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

Drains and Fills

Written by: on March 8, 2019


When talking to leaders I often attempt to have them identify what fills and drains them. What energizes them to lead another day and what causes them to want to write a resignation letter? As I read Garvey Berger and Johnston’s, Simple Habits for Complex Times I was able to articulate one of my own drains that I had misunderstood previously. I love to develop creative and effective systems and cultures for people and organizations to flourish and had a negative disposition toward complexity as I assumed that it was the antithesis to simple. While reading this book I discovered I experience a serious spike in blood pressure when the corporate culture is complicated and discouraging to people who are trying to engage, when systems are more about efficiency and protection than serving and changing for the sake of the user. Simple Habits for Complex Times identifies the difference between complexity and complicated and the two have divergent interpretations in a manner I had not recognized.

Garvey Berger and Johnston, as leadership consultants working with many organizations, recognized that complexity theory could actually be used to open the door for creativity. Their approach is to help leaders think, engage and act differently through new habits of mind, and to recognize that a both/and perspective is necessary because the world is predictable and unpredictable at the same time. They show how leadership books and training of the past have prepared leaders for a world that no longer exists. As I read through their process of asking a new set of questions, recognizing how systems are interrelated, drawing boundaries for fail-safe experiments, all while helping people embrace change, I found myself coming alive, highlighting way too many sections in the book, and nodding my head incessantly. I found my internal tank filling! There were answers to questions I have been asking, articulation of things I intuitively had been sensing but unable to describe, possibilities and creativity that gave me hope. And, if I am honest, it brought strong correction to areas I am failing in leadership for these times. My solace is I have been “unconsciously incompetent,” I didn’t know what I didn’t know.[1]

The authors’ use of neuroscience experts, change coaches, adaptive leadership gurus, thinkers in social science, psychology and more, provides a well-researched, dependable guidebook for leaders who want to live and lead “filled” through these days of “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.”[2]

We must recognize that our brains and bodies were created for flight or fight to protect us.  They are not wired to stand in the face of danger and uncertainty and ask creative questions and look for innovative possibilities. Our brains look for the easy way which is different than simple habits and this work to ease us can cause us to miss the big picture. It is somewhat like understanding the significant difference between relief and peace. We can take action that brings immediate relief to a situation without going to the core for deep resolve, peace. This is also what leads to technical change that typically does not last rather than adaptive change as Hefeitz describes, “The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems.”[3]

The conditions of leadership have changed, the world is complex and no longer can a cause-effect model be trusted. Cause-effect is another “easy” pathway for identifying problems and bringing solutions to bear. The authors of Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice describe this as “another human tendency” that impedes progress.[4]

Complicated systems drain the life out of me for sure, but the ability to start with a fresh slate, ask new questions, get a broader perspective, listen to learn, look for new possibilities and remake the system into something new and vibrant? That fills the tank!



[2] Jennifer Garvey Berger & Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015), 207.

[3] Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2009), Kindle Loc. 1264.

[4] Nitin Nohria & Rakesh Khurana eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010), 113.

About the Author


Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

10 responses to “Drains and Fills”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Great news that you enjoyed this one so much Tammy! I too was immediately able to notice things both about myself, but also about different ministry contexts I have been in that could easily have been used as examples throughout. Have you read much about the brain and how it works before?

    Thank you for filling my tank!

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      I have been reading about neuroscience quite a bit in recent years. Also, I have the benefit of a husband in a PhD program in Human Development and has studied quite a bit with Robert Keegan. This is such an important discipline that I am not sure the church has placed much value in and we can learn greatly about discipleship from it.

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This was such a good reflection, Tammy! First, I love the idea of “filling the tank”. It reminds me of Designing Your Life and their concept of FLOW. It’s such a helpful marker in your life to identify the things that put you in FLOW and fill your tank.

    Also, thanks for bringing up her new book – I added it to my amazon. Have you skimmed through that one? What’s it like compared to this one?

    • mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

      Thanks, Karen. Her new book is small and is more of a “how to” simplifying her previous work. She wrote it as a response to feedback. 🙂

  3. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Tammy. It seems that you are taking feedback very well and therefore are not on the “Dark Side of Transformational Leadership” :). All jokes aside, I loved this book, and appreciate the flow of the books we are reading as they are building on each other in ways I didn’t see coming.

    In your area of study it seems like the Cyenfin Model would be of great help towards decision making. I have a simple question, had you seen this before and do you plan to use it?

  4. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    I had not seen the Cyenfin Model before but will definitely be using it in the future.

  5. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Tammy, Thanks so much for your post. You did such a great job sharing your discomfort as well as your epiphany distinguishing complexity versus complicated, peace versus relief. The tension of the both/and compels us to adopt Garvey Berger and Johnston’s deceptively simple habits. These habits help to retrain our minds to adapt to new complexities of leadership development. Your wisdom and experience are truly so rich for all of us!

  6. mm Sean Dean says:

    One of our company values is: “Get $#!* Done” (I’m not kidding it’s actually on our website). What that means to us is that we’d rather get your job done in a way that makes sense then try to find a fancy way of doing it. I like you hate it when “efficiencies” get in the way of progress. I really like your analogy of drains and fills. I’m going to use it in the future.

  7. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Love this, Tammy. You’ve articulated some of my personal experience with the complicated vs the complex. I also find it very draining to be around too much ‘red tape’ and systems that inhibit the service to the end user – the goal for most systems should be to serve stakeholders better, especially ones that have less power in the relationship. But it’s easy to lose sight of that it seems. Yes, distinguishing between complicated and complex is very helpful in these VUCA days. Thanks for putting this out there and modeling a way forward!

  8. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Great post, Tammy! I share your frustration with complicated systems. In fact, I have unfortunately found myself rushing to answers too quickly in order to avoid all the “analysis paralysis.” This book taught me to be open to complexity, allowing the frustration to fuel more questions and allow multiple solutions to emerge. Thank you for your willingness to reimagine systems!

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