You know that feeling you get when someone speaks glowingly about a person that you think very little of? You roll your eyes a bit, and if you’re a grace-full person, try to think of some polite way to respond. To be honest, it was difficult for me to work my way through Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership for that reason, and more. I can’t quite figure out why former leaders like Jim & Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard were even referenced as “gifted leaders” in the first place. My first reaction in reading the preface, “very often those leaders occupying highly visible and influential positions… are the victims of these failures” is to reply, “so don’t be a highly visible or influential person.”
Seriously, the authors note that “the majority of tragically fallen Christian leaders during the past ten to fifteen years [this text was originally written in 1997] have been baby boomers who felt driven to achieve and succeed in an increasingly competitive and demanding church environment.” I have two responses to this observation. First, I want to push back on that tendency to achieve and succeed, and suggest that leaders—especially “Christian” leaders—stop feeding the desire to “achieve and succeed.” It actually seems antithetical to the model given us by Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6). The kenosis of Jesus should be enough to compel us to resist high visibility and influence as goals or ends unto themselves. Or, we can also look to John the Baptizer, who pointed to Jesus and responded, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).
My second response to this observation is to question how generations younger than those Baby Boombers—Gen X and Millennials—look at ideal leadership. For Millennials at least, leaders are valued who collaborate and use teamwork, express authenticity, and prefer smaller and intimate experiences, which all seem to conflict with the characteristics of the “fallen leaders” identified by our authors. I want to hope that the younger generation won’t put up with charismatic leaders (not charismatic in the religious sense, but as one having charisma, magnetism) who to draw people to them and not to Christ.
All of that being said, it is a helpful reminder for those of us who serve in the church to recognize that our strengths are often also our weaknesses, and that each of us are not yet fully formed into Christ-likeness, or what God desires for us. While I felt like the authors’ list of potential character flaws was overly simplistic and didn’t necessarily fit everyone into their categories, there is value in understanding our need for continual transformation.
This concept couples nicely with the thesis of Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve. Friedman reminded us that our focus must be on our “own presence and being,” what we can change, rather than attempting to manipulate others. Again, identifying our negative tendencies and addressing them is much more effective in serving an organization or the people of God, than railroading our personalities over other people.
I appreciate the effort of McIntosh and Rima to help us navigate through the personality flaws we all wrestle with. However, their suggestion of redeeming our dark side by “practicing progressive self-knowledge” may unintentionally feed our dark side. They list four spiritual disciplines—scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, and journaling—to allow space for the Holy Spirit to scrutinize our lives. These are all valuable disciplines (though some are more helpful for particular people than others), but they are all individualistic pursuits. We must remember that, even as leaders, we are simply a part of the Body of Christ, and that exercises which help transform us into the mind of Christ must also be ones we practice communally with our sisters and brothers. Shared spiritual disciplines have the potential to take the focus off of us and our individualistic ambitions, and allow us to simply be part of something bigger than us, the Body of Christ (and not even the head, at that).
If we say we are followers and servants of Jesus, we must also be willing to say, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). It goes back to the concept of Jesus’ kenosis, the pouring out of himself. If we truly want to be like Christ, we will step back, out of the limelight and away from the microphone, and onto the floor with a basin and towel.
 Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 11.
 Ibid., 15.
 McIntosh and Rima, 28.
 Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2007), 4.
 McIntosh and Rima, 200.