Leave Your Ego Behind to Lead Others Onward
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 not feel preached-to, and will benefit greatly 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. His words ring forth from an ivory tower and 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 as it were.
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