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

Feed the White Dog

Written by: on February 28, 2018

white dog portrait

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”[1] 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.”[2]

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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.





[1] 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.

[2] Ibid., 417-419, Kindle.

[3] Ibid., 118-119, Kindle.

[4] Ibid., 589-590, Kindle.



About the Author


Jennifer Dean-Hill

12 responses to “Feed the White Dog”

  1. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Jennifer, you captured this text so well from the position of experience you are in. I, too, wrestled with the focus on “me and Jesus” for healing, without the essential connection with our community (though we each approached it from our unique perspective– you as the counselor and me as a pastor).

    I also felt critical (yet guilty) that the personality “flaws” listed felt removed from my experiences (well sure, to a certain extent we all wrestle with narcissism or compulsion or passive-agressiveness), but it makes so much more sense to recognize they (even unintentionally) looked at flaws common to male leaders. So many of my struggles and weaknesses didn’t even get a mention from them!

    Thanks for your helpful clinical approach to this text.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Yep- you got it Katy. Well-intentioned, but the author addressed mainly male issues that of course we all struggle with to some degree, yet more unique to men. I could go on and on about this, but maybe I’ll say it for my book :).

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Reading your blog made me reflect on something that I felt while reading the book. More pages were spend on identifying the problems than solving them.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Good concise summary Stu- thanks, this helped me put into words what I too was feeling while reading. Maybe it was just my clinical part resisting the continual diagnosising that I’m am finding to be more helpful for insurance companies than the clients.

  3. Mary says:

    “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. ”
    Wow, Jen. My husband used that illustration in prison one time and two really big black guys asked him what he was talking about. Scary for a moment, but then after he apologized they just laughed.
    Truly though you have so many words of wisdom for us as usual. We should be careful as we try and self-diagnose because these things are not so neatly packaged. But I thought it was a good place to start, too. And it would be interesting to see how women compare to men on their results. How much is nature and how much is nurture? In our society would more men turn out narcissistic for example and more women codependent?

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Oh geez! Thanks for the warning of the story Mary. I could see how the dog story could be misinterpreted. Glad your husband recovered quickly from that. Yes, men deal more with narcissism while women deal more with borderline personality disorder.

  4. Jim Sabella says:

    Jenn, thank you your admonition to be wary of self-diagnosis. That is excellent advice. I also appreciate your admonishing to consider healing within the community as the norm and not the exception. One of the themes running through the lives of all of those leaders who found themselves in a difficult place is that there was no one to challenge them. As you state, that is a dangerous position for anyone, but especially for a leader. Thank you for bringing balance and insight.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Thanks, Jim- yes a lack of accountability or a confidant can be unhealthy for us as hurting humans. I have discovered that isolation and shame gives a breeding ground for a terrible darkness to take hold.

  5. Lynda Gittens says:

    Jen, I looked forward to reading your blog on this book!

    I do like to address the color of the dogs – I know its a legend, but can behave a purple and green dog? White has always been linked to purity and black to evil. Just like you mentioned in this book is more reflecting of the male gender than the female but we females have some of those tendencies.
    I believe we females embodied those tendencies from observing our male leaders and thought that was the way we were to manage. Like in our culture, many black female preachers preach like the male preachers because they were the only examples. We as women must connect to the special gifts that God as given us , i.e. intuition, sensitiviy, etc.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Yes Lynda, so true. Let’s change the dog colors and write our own legend. How about a buttercup yellow and scarlet dog? That works for me…you?
      Yes, women do indeed deal with these issues, as we all do on some level, yet they have a bigger hold on males, stereotypically. Women often deal with the borderline personality disorder which wasn’t mentioned, while men deal more with the narcissistic. Great point about women mirroring men in their leadership styles. I couldn’t agree more. As a woman leader, I am hungry for seeing women operate according to their giftedness and leading with their femininity. Incidentally, did you hear about that Houston woman preacher? First woman to lead a megachurch. I thought of you, check it out.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Thank you for this Jennifer. You mentioned, “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.” How I wish every woman in this cohort had the opportunity to take the spiritual leadership courses that MaryKate wrote and taught in my MDiv program. While painful sometimes (it felt like I was digging my soul out with a spoon), we really learned to face our demons – both within and without – with the confidence of our identity in Christ and in the Body. We did the personal work so we could lead our communities in the hard work as well.

  7. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Mary I picked up on that also! I was like why is “black” always associated with bad and “white” is good. Something we have to get away from in our culture.

    Jen, I appreciated how you pointed out the absence of women leaders in this book. *sigh* it seems as though there was also an absence of leaders of color as well. Leadership books should reflect all voices or incorporate other voices to help people connect contextually to the value coming from various points expressed in the book 🙂

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