For years I dreamed of pursuing a doctorate. I considered social work, psychology, ministry, missiology, and even Southeast Asian studies. I secretly hoped to become a docent at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore. Needless to say, I am surprised by my choice and surprised by leadership.
In Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power, Simon Walker identifies eight strategies for leadership: Foundational, Commanding, Affiliative, Serving, Pacesetting, Visionary, Consensual, and Self-emptying. He suggests leaders become familiar with all eight strategies, understand the weakness and strengthen of each, and learn to use them appropriately. None of these strategies are sufficient alone. The leader is responsible to understand the strategy they use and its appropriateness for the given circumstances. Walker conceptualizes an ecology of power which identifies the use of front or backstage, strong or weak, and expanding or consolidating forces; encouraging leaders to use these strategies and forces in concert with one another.
As someone who leans toward backstage, weak, and consolidating forces it is imperative I broaden my understanding. All leadership strategies are necessary and useful. All can be used for good or evil. Ultimately, the exercise of power to influence change is social and emotional. Walker’s eight strategies present a social-emotional skill set which allows leaders to become effective hosts to others. While I learn and practice new leadership tools, I am most surprised by strategies which focus on the personal character and relationship-building qualities of the leader.
Surprised by Weakness
“Weakness is often more powerful than strength.”
Weakness is threatening, counterintuitive, and vulnerable. Weakness just might be the best tool to accomplish lasting change.  It requires skill to read a situation and give space for others to express thoughts and feelings safely. It takes courage for leaders to admit they don’t know what to do, to risk asking for fresh ideas or help. Creating space for dialogue opens leaders to criticism and judgment which often produces shame and defensiveness. For an undefended leader the appropriate use of weakness is a valuable tool. One that helps me focus less on myself and more on the people I am serving. Getting comfortable with weakness requires me to fully embrace the next leadership surprise, love.
Surprised by Love
“The undefended leader is the one whose needs are met through an unconditional attachment to an Other, in which she finds identity, belonging, and affection.”
Unconditional attachment means being loved, accepted, and fully known. It makes acknowledging weakness easier. In Mining for Gold, Tom Camacho underscored the same important point, “Our identity forms, grows, and expands as we mature in our understanding of the love God has for us.” Abiding in God’s love is foundational for leadership. If I can’t comprehend and experience God’s deep love for me, I am not free to lead with courage, make mistakes, or become undefended. Camacho continues, “Our hearts need continuous fresh revelation about how much we are loved.”  This leads me to the next leadership surprise, stillness. If I am to feel secure in God’s love for me, I must be still enough to receive it.
Surprised by Stillness
“You can only find stillness if your own needs have first been met.”
I wonder how many leaders embrace and value stillness, or consider it an agent for change? Simon Walker notes, “Before change comes stillness.” Becoming an undefended leader requires creating space in my day to be still, to listen to God, myself, and to the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of those I lead. Julian Treasure stated, “…it’s hard to be a great, powerful speaker if you don’t listen, or to be a great listener if you can’t articulate your own thoughts.” I believe this is also true of great and powerful leaders. Before we can listen we must be silent. Before we can lead we must be still. In this fast paced world stillness might be mistaken for laziness. As a leader it is a discipline I must practice daily. Being assured weakness is a viable leadership tool, knowing I am unconditionally loved by God, and the practice of stillness is not a waste of time moves me to an unexpected source of freedom, self-emptying.
Surprised by Self-Emptying
“Anyone who is attached to success and results, for example, may be unable to practice the reserved, weak strategies of leadership, Self-Emptying and Serving.”
Self-emptying is the foundation for all the eight leadership styles resulting in greater freedoms for the leader. Freedom from the need to be great, freedom to be fully available to others, and ultimately the freedom to lead with nothing to lose. Self-emptying makes space for incarnational leadership in any sphere of influence. Walker writes, “[Self-emptying]…it is power that allows others to flourish, not power to aggrandize us.” In other words, it’s not about me! Self-emptying makes genuine hospitality possible. The leader as host came as my final surprise.
Surprised by Hospitality
“…at its heart, leadership is most a matter of being a host.”
Hospitality is key to becoming an undefended leader and is the backbone of my NPO in which I seek to create platforms for safe connection among ministry leaders. I have adapted Walker’s tasks for hosting to reflect the nature of my project.
- Creating a safe place to be accepted, known, and loved.
- Facilitating encounters between people in which genuine listening, the expression of emotion, thought, and life experiences are safely shared.
- Giving the occasion meaning, structure and a sense of significance through creating time and space for frequent connection, rest, and retreat together.
These five surprises inspire my leadership journey.
- Simon Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power.(Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007), 6.
- Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose, 132.
- Ibid., 29-30.
- Ibid., 6.
- Ibid., 152.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 144.
- Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching. (London, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019), 111.
- Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold, 111.
- Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose, 145.
- Walker, 145.
- Julian Treasure, How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening. (Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing Group, 2017), 10.
- Walker, 144.
- Ibid. 147-148.
- Ibid., 147.
- Ibid., 152.