Acknowledge – Examine – Resist – Self-Knowledge – Identity in Christ
Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima’s compelling text Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: The Paradox of Personal Dysfunction spells out harmful leadership traits (and examples to examine) and preventive measures to avoid creating harm as a leader. “The point is not that leaders have a dark side that others don’t. Everyone has a dark side, but when you are in leadership, particularly in the senior leader’s role, your dark side has the potential to wreak greater havoc than would be the case with most people simply because you have greater ability to affect people.” McIntosh and Rima’s work on “dark side of leadership” is not unique, with the exception of it catering to Christian leaders. What they do well (and also get criticized for) is call out high profile Christian leaders who have had significant character lapses and been publicly humiliated for them. The critics of this approach feel that the high profile cases make the text un-relatable to the average ministry leader.
We can all agree that the concept of leadership is trendy right now (as evidenced by our doctoral program) and there are plenty of experts in the field to refer to. But because I believe in the discipline and work of Dr. Brené Brown, I would love to facilitate a roundtable discussion between she and Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima. Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston (and the Huffington Foundation-Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work). “She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.” In addition to her research, writing, and teaching, Brené founded Brave Leaders Inc – an organization that develops and trains teams, leaders, entrepreneurs, change makers, and culture shifters on evidence-based courage building programs.
The social worker in me wants to believe that Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima could connect their foundational concepts of “personal dysfunction” to Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability, shame, and courage. Brown believes that one of the most important elements to personal health and well-being is vulnerability – being “real” with others. Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Brené says that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. She identifies the following “10 commandments for emotional intelligence” for leaders:
Ponder Feelings – Learn from Others – Learn to Pause – Practice Empathy – Praise Others – Apologize – Forgive – Re-evaluate Relationships – Control Thoughts
According to McIntosh and Rima, “Many Christian leaders have been taught to blame the “enemy” for their leadership failures. When a leader commits adultery, embezzles money from the church, or gets caught exposing himself, the most frequent explanation among the ranks of the faithful is “Boy, the devil sure is working overtime,” with little attention given to the realities of human dysfunction.” As critical thinkers and leaders of faith, how do we connect the two (personal dysfunction vs. the enemy influence)? Is there a force of evil in the world? Absolutely! Is there self-determination and choice? Absolutely! Our own resident expert Mic Anthony would see the solution as the AOG. However, our humanness can disconnect us from our ability to tap into and use the AOG. Somehow Christians must find a balance between being in the world, but not of the world.
There is plenty to process and discuss within our own government related to dark (narcissistic) leadership traits, however I want to take the discussion a level deeper to focusing on the cause of personal dysfunction. “The fact is, all of us have a “dark side” that consists of the unmet needs and “existential debts” that orient our lives and drive us from deep down inside. These often provide motivation to do good things– such as spiritual leadership. But when these “dark side” characteristics continue to lurk in the darkness and are combined with spiritual leadership, we have a recipe for disaster. Pride, selfishness, self-deceit and wrong motives are identified as the tell-tale signs that the “dark side” is out of control.”
One such explanation may be personal connection with others – or lack thereof. According to University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo he defines the phenomenon of loneliness as “perceived social isolation,” which basically means that we experience loneliness when we feel disconnected. Did you know that rates of loneliness in the United States have more than doubled since 1980? “Maybe we’ve been pushed to the outside of a group that we value, or we lack a sense of true belonging.” At the core of loneliness, Cacioppo believes, is an “absence of meaningful social interaction–an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections.” How often have you made yourself truly, authentically, vulnerable to the very people you serve in ministry? How scary would that be?
Here is the caveat…as members of a social species, we derive strength not from our rugged individualism but from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together. Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence. As Cacioppo explained in a 2013 TEDx Talk, the key to reaching adulthood “is not to become autonomous and solitary, it’s to become the one on whom others can depend. Whether we know it or not, our brain and biology have been shaped to favor this outcome.”
In Brown’s most recent publication Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone she states “When we race to our customary defenses–of political belief, race, religion, you name it–we don’t have to worry about being vulnerable or brave or trusting. We just have to toe the party line. Except doing that is not working. Ideological bunkers protect us from everything except loneliness and disconnection. Huddled behind them, we’re left unprotected from the worst heartbreaks of all.” How does this impact you in your ministry field? Are you so invested in “toeing the party line” that you fail to make connections, fail to be vulnerable? Fail to listen and understand others – which ultimately creates connection? McIntosh and Rima warn that “no amount of success in leadership or ministry can heal the wounds from our unmet needs or pay our existential debts. Accordingly, leaders must identify their unmet needs and existential debts and deal with them effectively before they wreak havoc in their lives and ministries.” Tough words in a challenging world!
 McIntosh & Rima
 McIntosh, Gary, and Samuel D. Rima. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.pg.155