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

Undefended: Having Skin in the Game

Written by: on April 12, 2021

Simon Walker, in his section on the self-emptying strategy, explores power in weakness. For many people in history, Jesus – from a social perspective – was a victim of injustice by the false charges of envious leaders. Christianity would argue that Christ’s death was no accident, it was done willingly. Jesus would show his followers that death would be the very act that would release a power that would change both the social and spiritual order of the day. For Jesus it wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. Walker states “The power of Jesus’ death doesn’t lie in some macabre embrace of death itself, in some dark gothic fantasy; rather, it lies in what Jesus followers say his death made possible: life. Christians see the death of Jesus as an act that brought life.”[1]

The story of death and resurrection brings hope and strength to those in need. None of us can escape death; it represents our powerlessness and confirms our humanness. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus brings into the question the permanence and power of death. It breeds in us a level of hope that life after death may be more powerful than life before death.[2] Walker explains, “It appears that, under certain circumstances, this imbalance – the weakness of one against the immoral strength of the other — can bring about a radical shift in power.”[3] In a world steeped with those seeking power and position, one can wonder how willingly laying aside power can lead to an altering of events! “Here is one answer: self-sacrifice can draw out the evil of the enemy.”[4] Self-sacrifice brings people to a place of choice. It causes us to stand and take a second look, to think hard thoughts. It challenges us to take personal responsibility and own our choices. In other words it brings us to a place of decision. A decision that invites something to happen to us. It forces us to put skin in the game.

Having skin in the game is part of being a risk taker. What can be riskier than laying aside one’s right for power? Nassim Taleb, in his book Skin in The Game, sees Jesus as a risk taker. His suffering on the cross and self-sacrifice for the sake of others made him have the ultimate skin in the game. The idea that God became flesh to die for all humanity in the form of a man is what made it possible for all of us to have skin in the game.[5] “We will see that, traditionally, there is not religion without some skin in the game.”[6]

Being an undefended leader is a way of being anti-fragile. Laying aside power is risky; it gives a leader skin in the game. When leaders have skin in the game followers are willing to trust their leadership. Several years ago I was in a near death car accident. I had a head on collision that shattered my left hip and damaged my left side. I spent 17 days in the hospital, 21 days in rehab, 6 months on crutches and a year of physical therapy. Other than pictures, the only real proof that I had the accident is the 21-inch scar running down my left side. We often look down on Thomas for doubting that Jesus rose from the dead. We forget that many of the other disciples were also skeptical until after Jesus showed up. Thomas wanted to see the scars that proved it was Jesus. For Thomas the scars were the proof that Jesus had skin in the game. Emptying one’s self and becoming undefended is not only risky it can also be painful. But then again who said having skin in the game was going to be easy.


                  [1] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, (Carlisle, UK, Piquant Editions, 2010) 276.

                  [2] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 277.

                  [3] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 277.

                  [4] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 278.

                  [5] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin In The Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, (New York, Random House, 2020) 120.

                  [6] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin In The Game, 121.

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.

10 responses to “Undefended: Having Skin in the Game”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Scars have a way of serving as reminders that we’ve lived and experienced the world around us. In a series I just finished rereading, there’s a moment when one of the main characters – who effectively serves as the ruler of the galaxy – is involved in a political coup, is beaten by a mob, kidnapped, and in the process loses several of her friends. Later, when she has an encounter with one of those friend’s wife, the wife is furious at her, effectively saying she’s lost her way and forgotten all the lessons they learned together when they were young. To paraphrase, she says, “The power of being Sovereign has gone to your head and you forget what it’s like to be us.” It isn’t until the main character removes her jacket and shows the scars from the mob that her friend realizes what she had been through and she backs down.

    When leaders don’t have skin in the game, it’s hard to manage the expectations of their followers. Their followers want someone who knows and understands their struggles, but too often we lock ourselves away. This is a common complaint I hear in Hong Kong as people talk about their leaders.

    • Greg Reich says:

      Leaders especially church leaders have a hard time showing vulnerability. They tend to see themselves on a higher level than those they lead. They don’t want their followers to see and know they have flaws. In some cases followers don’t want to know if their leader is flawed because they would rather put them on a pedestal. I think leaders can show skin in the game without bleeding all over those they lead. This is where emotional intelligence comes into play. When a leader can create resonance in their followers they can be seen as having skin in the game even if they don’t show a great level of vulnerability in the process.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    As I read your words, I thought of Aragon in LOTR and how standing at the gates of Mordor against the enemy’s army, just before engaging in battle, he turns to his comrades and says, “For Frodo.” He had skin in the game.

    I also think of the Christian martyrs who encouraged their friends to not deter their death, because it was in their death that they would be born into life and become fully human as Christ was human.

    What would it look like for us, as dominant culture American Christians, to really have some skin in the game?

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    Great tapestry of Walker and Taleb. The Monday after Easter I was trying to put my mind in the experience of the disciples. Often we use presentism when discussing the theology of the first-century Christians, but they woke up with an awe and hope and confusion about the death and resurrection of Jesus. They were trying to piece it all together – the implications for death and new life. And I’m doing the same thing.

    • Greg Reich says:

      Shawn an exercise worth doing. I can’t imagine the paradigm shift that took place in the minds and hearts of the disciples as years of teaching and expectation that a savior would come and deliver them physically from their enemies was shattered. The disappointment and betrayal they must have felt as they witnessed Jesus’ death. The confusion and tension they must have felt as they looked to what they were taught and it didn’t provide easy answers. All they could cling to was a thread of faith in the things that Jesus taught them. A simple thread that was stronger than the circumstances.

  4. John McLarty says:

    Many of our readings from this semester and last semester- Friedman, Walker, even Taleb- have helped give me new perspective and new language around leadership. This post was a good summary of much of that, centered in the leadership of the one we’re all supposed to follow. I’ve always thought of Jesus’ encounter with Thomas to be one of the most gracious acts in the whole Bible. It’s widely believed that Thomas himself died a martyr’s death as he shared the good news of Jesus with others. His skin was in the game as well.

    • Greg Reich says:

      Traditionally Thomas was believed to be the founder of the first church in India. I think skin in the game comes in various shapes and forms. Risk for one may not be a risk for another. We as leaders would be wise in taking the time to understand what skin in the game is for those we lead and alter our expectations accordingly. Do you find this to be the case as a pastor?

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    Not the end, but the beginning.

    Love the connection with Jesus and ‘skin in the game’. Sweet feature.

    What kind of ‘skin in the game’ is it that a player is willing to die.

    I see this kind of ‘skin’ as love. It’s love, passion. For what?

    For the team, the fight, the belief?

    For God, our inspiration (biologically and spiritually speaking), His Love, Immanuel.

    So, what are we doing with this understanding, then?

    • Greg Reich says:

      I am not sure all love is a skin in the game process. Maybe their are different levels of skin in the game when it comes to love. Christ’s love cost him everything. When I provide a meal for someone in need it costs me very little. If I invite them into my home and feed them the skin in the game is higher. I had a young bi-polar friend who was kicked out of his home and lived on the street. I invited him home, he lived with us for 18 months. During that 18 months we set boundaries and goals for him to move forward to help him have skin in the game. Many years have passed, that young man is now married and has a great job. Somehow when both parties have skin in the game there seems to be a maturing affect take place.

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