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

Who is Responsible for a Leader’s Wholeness?

Written by: on April 17, 2024

In Daring to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations and Whole Hearts, researcher and storyteller, Brene Brown, inspires her audience and readers to lead bravely through her accessible insights.  As I write my last post for the semester, I am reflecting on how profoundly grateful I feel for who we are as a doctoral student cohort extraordinaire.  Thinking back to our Zoom conversation on Monday about JR Woodward’s The Scandal of Leadership, I heard us trying to solve a problem through dialogue, or as Brene Brown would call it, a rumble. In just a few short minutes, Jason facilitated our conversation as we puzzled over Domineering Leadership, how to have power without abusing it, the breakdown of social contracts with leaders, and as Scott Dickie asked, “Is the breakdown of leader accountability a systemic issue?”  What captured my attention was how John Fehlen connected taking care of people with differentiating between the powers–he asked, “How can we walk in humility?” I believe I heard someone ask “with true power?” It was as if we were asking aloud, “Who is responsible for the leader’s wholeness?” As I watched the little squares disappear from the screen, I was asking myself this question: What cultures or people groups draw from the best powers caring well for their leaders?  How can we learn from them?  I honestly do not know the answer to that question.  After reading Brene Brown’s book this week, here’s what I would look for in other cultures as I learn how to support leaders well.

Antidote for Demanding Power and Control

Brene Brown writes about her conversations and exchanges with her team members because they want people to share in their commitment, purpose and mission.  In reading through the dialogues, I am struck by the fact that Brene Brown is the leader, the personality and the one for whom everyone works.  Yet, in her conversations with her employees, she demonstrates how she walks her talk.  In her example of being out of town with a colleague facilitating a daring leadership workshop, Brene tells the story of being frustrated with how the colleagues just stuff an envelope under her hotel room, giving her more work to do. Or in another scenario, Brene causes more work for her CFO by handing him incomplete invoices.  As the scenarios unravel, we as the reader discover what it looks and sounds like for leaders to name and normalize fear and uncertainty by not working from constant compliance. Rather than just write about “Cultivating commitment and shared purpose,” like many leadership authors do, Brene Brown illustrates how the antidote for demanding power and control sets people free by giving them authority. It’s kind of ironic. She writes, “Leaders who work from compliance constantly feel disappointed and resentful, and their teams feel scrutinized. Compliance leadership also kills trust, and ironically, it can increase people’s tendency to test what they get away with.”[1]

This makes me wonder if senior pastors, board chairs, Christian public figures or those given “power” can feel in bondage to the people with whom they serve and work? As if the dialogues are so off mission, they are adding one more handcuff to their prisoners?  

Leadership Derailment

While we were in Oxford, England last September, Jo Nelson presented a provocative summary of Leadership Derailment.  She was asking a similar question, “How do we support leaders?”  WIth the foundation of her talk based upon The Toxic Triangle, Jo Nelson pointed out how leaders destruct from not speaking up, passive/aggressive behaviors, and a critical spirit.  Might the reason I am connecting Nelson’s work to Brene Brown is that Brave leadership, Vulnerability and not abusing one’s power has a curious correlation to feedback? To dialogue?.  Listen again to Jo Nelson:  “Derailment can almost always be tied to relationship problems. When relationships are strong, people will forgive mistakes. But when relationships erode, tolerance for mistakes will get a manager fired.”[2]  Or when relationships erode, leaders abuse power.

As you may recall, Jo Nelson then offered us helpful classifications of neurotic needs:

  • Moving towards People–controlling anxiety by social contacts/building alliances
  • Moving Away from People–trying to manage anxiety and insecurity by avoiding true connection with people.
  • Moving Against People–managing self-doubts by dominating and intimidating people.[3]

The Story I am Telling Myself

Last year I met with a Millennial leader who wanted prayer for his leadership responsibilities.  During the few times we met, I heard him say repeatedly how dreadfully fearful he was of failing. Treading lightly with my curiosity and feeling my way for good boundaries, I asked, “Are you afraid of disappointing your boss or cheating on your wife? Or?”  He hesitated.  That’s when I leaned forward and asked, “What is your fantasy of being wildly successful?”  The surprised look in his eyes said it all as he responded, “Nobody, not even my friends, ask me these kinds of questions. Most days I feel like my entire life depends on my success. I just cannot afford to fail.”[4] I prayed God would provide one male friend who could walk beside him in failure.

It’s in Brene Brown’s ‘Learning To Rise’ section where it seems her work is a beautiful answer to all the ideological issues we read about this semester:

  • Annabel Bereel’s work naming skills necessary for leadership, especially clarity in confusion,[5] 
  • Matthew Petrusek’s warnings of ideology’s enemies,[6] 
  • Greg Lukianoff’s call to speaking up in cancel culture,[7] 
  • Yascha Mounk’s bad ideas causing systemic mayhem,[8] 
  • And, now, the Domineering Power problem both Woodward and LeVecche[9] highlight.  

Brene Brown writes that Millennials make up 48 percent of her staff, and including interns it’s 56 percent.[10] When Millennials complete the Daring Leadership program, each of them admit they have not been trained to have these hard conversations–they have not learned about emotions or how to speak so openly about them–especially failure.[11] The skill she puts forth as the one to start with is to look at the story you’re telling yourself.  Basically, it’s the question of what we are making up in our heads? “The Learning to Rise process is about getting up from our falls, overcoming our mistakes, and facing hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness to our lives.”[12] 

I see you, my cohort, as having the courage to walk into, not only your own stories, but into the lives of all the younger people in your sphere of influence: I see you helping them own their failures, setbacks and hurts–so that the Domineering Powers won’t win with them like they did in our generation.  I’ve not met a more healthy group of leaders like all of you. It’s an honor and privilege to learn alongside you and now it’s my joy to pray for you this summer!  

[1] Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. First Edition. New York: Random House, 2018.  P. 104.

[2] Jo Nelson. Oxford Advance September 23, 2023.“The Toxic Triangle: Destructive Leaders, Susceptible Followers, and Conducive Environments – Laup16@georgefox.Edu – George Fox University Mail.” Accessed December 6, 2023. 

[3] Jo Nelson. Leadership Derailment.

[4] Graban, Mark. The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. Constancy, Inc., 2023.  One of my stakeholders gave me a copy of this book. It’s thesis is based on showing readers how to enlist mistakes as engines of learning, growth and progress.

[5] Beerel, Annabel. Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories. 1st ed. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group, 2021. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003044444.

[6] Petrusek, Matthew, and Cardinal Thomas Collins. Evangelization and Ideology: How to Understand and Respond to the Political Culture. Word on Fire, 2023.

[7] Lukianoff, Greg. “The Canceling of the American Mind: Cancel Culture Undermines Trust and Threatens Us All–but There Is a Solution.” New York: Simon and Schuster, 2023.

[8] Mounk, Yascha. “The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time.” New York: Penguin Press, 2023.

[9] LiVecche, Marc, and Timothy S. Mallard. The Good Kill: Just War and Moral Injury. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2021.

[10] Brown, Dare to Lead. P. 243.

[11] P. 243.

[12] P. 249.

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

10 responses to “Who is Responsible for a Leader’s Wholeness?”

  1. mm Tim Clark says:

    Pam, this is such a great post. I loved this:

    “I see you, my cohort, as having the courage to walk into, not only your own stories, but into the lives of all the younger people in your sphere of influence: I see you helping them own their failures, setbacks and hurts–so that the Domineering Powers won’t win with them like they did in our generation.”

    This is a big part of my NPO. That rising generation leaders are hesitant to lead because they don’t want the unhealthy personal lives they have seen us lead with. Thanks for connecting this back to Brown for me.

    Pam, I think you are a courageous, all-in, fierce (in a good way) leader who pushes through fear for the good of others. I’m so glad we ended up in the cohort together. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    See you in DC!

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Tim~ You are such an encouragement to me! You made me tear up! I was not aware of your research. You wrote: “This is a big part of my NPO. That rising generation leaders are hesitant to lead because they don’t want the unhealthy personal lives they have seen us lead with. Thanks for connecting this back to Brown for me.”
      We should compare notes in DC. I am taking four months this summer to do ethnographic research as I look for data that supports leaders. Will have to tell you about it sometime ’cause I’m very interested in what you are finding.

  2. Cathy Glei says:

    We are so incredibly blessed to be in such a supportive, fun-loving cohort. I appreciate the questions you ask in our cohort chats. In my work with young leaders, I have seen a desire for vulnerability and connection but often without reciprocation. How do you see mentors encouraging young leaders to embrace failure while being vulnerable about the failures they experience? Thanks for your post.

  3. mm Pam Lau says:

    Yes! We are and I so appreciate your sensitive mind toward things of the Spirit while being so brilliant!

    You are seeing in younger people a “desire for vulnerability and connection but often without reciprocation. How do you see mentors encouraging young leaders to embrace failure while being vulnerable about the failures they experience?”

    Brad and I lead a life group of GFU students each week. What I find is that they want to share and they want us to share but they are not going to dig for it. Brad and I just share openly about our week. Each week we start off with naming where we are on a scale of 1-10 then we say a high and a low. We jump right in like one of them. Sometimes they hear Brad say hard things and sometimes they see me tear up. I think one of the keys is to provide a regular space and lovingly demand that everyone there is sharing. Also, one young woman I was meeting with who asked me to “mentor” her, canceled a lot and then didn’t ask questions well. I went ahead and ended that connection. Not all young people are seeking the gold and that’s okay. Find the ones who are! I would love to hear more of how you are engaging the young people– in what settings?

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Pam- I think you are asking the right question by looking for groups that “draw from the best powers caring well for their leaders?” And, I am with you on not knowing who to point to.

    Your reflection on our last call however, made me think about how our organizations reward their leaders, and for what behaviors they are rewarded. How do we flip the reinforcement structure so that it emphasizes all of the things that we have been highlighting over the past 2 years as the right leadership activities? And, even before that, how do we redefine success as an organization to inspire us to recognize true “winning” when we see it?

    So thankful for your wisdom and insights, friend!

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Thank you, Jen, for reminding me about the last question on last week’s Zoom call. It occurs to me that so much of the problem with success lies in the followers and teams who work with leaders–everybody wants the leader to be the hero, the one who is self-reliant, has no needs, walks around with impenetrable armor and works easily within multiple cultural norms. It’s an impossible feat. I like the question you suggest we start with. And I am so grateful we are in this program together, friend!

  5. Scott Dickie says:

    Great thoughts Pam! Love your considerations around failure….and they link so closely to the ‘idol of success’ that I mentioned preaching about this past Sunday at church. I have come to put ‘failure’ way high up on the list when I am looking to hire a Pastor: I want them to have a mature love for Jesus and a healthy love for people….a clear understanding of themselves….and FOURTH…to have failed at something of some importance. The last big hiring blunder I made was to minimize this Pastor’s reluctance to speak plainly about his failure…and he was gone within a year. The language I use now is quite blunt: “I won’t hire a Pastor who hasn’t failed.” If they haven’t failed, they likely haven’t done the hard work of identity. If they haven’t failed they can’t relate to the people they are called shepherd. If they haven’t failed they either haven’t learned to be honest with themselves about their own failures that they are avoiding (and therefore can’t help others honestly explore their own pain in failing).. or they have not taken sufficient risks in their life or work for failure to take place…and have (possibly) played it too safe for other unhealthy reasons.

    Bottom line: I only want to hire Pastors who have Failed! (and have found failure not to be fatal)

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      Scott, Send me your sermon! I want to listen to it. Last fall, one of my stakeholders gave me a book called, “The Mistakes that Make Us,” by Mark Graban. I haven’t read it yet but the subtitle is, “Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation.” I will message you if it’s worth passing along to you! So grateful to have you back in our Zoom chats, Scott! You’re an inspiration to me with your deep thoughts and analysis of the texts.

  6. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    What a great Post. I am so grateful for this cohort…we are Blessed to walk this path together. I have learned so much. I am looking forward to seeing you next week.

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