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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Or is it Vulnerability, Shame & Courage?

Written by: on March 1, 2018

Acknowledge – Examine – Resist – Self-Knowledge – Identity in Christ[1]

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.”[2] 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 ImperfectionDaring GreatlyRising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.”[3]  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.[4]

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[5]

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.”[6]  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.”[7]

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.”[8] 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.”[9]  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.”[10]

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.”[11]  Tough words in a challenging world!

[1] McIntosh & Rima

[2] https://www.cccc.org/news_blogs/john/2012/06/17/the-dark-side-of-leadership/

[3] https://www.braveleadersinc.com/brene_brown/

[4] https://www.braveleadersinc.com/brene_brown/

[5] https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/the-10-commandments-of-emotional-intelligence.html?cid=mustread2

[6] 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

[7] http://www.barnabasministry.com/review-darkside.html

[8] https://www.fastcompany.com/40465644/brene-brown-americas-crisis-of-disconnection-runs-deeper-than-politics

[9] https://www.fastcompany.com/40465644/brene-brown-americas-crisis-of-disconnection-runs-deeper-than-politics

[10] https://www.fastcompany.com/40465644/brene-brown-americas-crisis-of-disconnection-runs-deeper-than-politics

[11] http://www.barnabasministry.com/review-darkside.html

About the Author

mm

Jean Ollis

9 responses to “Or is it Vulnerability, Shame & Courage?”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jean,
    I always like reading your posts! Good job finding some usable critique of the author’s work. I looked up Brene Brown and found this link https://prayerandpoutine.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/brene-browns-return-to-faith-jesus-wept/
    I will add her to my source list, thanks! I think you have a good handle on the dark side phenomenon, and like you, I think there is more positive opportunities to improve our Christian leadership character than focusing too much on our negative traits. I see that as just another trap, for the dutiful Christian to fall prey to. If we are so focused on how bad we are, narcissist, paranoid, compulsive, codependent, passive-aggressive I guess I have to ask where is the room for some positive attributes of leadership like character, courage, competence, love, and vision?
    P.S. I like Brown’s 10-C’s for leadership EI. I have a few basic leadership principles. Leadership hurts, it is supposed to. Give it away every chance you can. Take responsibility and accountability for your people’s actions when it hurts the most. And like my dad always taught me, praise in public, reprimand in private.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike! I’m so glad you did some research on Brene and feel like you can add her to your resources. In your career you’ve been a leader in so many different capacities – law enforcement, military, and ministry. Which has challenged you most in triggering the struggle to lead? I would have an assumption but I would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hi Jean, thanks for your engaging post! I very much appreciated how you integrated Brene Brown into your post. She is amazing, and definitely THE authority on vulnerability. I found that the book was helpful in many ways but I thought it was lacking in discussing the value and practice of vulnerability. Still, the need for self-examination on a regular basis is present for me!

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Chris,
      I’m glad you’re familiar with Brene! I agree self-reflection/awareness should be everyone’s priority regularly! Thank you for your thoughts!

  3. Jean,

    As always, you bring in a new perspective that is valuable in our ongoing journey. Thank you.

    I’ve admired Brené Brown from a distance so appreciate you bringing her work closer to us. I agree with her that vulnerability is necessary to become truly transformative leaders.

    This talk of self-examination is important and I hope we can keep it in the forefront of our minds in this cohort. The Ignatian practice of consciousness examen helps us. My spiritual director has been encouraging me to use this practice so that every evening I do an inventory of my day and ask God where He was at work in my day-to-day events, and then to inquire where it was that I missed Him. This is not supposed to be a moralistic inventory of checking off a do-good list, but rather assessing the wind of the Spirit and my listening to that Breath throughout the day.

    More info here:
    https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/consciousness-examen

  4. Of course Jean we are on the same page again. Your emphasis on vulnerability is right in line with my takeaway from the book, which was the willingness to examine ourselves. I love Brene Brown’s stuff and I think it is right on and very applicable to the book. I loved this line…”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.” Don’t you think social media adds to us not being “real” with each other when we are only posting all the wonderful things about our lives? Being vulnerable, real and self-examining ourselves is essential.

  5. Greg says:

    I was just talking recently with a friend about leading in isolation. That many fail because they don’t have a trusted group to share ideas, vent when needed and pray for the community they serve. I will say that this question is a very scary one, “How often have you made yourself truly, authentically, vulnerable to the very people you serve in ministry? We all want to be perceived as a strong leader, confident in what we are doing and where we are going.

    Thanks for the reminder that we are not an island I the sea but rather need to seek community.

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Jean, great interaction between these two different authors; you made some powerful connections between Dark Side problems and real world struggle identification. I am curious how you personally identified to the reading. Trisha pointed out the male-focused directions in this book, but I am still curious how you identified with the obstacles themselves in your own leadership roles. As I have read through the posts this week, it seems that even the way we identify with this reading is varied. For me, this book made me look deeper at the minister I want to be and the obstacles that I have to overcome to stay on that track.

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jean, I appreciate your perspective and questions for those in ministry around dysfunction, isolation and vulnerability. These are indeed hard for people in ministry (and outside of formal ministry). I know that since moving to a new city I have had to be more intentional with my time and relationships to not isolate or hide from what’s going on below the surface. Brene Brown is a great resource and I have liked her ever since her TED talk on shame and vulnerability. Thanks for cutting through to the heart of the matter and introducing some other voices in the conversation.

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