There is a Native American legend that speaks to the warring of good and evil within us. It is said that within each of us is a white dog and a black dog, and you feed the one you want to grow stronger. “The reality is we can never completely eradicate our dark side” but we can learn how to feed the goodness inside so it overpowers the darkness within. Learning to be a healthy, successful leader requires insight into the capacity of our strengths as well as to the depth of our weaknesses. For we are at a greater danger of moral failure when we have no insight into who we are as individuals and how we can protect ourselves from entering into the dark side. With sobering responsibility, we are reminded “… that we as leaders have the power to cast either shadow or light by the exercise of our leadership.”
Through unmet needs and unresolved traumatic events, McIntosh describes how leaders can be overcome by the dark side, as well as managing the dark side through hopeful measures. He gives many examples of this from recent leaders of Gandhi, Billy Graham, and JFK, to ancient leaders of Biblical times like Moses, Jonah and Solomon. Although his simplistic approach to preventing and diagnosing the dark side was easy to comprehend, I would like to offer some constructive criticism.
Be Wary of Self-Diagnosing…
McIntosh points out 5 dark sides of leaders as categorized with: Compulsive, Narcissistic, Paranoid, Co-Dependent, and Passive-Aggressive Leaders, which are considered personality disorders. Yet to identify or self-diagnosis such potent personality disorders based on a short personal inventory could put significant labels on yourself that are a bit intense. There is also a distinct difference between having a full-blown personality disorder, carrying tendencies of these disorders, or dealing with other mental health issues which were not identified. It is also not uncommon for there to be a cluster of disorders with individuals, especially with unresolved trauma, where the individual can have several characteristics of each.
Women are uniquely different…
In addition, each disorder can hold subtle differences when prescribed to a certain gender. He referred exclusively to male leaders, within society, history, and the bible. Ironically, this is an element of the dark side of leadership when women leaders are not mentioned in a book designed to educate leaders. Although much can be learned from the voice of a male leader, it was unfortunate he failed to appeal to women by providing positive and negative examples of women leaders. Much of what he addressed was very pertinent to the male clients I service in therapy as they struggle to emotionally regulate, mature, and develop their shame resiliency, so as to not act out with inappropriate sexual behavior, or misdirect their anger and rage. In contrast, women leaders deal more with establishing their needs to match their well-voiced feelings and learning how to not self-harm, to self-destruct, or self-sabotage when they suffer from mistreatment. Fears of not being recognized, how to assert themselves, and working successfully within patriarchal systems can provoke other disorders within women that were not addressed.
To be sure, I agree wholeheartedly with McIntosh: “Sadly, very little training is given in this area at the seminary and graduate school level to help future leaders diagnose and address personal issues that may plague them in their exercise of leadership.” And may I add, or very little training is provided for women leaders and pastors within church ministry who deal with distinctly different challenges, or how the genders can better partner together in church ministry.
Healing with community…
The hope and treatment offered to ward off the dark side were good, yet lacking in promoting healing in community. Isolation is a key factor in keeping the pain from healing or causing the dark side to grow recklessly. Encouraging people to heal in community can turn the trauma into pain, making it more bearable for it to confront and resolve. People avoid addressing their pain because they fear doing it alone or it could provoke trauma, and they need the comfort and support of others to address it.
Instead, McIntosh focused intently on an insightful relationship with God and yourself to heal. “Rather, we want to communicate the incredible danger that is possible when we allow ourselves and others to be victimized by the dark side because of our failure or refusal to take that inward journey and “ride the monster all the way down,” regardless of the pain it may cause us.” The concept of being courageously open was sound advice but also left the reader feeling a bit alone and unsure of the concrete measures of how to accomplish this. Suggestions of: participating in therapy or therapeutic groups, engaging in a 12 step discipleship or recovery program, attending growth workshops and seminars that cultivate an ethos of gaining personal insight, or referencing thought leaders in this area would have complimented his repeated call for leaders to gain insight and face their pain.
To encourage leaders to independently gain insight and grow in understanding through the Holy Spirit is invaluable, but finding people filled with God’s spirit to aid in this often makes it easier and more bearable. At least it has for me. May we feed the white dog within each of us and when we feed the black dog, may we have the courage to reveal this to ourselves, God, and others, and grow in the grace of knowing we are all on a journey…together.
 Gary L. McIntosh, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 1868, Kindle.
 Ibid., 417-419, Kindle.
 Ibid., 118-119, Kindle.
 Ibid., 589-590, Kindle.