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

Selfless, Undefended Leadership

Written by: on October 14, 2021

In his book, “Leading out of Who You Are” Simon Walker attempts to reveal the “secrets” that lie behind great leadership. This is book one of his trilogy entitled, “The Undefended Leader.” Walker states, “Leadership is about who you are, not what you know or what skills you have” (p.5). It is a common notion found within the covers of all books about leadership. Walker’s book is not without merit however, and this book agrees with the conclusions that Friedman reaches. The two men arrive at this ending point from different starting positions, and get there by different means.

Walker borrows from Organizational Theory; that is, how people behave in different social structures. Walker also borrows heavily from Psychology’s development of the human ego. The contribution unique to Walker is the coupling of these two together and presenting new insights to help a leader mature and improve.

He distills leadership down to two characteristics: trust and power. He is adamant that the power has to be used for the good of others, which goes against our selfish human nature. This is why character is so important. “Leaders are formed not simply appointed.” (p. 9). He spends a lot of time on different aspects of the ego and there are a great many insights to be gleaned in this section. He describes how our own ego is inescapable and by default it drives us to try and work for our own needs. This is what he calls, Defended Leadership. It is leadership by an individual who is selfishly concerned about meeting their own needs. They try to keep their power for themselves by putting their best image forward. Walker asserts, “Our own unmet needs distort our vision” (p.124). It is a well-articulated warning.

The stage is the metaphor Walker uses to describe this dynamic. What the leader shows of himself to the community is at the front of the stage. The parts of the leader’s personality he keeps hidden from others, is the back of the stage. It is an apt metaphor and easily relatable.

But the superior, undefended leader, uses their power for the common good of his followers. They are guided by principles of selflessness. This type of leadership can be attained by anyone because it is not dependent upon our attainment of a stellar character, but because what Christ has accomplished for us. His subtly message is to let Christ meet your needs. To be this type of leader, one will need to be grounded in a spiritual source of Christ’s acceptance and love. This enables us to serve others selflessly.

Yet Walker does not spend a lot of time developing this Christian, spiritual component in his book. His Christian faith is a presupposition and not a conclusion to his leadership ideas. This book is therefore written with the Christian leader in mind. However, because Walker spends so little time discussing how his faith guides leadership principles, the non-believer will still benefit from his insights. It is important for a modern book on leadership to come from this Christian point of view. As Walker states, “Freedom comes when we are concerned only about the opinion of the one in the audience who truly matters” (p. 103).

A measured critique of this book is the inescapable feeling that Walker is a young, idealistic academic. He is full of lofty-sounding ideas and inspiring messages about what leadership can be and what great leaders are like. There is a hint of celebrity worship permeating his examples of Churchill, Mandela, and King. Walker measures these larger-than-life personalities by their popular status in modern culture. Walker’s elevated language declares, “This book invites us to embrace a kind of difference that is radically free and exhilarating. It offers us a horizon that is wide and blue.” Although this book offers much, it lacks a gritty realness of what it’s like to be a leader on the ground, in the trenches, fighting the daily battles.

About the Author


Troy Rappold

B.A. Communication - University of Colorado M.Div. Theology - Cincinnati Christian University Currently enrolled in D. Min. program at George Fox University

6 responses to “Selfless, Undefended Leadership”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Troy – I appreciate your critique of Walker and the areas that lack in his reasoning and perspective. I wonder if the disconnect you picked up on in terms of his realness of knowing what it is like to be a frontline leader is due to the fact that he is largely academic and in a trainer role. From looking at his bio, it looks like he was a vicar for one year and has spent the rest of his career between teaching at Oxford and then later transitioning to developing curriculum for schools. I think your identification of his disconnect with the hands-on is an important note on his work.

  2. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Troy, very interesting observation about the value of a deep personal experience as a leader for those called to instruct others in leadership or develop emerging leaders. In view of the great need for this in our time, I guess one way we can realize this is by regular prayerful reflection on key events in our leadership journey and on how God is transforming us as leaders.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Troy, your statement, “(undefended) leadership can be attained by anyone because it is not dependent upon our attainment of a stellar character” jumped out to me. One of my lasting impressions from Walker finds the singular focus on one’s family of origin as helpful but incomplete. If any leader will exercise leadership on behalf of others, character becomes an inseparable aspect of undefended leadership. Perhaps other characteristics of undefended leadership are covered in his other two books of the trilogy.

  4. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Troy, I agree with that I felt that Walker had some similarities to Friedman but I would have liked to hear more about what exactly those where for you. I also agree that there was a bit of an air of knowledge that Walker presents but I interested into how you came to your conclusion that he is a young leader. Like you I agree that I would like to have seen more practical application into the real world. I wonder if they might be address in one or both of the other volumes?

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Troy, well said. An excellent review of the book. I appreciated your concluding thoughts about his being young, academic, and perhaps a tad out of touch with reality. While I did not have that consideration when I was reading the book, I can certainly see that perspective and see it as a valid point of discussion. Way to challenge the system!!

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Troy, for your insightful summary of Walker’s book, and for your thoughtful criticisms. I especially found helpful your highlighting of this quote: “Our own unmet needs distort our vision” (p.124). You comment that this is a well-articulated warning. It left me curious as to how you have practically experienced the truth of this warning in your leadership journey?

    I have experienced the reality of this warning in my own journey…often as the wisdom of hindsight as I reflect on a leadership situation that hasn’t gone well, asking myself what I could have done differently and/or what I can learn from a particular blunder to take with me as I continue onwards. One in particular stays with me–it concerns the early life experience of not ever being chosen early on to be on someone’s team. It has left me with a keen awareness of people (individuals and groups) who are sidelined in any particular context. This isn’t a bad awareness to have, but what I’ve realized over time is that my passionate/prophetic commitment to making sure sidelined/marginalized people are included has left me blinded, especially in this particular situation, to the wounds and needs of the person I was seeking to mentor (who was in a committee leadership role). So, instead of opening a constructive conversation that could at least hold the potential of empowering her to further develop her leadership skills, my description of what I had observed so deeply offended her that I created a massive barrier to her being able to hear anything else on the subject. I realized I needed to have just as much concern for her and her story as I had for the people who were being excluded by her leadership decisions…that perhaps this would have opened the door for her to see the situation with a new set of eyes.

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