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

Success Redefined

Written by: on April 8, 2021

Stories of success of leaders who overcome adversity and succeed against great odds are inspiring. Whether it is the story of Abraham Lincoln overcoming political failure, after failure, to become our 16th president. Michael Jordon overcoming childhood awkwardness to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. According to Wikipedia “success is the state or condition of meeting a defined  range of expectations. It may be viewed as the opposite of failure. The criteria for success depend on context and may be relative to a particular observer or belief system.”[1] Simon Walker in his book The Undefended Leader explains that if a leader defines their life in terms purely oriented around success then their life may not equate to solid leadership. Walker alerts his readers that leadership needs to be redefined beyond the concept of success by using the example of Mother Teresa and that fact she did not seek to change world trade policies or transform Calcutta politics. He suggests that leadership should focus on “helping people to move toward fully mature, responsible personhood.”[2] Much of life is oriented around rejecting or avoiding responsibly. We conceal and deceive ourselves. We blame others for our problems. We expect others to live by standards we ourselves refuse to live by. Enabling those we leader to take responsibility according to Walker is not just one of the tasks we are called to do as leaders, it is the primary task. All other tasks are of minor importance.[3]

The ultimate goal is to lead ourselves and others into a place of taking responsibility for ourselves and bringing forth positive change in us as individuals. At the end of the day, the only thing we can truly change is ourselves. Walker states “It’s not in our power to create success. It’s not in our power to make other people do things. It’s not in our power to dictate the course of world events (though we may believe it is). We cannot predict, let alone dictate, whether the stock market will go up or down, whether our team will win the league or not. But what we can take responsibility for is ourselves, and those we are responsible for leading.”[4] We are reminded it is God’s job to raise up and bring down rulers. God has the power of life and death it is not ours to hold. But we are accountable and responsible for our sphere of influence. Our ultimate task according to Walker is to grow up, to lead ourselves and others into what it means 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.”[5]

Leadership is a spiritual activity. It can happen at every level of life. What would it be like if all leaders engaged in a holistic leadership plan? One that focuses on every area of our lives not just our lives at work. If leadership is truly a spiritual activity and needs to happen in all levels of life shouldn’t it change and balance our lives? How should it dictate our current priorities? Walker wisely points out we are often focused on the “Chronos”, the time dictated by minutes and seconds. We don’t often focus on “Kairos”, a significant specific event or moment in time. Much of our consumer world is bases on efficiency and productivity driven by the dictation of minutes and hours. 1 Chronicle 12:32 tells us of the sons of Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do. For such a time as this (Kairos), in this moment as leaders “we are called to have moral courage, to pursue an undefended life, to resist the forces in and around us that lead people into defended places. That moral choice begins in simple ways with our lifestyle and ends, simply in our own enjoyment of undefended freedom. The happy coincidence is that as we ourselves enjoy this undefended life, so others, too, begin to be led into freedom.”[6] If all leaders saw themselves as dispensers of undefended freedom life would be less focused on the demands to being productive and more on lasting personal change. Personal change and freedom come with a price. We must have courage, daily resist the things that cause us to be defended and make daily moral choices that promote undefended freedom. The result according to Walker is that as we gain freedom, we too can lead others into the same freedom. With this in mind maybe Martin Luther King’s words “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” can have a broader meaning as we lead ourselves and others into a place of undefended freedom.


                  [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Success_(concept)

                  [2] Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader: Leading out of Who You Are, Leading with Nothing to Lose, Leading with Everything to Give, (Carlisle, UK, Piquant Editions Ltd. 2010), 150.

                  [3] Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader, 150.

                  [4] Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader, 150.

                  [5] Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader, 151.

                  [6] Simon P. Walker, The Undefended Leader, 156.


About the Author

Greg Reich

Entrepreneur, Visiting Adjunct Professor, Arm Chair Theologian, Leadership/Life Coach, husband, father and grandfather. Jesus follower, part time preacher! Handy man, wood carver, carpenter and master of none. Outdoor enthusiast, fly fisherman, hunter and all around gun nut.

13 responses to “Success Redefined”

  1. John McLarty says:

    I agree with you here, Greg, but how often does it seem like what people want most in a leader is someone who will act on their behalf or make the decisions that impact their lives? Leaders who call people to a higher level of maturity and responsibility don’t seem nearly as popular and effective as those who simply stand on the stage and tell people what they want to hear. Call me cynical, but I’m not sure that people are really all that interested in doing the more challenging work of embracing our full humanity, discovering what it is to be fully human, and participating fully in the world. Lots of people seem very content to consume what they can and live their lives. I’ve always been drawn to Jesus’ invitation to what he called “abundant life” and often disappointed at what people seem happy to settle for. Any thoughts about how to better inspire people to the idea that there could be so much more to life?

    • Greg Reich says:

      I think the the issue stems back to the escapist mindset that snuck into the church years ago. When I was growing up all I heard form the church was the end is near, Jesus is coming and the world is going to hell. I think part of the problem is that most people do not have an eschatology the gives a reason to believe that what we do today may very well prepare us for eternity. We think about love after death but not life after life after death. If we are going to rule and reign with Jesus then maybe what we do today has an eternal purpose. If work was part of God’s plan from the beginning of creation maybe we won’t just be sitting around in white robes for eternity. Maybe we will have a more defined purpose.

      People like warm and fuzzy sermons that make them feel good about themselves. Most preachers in my view are glorified topical motivational speakers. Expository preaching is a dying art but a much needed practice. I am always surprised at how many preachers I hear apologize for what the bible says about sin and life. It may not be popular to teach the whole word of God but when did popularity become a criteria for leadership. At the end of the day we walk this earth for an audience of one.

  2. Jer Swigart says:

    I can’t change the world…I can only change me.

    It’s the phrase that I was thinking as I read your post. And as I interrogated it, I grapsed what I don’t like about it. I still centers me and my ability to change anything.

    The magic of transformation, in my view, is that it is a sacred participation. I don’t change me. The Spirit who is fully committed to my becoming more fully human and fully alive does the work and invites me to participate.

    Perhaps it could be put this way: I can’t participate in changing the world until I participate in changing myself.

    Thanks for spurring these musings, Greg.

    • Greg Reich says:

      I think we all dream about being world changers. Once we truly understand the limited things we really have control we begin realize that true change takes time. Your work can not be mass produced or formatted for an assembly line. The vital work you do is done by reaching and changing one heart and mind at a time. We would all love to see the tsunami affect in our work but in reality it is more of a ripple affect. Keep dropping stones in the water! In turn someone your ripple affected will drop a stone creating a ripple. Enough ripples can change the world.

  3. Darcy Hansen says:

    As I read your post, I’m struck by the fact Walker highlights leaders who are deemed successful in the world’s eyes. He analyzes all men, in positions of power- be that a leader of a nation, a church, or a religion. Not once do I recall him highlighting a woman in his text, though he is thoughtful to add “she/her” in the writing from time to time. I wonder what the impact of his writing would have been if he had chosen obscure leaders of more diverse backgrounds and genders? Would anyone pay attention to his “undefended leader” premise? How do his leadership examples support or negate his attempt to redefine success?

    • Greg Reich says:

      Though he does use the term she a lot when talking about leadership he fails to really say who she is. it may be that men tend to be more defended than women or that their are plainly more mail leaders that need to become undefended. I would agree that it would be nice to have more female leadership examples. I am not sure the examples detract from the practical principles he is teaching. They appear to be solid. I agree since he states that leadership takes place in every venue of life that it would strengthen his thesis if he explored a more diverse format.

  4. Shawn Cramer says:

    In all your extensive leadership reading, have you spent much time with Stephen Covey? I’m reminded of his circles of concern and control. Those continue to be helpful metaphors for me in an organization where my concern far overextends my circle of control.

    • Greg Reich says:

      Yes well versed in Stephen Covey’s habits of effective leaders. I think all leader struggle the loss of emotional energy in areas that they have not control over. I think thats part of being a compassionate leader.

  5. Dylan Branson says:

    Greg, as you’ve grappled with this concept of success in leadership, how have you seen your own understanding change throughout your various leadership roles? How have the companies / churches / organizations you’ve been part of shaped and changed the way you see success in leadership?

  6. Greg Reich says:

    Like many I started out with a definition of success that was oriented around the idea that the person with the most toys wins. Now my definition of success is oriented around being best I best leader I can be. I look more at whether I am using the gifting God has given me to the best of my ability and for his greatest glory. Success not longer depends on a title, an income or how I compare to others.

  7. Chris Pollock says:

    Certainly, it’s one thing to talk about freedom and another to live in freedom.

    Is freedom, freedom? Could one person’s liberty look different to another?

    What do you think about the story of the undefended leader being about one who is on a journey, not yet arrived. There’s humility in this and the inclination toward learning, being a student, even a follower. This attitude can be so disarming. It’s a vulnerable posture that invites others into a journey of discovery, exploration, adventure…arrival could be more of an ‘aid station’ or land mark.

    Today, I was told that I am Sikh based on the truth that I am interested and curious, without strings attached, to the Sikh faith. I find this invitation and welcome so intriguing. Undefended freedom, could this be leading us toward a great big oneness?

  8. Greg Reich says:

    Chris none of us has arrived and we are all in a constant state of growth and change. I think if we see everyone as a work in progress and not as having arrived we can experience a greater level of unity and freedom. It also helps if one see’s their calling as a calling to create a space of acceptance and safety. We can’t change any body but God can, yet we can create a space for God to work.

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