I really enjoyed reading this week. In fact, The Undefended Leader may be my favorite book of the semester. I wish I had more than one week to devote to reading it, and I hope to return to it after my DMin projects have been turned in. Admittedly, I read too slowly and did not make it too far.
Simon Walker, an Oxford professor, and Anglican clergy offers excellent insight into why we do the things we do as leaders. I felt a bit exposed as I read through some of the sections, wondering how Walker managed to have direct access to my thoughts, emotions, and motivations. I am grateful this exposure was coupled with an invitation to lay down my defenses. There was no unruly fight in this book.
I do enjoy empowering others and would like to consider myself a good team player, but I was struck by Walker’s explanation of why leaders have such a difficult time releasing control and being vulnerable with their followers: “No leader is free from exerting control in order to create a world in which they feel safe – and, unlike others, the leader has the opportunity actually to take control.”
In the first book of the trilogy, Walker invites us to consider the control we exert when we refuse to engage our moral responsibility to know ourselves. He describes the inner and outer workings of our leadership as what we present on the front stage (projected image to the outer world) and backstage (inner life and behavior) of our leadership.
“For us, therefore, there is a moral responsibility and an ethical imperative to know ourselves, not for our own benefit for the benefit of our followers. And not only to know ourselves nut to be free from ourselves. It is freedom that is the critical factor: freedom to make decisions and choose courses of action that in the end may lead to personal loss rather than personal gain.”
Until this program, I admit that I had given in to some notion that my job is simply to produce good work. No one really needs to know me, and I certainly do not need to use my time to know myself. This is a luxury I simply did not believe I could afford. Through my cohort friends, colleagues, teachers and readings, I have been forced to come face-to-face with who I am. Both Walker and Friedman have re-introduced me to myself in a way that I did not realize was necessary. In all honesty, I have given much time to the development of my front stage persona, and have worked on the backstage when I had a few moments to spare. Thankfully, the backstage isn’t too messy, but it is barren at times and tends to accumulate cobwebs. Walker had my attention when I read this phrase:
“…the backstage is not only the place for the messy stuff: it is also the place where the script is written, learnt and rehearsed. Here, new ideas are generated and tried out. Here, the leader works with the material the audience could not cope with – the radical thinking, the new possibilities, the real issues.”
I am grateful for the reminder that it is not one or the other. Walker has invited me to spend some time backstage learning, rehearsing and dreaming. He has raised the curtain a bit on my leadership, allowing me to break in a new pathway from front to back.
 Simon P Walker, The Undefended Leader (Carlisle: Piquant, 2010), 49.
 Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, ed. Margaret M. Treadwell and Edward W. Beal (New York: Seabury Books, 2007).
 Walker, The Undefended Leader, 31.