by them. They also have the “golden era” syndrome….they remember with the church was filled and they had plenty of volunteers. This too feeds their “not good enough” identity.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for your honesty in sharing your personal disappointment after reading the book. I, too, felt a sense of discouragement after reading the adaptive ego type, which sounded a lot like me. It amazes me more and more as I learn about myself that God would choose to use someone like me for His purposes. Also, you pointed out, “leaders are not merely born; they develop out of intentional work on self-awareness and embodiment in praxis.” How would you understand those who possess a natural leadership gifting versus those who learned leadership behaviors?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Roy thank you so much for sharing your similar response…and your struggle with sense of worthiness. Oh my goodness how many times have I played that same kind of recording in my own head! lol.

      You ask an interesting question…I think those who have personality power definitely have a natural leadership leg up. I envy that…even though I know I shouldn’t. However I also know that personality power can be used to curate a cultish like following so there s a danger. Those who have just a natural instinct to garner favor, to know how to strategize a way forward with ease, who understand what makes people tick and then empower those people are natural leaders. Experience/expert power is where learned leadership can happen. However, I also realize that just because someone has experience doesn’t mean they have learned to be an excellent leader….even if one thinks they are 🙂

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Dear Nicole, thank you for this very thoughtful engagement with Walker, Friedman, and Augustine. I am really appreciative of how you are weaving the textures of our readings–noting where the threads are similar and running in the same direction, and where they are in tension. I also appreciate your self-reflection and wrestling with your own leadership in light of what we are reading. I resonate with the questions you are asking about a prophetically shaped call and how our readings engage that type of call. I often feel the reality of hostile space when I raise questions that come from that aspect of my calling. I’m wondering if Walker’s comments towards the end of his book create space for prophets…one of the leadership gifts? He says: “Our task, as human beings, as human leaders, is far more humble and close to home. It is to grow up. It is to learn, through the experiences we are given, who we are—what it means to be courageous, what it is to serve, what it is to be loved and to love, what it is to be real, what it is to be fully human. True leadership is leadership of ourselves and others into this kind of life: embracing our full humanity, discovering what it is to be fully human, to participate fully in the world (p. 196).” A lot of my prophetic preaching and leading connects with the journey of growing in courage, seeking to love holistically and inviting others to do the same, seeking to be real and inviting others to be the same, seeking to call us all into a more fully human way of living, as understood through the example and teachings of Jesus, so we can more fully participate in what God is up to in our world. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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