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

Visionary Leadership

Written by: on April 5, 2021

There was a time when I was a “double barrel shot-gun” kind of leader. In my home, it was “my way or the highway.” God, scripture, and faith were to be understood through a fundamentalist viewpoint. Our home was to be an external reflection of our internal reality: tidy, orderly, simple. Nothing was to be out of place, and if something was moved, it was to be returned back to its designated place for storage. My children were taught “To delay is to disobey.” Obedience to God, parents, and other authorities was non-negotiable. My deep need for order and control stemmed as much from my childhood as it did from the theology jug I was drinking from. Serving as a leader in Bible Study Fellowship with its ridged class and leadership “guidelines,” provided a controlled environment for spiritual growth and development. I thrived with their clear expectations and high bar of serving God with excellence. But outside of that ministry context, little of that leadership style was effective or redeeming.

Over the years, my leadership posture has changed. Not necessarily by choice, (because I had little idea how toxic it was), but more by necessity. When my daughter went off the rails in her early teens, I knew things needed to change in a drastic way. Her wellness was more important than maintaining the illusion of being a “good Christian.” With her, I learned the difference between being a good parent, and parenting well. This differentiation translated into my heart transformation from being a good leader, to leading well. But with little training on what that looks like, my learning curve continues to this day.

In many ways, I’ve stepped back so far in leading that I’ve become more of an observer, a ponderer, and a questioner. Having stepped away from organized lay ministry leadership, I have spent the past three years noticing and wondering what does it look like for me to be a leader? My primary leadership role is in my home as a parent. My secondary leadership role is that of a spiritual director, where my footing with directees tends to be more “in step” than “in the lead.” In each of these contexts, leading happens on a 1-1 basis rather than a group setting.

My doctoral project includes crafting and instructing an online spiritual formation course at Portland Seminary this summer. Having not led in a group setting for a number of years, I am nervous as to how best to take up space and lead. Furthermore, I tend to prefer in person interactions, so the virtual dynamics are new to me. How do I lead well in this context? I’m not sure, but I appreciate Simon P. Walker’s perspectives on the use of power in leadership positions.

In The Undefended Leader: Leading with Nothing to Lose, Walker highlights the importance of the power of weakness. At times, weakness is more powerful than strength, yet few leaders utilize it because “weakness is threatening…a negative, that leads to loss,” which is terrifying to many leaders.[1] Considering weakness as power forces leaders to reconsider what power actually is and how it manifests at different times and in different contexts. Power can be broken down into three different “pairs of forces- frontstage/backstage, strong/weak, and expanding/consolidating- and there are eight different ways they can be applied in concert.”[2] Of interest for me and my leadership in the course is the RSX (reserved, strong, expanding) force combination. This backstage combination creates a visionary and inspirational environment where force is utilized to capture imagination, hope, and belief. Horizons are expanded, the world becomes bigger, and possibility for transformation and change abounds. The RSX force combination invites people to step away from the status quo and into new territory.[3]

The title of my course is Discovering Life through Loss and Grief. In it, students are invited on a pilgrimage, traveling roads of death, loss, and grief, which every human must travel. Along the way, there will be highs, lows, and obstacles. Students will ask questions and have opportunities to step off the path to explore. Pilgrims know the world is big. They know it can be dangerous. But they also know that something inside them compels them to notice the Sacred through the hard and holy of life. The pilgrim’s journey requires shedding heavy baggage. In its place hope and goodness are picked up. Lament is embraced, humility developed, and freedom found, as the limits of their humanity is experienced.

As a leader, it’s my honor to walk with these fellow pilgrims, guiding them along the path, helping them embrace unknowns, and encouraging them to keep moving along the way, not just where the course map leads, but more importantly into what comes after the map has run out. Death and grief traverse a holy and mysterious road filled with sorrow and joy, pain and comfort, hope and hopelessness all mixed into one messy, individualized and yet deeply communal journey. I pray I lead well.



[1] Simon P. Walker. The Undefended Leader: Leading with Nothing to Lose. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions, Ltd., 2010) 165-166.

[2] Ibid., 189.

[3] Ibid., 189-192.

About the Author

Darcy Hansen

15 responses to “Visionary Leadership”

  1. John McLarty says:

    I think there’s a fine line between the leader who extracts the blessings of weakness for the sake of leading from the center and the one who exploits their weakness in order to manipulate others. The first allows for a more honest and collaborative experience while the second is another form of narcissism. How might you best leverage your experience and your wisdom as you serve as a guide for these fellow pilgrims?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I’m still considering how to implement my experience and wisdom into my project. How much of my pilgrimage do I share in that space? What level of vulnerability do I display? I’ve found when I trust the Spirit to lead, things go well and holy ground emerges. If I try to make or manipulate the space, the results are less stellar. To answer your question, maintaining a posture of prayer, humility, and deep trust in the Spirit’s lead is the best way for me to know how to navigate that space of transformation and learning.

      • John McLarty says:

        I would think, because of your circumstances, you’d have lots of leeway at the beginning to establish what has drawn you to this topic. Then maybe the group also has the chance to share why they’re interested in it. And then at that point, you’ll all be on the journey together. You’ll be out front a bit to guide them, but they’ll likely try side paths that may ignite your curiosity as well, thus giving them the opportunity to lead.

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    First off, super pumped for you and the course you’re designing.

    Secondly, I’ve always found that the leaders who exude their weaknesses are the ones I’ve been more willing to follow. There’s a raw vulnerability when we lean into our weaknesses vs when we simply muscle through. But I also agree with John in the above comment about how there’s a difference between leading out of weakness as a means of journeying with others vs using it to manipulate others. There’s a time to lead out of weakness just like there’s a time to lead out of one’s strength. Regardless, both need to be framed in the context of humility.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I think humility and discernment are the keys to knowing when and how to do that well. But another key is knowing the difference between exuding and oozing- I found out pretty quick the difference after leaving the church, as one day I went on a social media rant that was filled with untended pain and hurt. It was confusing and hurtful to many who follow me. I ended up deleting it and then posting an apology. I was weak and hurting, and also not in the mindset to share in a healthy way. Since then, I take more time to reflect and discern if/when/with whom I’m to share weakness, doubts, questions, etc. So not only is humility needed, but maybe even a measure of healing before weakness can exude well from a leader.

  3. Greg Reich says:

    Congrats on the new course! For many years the idea of showing vulnerability in leadership was frowned on. Now at times it can be seen as a manipulation ploy to get others to follow. I personally struggle with how much vulnerability needs to be shown and how much confidence needs to be exerted in leadership. I believe their is a place for both. Today one of the greatest challenges for leaders is discerning which mode of leadership is needed at the specific moment especially when walking aside those in the midst of death and grief.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Leading others in death and grief is tricky, because everyone navigates those places so differently; there isn’t a set course of grief, as we once believed. Often though, those navigating grief and death simply need someone to be present, and to remind them they aren’t alone. I think Biden did this pretty well when he held a memorial for those who have died of covid. He gave it language, he spoke truth, and he reminded people that he was human like them. His ability to do that stems from his own experiences with grief. Tending to his own grief enabled him to tend to the grief of others.

  4. Jer Swigart says:

    “In step” rather than “in front.” What a beautiful transition that is taking place within your leadership.

    In a conversation recently with a mentor who specializes in one-to-one accompaniment, I heard something similar. His was also backed by years of data. Leadership in the one:one (in step) context is proven to be far more transformational than the platformed (in front) leadership.


    From my view, “in step” leadership is human. We have access to one another. Weakness is shared and experienced as strength. Wonder meets one another specifically rather than generally. Change is noticeable…measurable.

    In writing this, perhaps it could also be said that “in step” leadership is also divine. It was the approach of Jesus.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Your comments remind me of something Dr. Woodley would say regarding missions and reconciliation- people don’t need a hand up or a hand out, they need someone to come alongside. They don’t need a meal served to them, but rather a meal shared.

      Humanity is best experienced in proximity to one another, and we do that best whether dead or alive, for it is our ability to be human in death that informs our ability to be human in life.

      I have so appreciated hearing about the many individuals you invite into your formational process. It definitely is an integral piece to being formed well into the image of Jesus.

  5. Shawn Cramer says:

    Darcy, for the life of me I can not picture you as a double-barreled shotgun type of leader. You have left that so far in the past it’s unrecognizable.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Well, I will say that leadership style was covered with the sweet disposition that comes from being raised in the Deep South. It wasn’t overtly destructive unless you happened to live with me. But thank you for seeing Spirit’s transformational work within me. It’s been a long road to walk; God has been faithful.

  6. Chris Pollock says:

    Well, my daughter is 13 tomorrow and already I’m realising how important it is going to be, to be an undefended dad.

    I really like the title of the course you will be offering. It has the sound of a book title too!

    I appreciate your caring, honest approach that has evidently been weathered, tested and refined over time, Darcy. I listen to you! Thankful.

  7. Kristy Newport says:

    Dear Darcy,
    Thank you for this blog post. It is wonderful!
    After reading this, I think: I wish she was in my cohort!
    Blessings to you! I am sure your class was awesome…and Sprit led!

    A blogger who is learning,
    Kristy Newport

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Thanks for your comment. Rest assured, your writing in the doctoral program will continue to develop and be refined. Jason and your advisor makes sure of that! I’ve read a few of your posts. They are engaging, accessible to a broad audience, and make connections in unique and personal ways. I’m by no means an expert blogger, but it would seem you are definitely on the right path of blogger development. It would be fun to meet one day! Godspeed to you in your learning adventure:)

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