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

You Complete Me?

Written by: on February 7, 2019

The Youth Director at my church saw me walking around this week carrying Dennis Tourish’s book The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, and he asked me what it was about.  This was before I had started reading it, so I took a guess.  “It’s mostly about egotistical CEO’s and why they’re not as cool as they think.”

I wasn’t far off.  Tourish explains that “The core argument of this book is that leaders wield enormous power, not always wisely.”[1] This is a business book that largely focuses on the charismatic leadership by CEO’s and other “top brass”.  As with many books in this genre, the lessons and questions here can be applied much more broadly and will relate to leaders in many different arenas.

For example, many pastoral leaders have heard the Bible passage from Proverbs 29:18 used in relation to church leadership.  It says, “where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Like many biblical “slogans”, this one is taken out of context but is often seen to mean that the leader, the one with vision, must step into a heroic, transformational role if the church is going to really grow and thrive.

This is such a heavy burden to bear.  It is as if everyone is walking around like Jerry Maguire in the eponymous movie, with half a heart or half a life, looking for the leader of whom it can be said, “you complete me”.  But this is how leaders are often expected to act.

Tourish writes that “one result is an implacable conviction on the part of leaders that they have a duty to fashion a vision and—come what may—push it down the ranks of their organizations.”[2]

Of course, leadership is a key component in the healthy life of a business, church or other organization. The saying “nature abhors a vacuum” indicates that a void, or a gap, or a space will necessarily be filled by something, and that is where transformational leaders come in. Tourish writes, “to those lost and looking for answers, idealism in almost any form can be alluring.”[3]  He argues that there are even parallels between transformational leaders and leaders of cults.  Both are trying to “fill a void” that they seek in an organization or in the lives of their followers.

So, what does it take to have healthy transformational leadership?

This week our lead mentor Jason Clark shared an article on Facebook that was about the importance of self-awareness for people (especially leaders).  This is a key for leaders of all sorts.  The article says, “developing clarity within yourself improves self-assessment, decision-making, and overall happiness.  Rather than reacting in the heat of the moment, you can act with understanding, calm, and wisdom.  Self-awareness is your ability to be mindful of what you are doing and understand why you are doing it.”[4]

This assessment concurs with much of the reading and discussion that our Cohort has had over the years.  The development of the person, their own interior life, a life with God, a mature sense of self, all of this can mitigate against the “dark side” that Tourish is describing.  As McIntosh and Rima, Sr, write, “When our drive to achieve, fueled by unmet needs (e.g., the need for approval) and existential debt, is channeled in the right direction, it can be a power for good.  However, when that need-fueled drive becomes misdirected, it can result in disaster as we have seen.”[5]

What is this “disaster” that is being described?  One instance that is cited is the “Great Recession”, which was partially fueled by leaders in large businesses, banks and organizations not heeding warning signs and pushing straight ahead.  One of Tourish’s main criticisms is that “transformational leadership theories may well become unfalsifiable.  Whatever happens, or whatever could possibly happen, is evidence of the theory’s correctness… success is due to the correct application of the transformational leadership model. Failures are due to external factors beyond its control.  In either case, the solution is more transformational leadership.”[6]

This is a tautological argument, where organizations need transformational leadership in order to thrive, but also that when this kind of leadership has caused a major problem, the solution is also “more transformational leadership”.

It seems to me that there is a balance to be struck in any organizational setting.  As a pastor in a local congregation, many people see me as the “visionary leader” or the one who sets the agenda and directs the ship. However, if this instinct that people have is not checked and appropriately managed, it can lead to the kind of “hubris and narcissism”[7]that Tourish is describing. Self-knowledge is one attribute that a leader needs in order to avoid this fate.  But it also takes having open, trusting relationships with others around you, which allows for honest feedback and critique.  It is a humbling thing to try and lead people who have high expectations and hopes for what you will do, and the reality is that no leader can do it all.

In the end, I still struggle to find the right balance within myself between the lofty leader up in the front, and the reality of the limitations that I actually have. Maybe it’s enough to be reminded that I don’t need other people’s applause or approval to make me whole, and it isn’t my job to make others whole in their lives.  And that’s okay!

[1]Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (East Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 8.

[2]Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (East Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 29.

[3]Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (East Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 161.

[4]Gustavo Razzetti, “How to Increase Self-Awareness and Be at Peace with Yourself,” Liberationist BlogMedium, February 4, 2019, https://blog.liberationist.org/how-to-increase-self-awareness-and-be-at-peace-with-yourself-74df445bc26c?fbclid=IwAR3zQElEk3EgQHgJ48ElM7erEyqq8uy7PCX6vq_yyTqijHSEpHFOMxUpWIY.

[5]Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Sr., Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 80-81.

[6]Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (East Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 28.

[7]Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective (East Sussex: Routledge, 2013), 98.

About the Author

Dave Watermulder

11 responses to “You Complete Me?”

  1. Dave!

    Great post. I so appreciate your transparency. We must find that middle path as leaders – not the ones commanding and controlling, but also not abdicating power completely. It is an art to discover the pathway where we learn to let flower the beauty and vision from the entire congregation – which is birthed out of their rootedness in Christ. Trust!!

    The art of pastoring. I’m not a pastor, but I LOVE seeing the gift flourish, and I sense it in your careful tending of your garden…

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dave!

    Wonderful conclusion, “Maybe it’s enough to be reminded that I don’t need other people’s applause or approval to make me whole, and it isn’t my job to make others whole in their lives. And that’s okay!”

    Are you a pleaser? I know I am, and as much as I told myself I didn’t need the approval of others, I still fell into that trap, often. How are you ensuring you don’t fall back into that trap?

    Thank you for struggling in the balance of leading up front and your own limitations. I am with you in that struggle Brother!


  3. Dan Kreiss says:


    Great post. Leadership is tough in any context and maladaptive tendencies tend to develop when leaders do not heed your sage advice; “Self-knowledge is one attribute that a leader needs in order to avoid this fate.” I wonder who you have in your surroundings that you feel is able to ‘speak truth to power’ and help you gain greater and greater self-knowledge. This can be difficult in a ministry context but vital for those desiring to grow in humble leadership.

    • Dave Watermulder says:

      Thanks, Dan. Yea, I think you are right on about having people close by to speak those hard truths. I actually have a few core staff members who I really trust and who can say things that I need to hear. I also have a few other folks who play that role for me– but the key is to know that they love me and care about me, and then to be able to listen to them out of that. There are plenty of people with “helpful” suggestions, but I need to take those with a grain of salt.

  4. Great post, Dave! I could picture Tom Cruise with welled up tears in his eyes recanting this iconic line as I read your piece. Lol

    It’s interesting how one’s theology can color their perception of leadership expectation. Like Meyer’s text, I’m reminded that we all see through our own cultural lens, this includes a denominational one as well. This includes the structures of our leadership. Pastors and leaders from elder run churches would see this text differently than pastor run churches and even more different from congregation run churches.

    Tourish suggests, “Different models of leadership are required. The concentration of power in the hands of a few has not been a successful experiment in decision making” (Tourish, 7). I find that transformational leadership is not so much a choice of the leader, but an expectation that is thrust upon them by culture. How do we lead from a place of being human? How do we encourage pastors to lead from a place of health and not performance expectation?

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks Colleen– this reminds me of the Shakespeare line: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” As for encouraging pastors, I think it has to come from peers and others who are “outside the system”. Loving them and having friendships/relationships are a great basis to be able to speak about real things.

  6. Kyle Chalko says:

    Good job Dave. Great reminder at the end, that its not our job to make it whole. We can so easily try and take God and Holy Spirit’s job on to our own yokes.

  7. I have to admit, your title grabbed me and cracked me up at the same time. But it is so true as well, we have put too many leaders on a pedastool and stoked their insecure egos to the point that we have tons of Narcissistic leaders running our companies and now our government. I wish we could all take a lesson from the Danes in our last book and be more egalitarian and not so hung up on positional, hierarchical leadership. Great post as usual Dave.

  8. Trisha Welstad says:


    I like your take on visionary leadership and the need to understand that leaders may not contain the whole of the vision or the outcomes in themselves. I wonder, how do you and your church leadership come to discern vision? We are in the process of refocusing with regard to vision and I’d love to hear from other pastors, especially because I realize our core team may have a good understanding and a call but would do well to incorporate a more communal process.

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