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

Reading between the lines of the dark side

Written by: on March 2, 2018

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership is a solid introductory work on the sin and brokenness all leaders, indeed all people, face. With a basic mash up of theology and psychology, the Dark Side begins to unravel some of the fundamental shadow sides such as narcissism and codependency that tend to be revealed under the pressures of leadership, particularly in the Christian world. Written originally in 1997 with a revision in 2007, the authors shape their text out of their own lived experience and that of their peers. As a professor and pastor, Gary McIntosh and Sam Rima began studying the causes and potential methods for preventing the failings they and other’s around them were experiencing.

As a pastor who’s focus is empowering potential leaders to live into the whole vision of who God has made them to be and has heard raving reviews of McIntosh and Rima’s text, I have to admit I really wanted to enjoy this book and have some personal aha moments. Unfortunately, I found myself much more critical than I expected and searching both the library and internet for academic reviews to temper or ground my own thoughts. To my dismay, all I discovered were summaries of the text, charts of the dark side paradigms, and people saying this book was a must read for all pastors. Before going into my own critique, let’s begin with the well-done aspects of the text.

Creating a foundation for personal reflection and understanding of one’s own dark side, particularly twenty years ago when psychology and personal reflection within Christian leadership were not well-regarded or utilized, Rima and McIntosh have a straight forward outline for defining, prescribing and redeeming the dark side in a person’s life. Opening with a definition of the dark side as the basic premise that all leaders have some degree of personal dysfunction, which drives them to succeed while also being the root to their own self-sabotage of their leadership. The paradox of the drive that pushes leaders and the demise below the surface is not new but rather similar to psychologist Carl Jung’s work on the shadow self and beyond Jung, can be traced to the sin embedded in the fall of humanity that extends to all people. Pride, selfishness, self-deception, and wrong motives are all ways the dark side begins to manifest from childhood onward in each person’s life and can become the roots of major life trajectories such as compulsivity, narcissism, paranoia, codependency, and passive-aggressiveness. The author’s create a chapter for each trajectory or dark side, toward revealing to readers where they may fit best with a final section on overcoming. The five-step process creates space for hope and redemption of the shadowy self in the leader.

It is odd to be so critical of a book aiming to help leaders to think more deeply about issues they often do not see or want to face especially as it is a target I often seek within my own leadership scope, aiding leaders in their blind spots and weaknesses so as not to fall prey to the brokenness within. In reflecting on the content of the text and my twenty years of ministry experience, the five paradigms of the dark side describe many leaders I know and have worked with. Yet, as the introduction of the book confirms in both the original and updated version, the focus of the text is on a more specific group of leaders, namely baby boomers and the competition among them to be successful.[1]

Perhaps I have learned from my many baby boomer mentors and bosses as I found myself only relating in part to the descriptions mentioned by Rima and McIntosh. But more likely, their book is not directed squarely at me or the leaders I work with in their twenties and thirties. This is in part due to the abundance of psychology and reflective content for Christian leaders produced by McIntosh, Rima, Peter Scazzero, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and many others since the demise of the many baby boomers. In addition to the inspirational and spiritually formative texts has been a wave of writing on personality types with their relationship to Biblical principles reviewing both the strengths and weaknesses in a more nuanced fashion. Particularly, the enneagram and the work of Richard Rohr has enlightened many to the complexities of who they are in relationship to both their gifting and struggles.

Another point of divergence, and probably the stronger of the two, is the reality that the text is aimed primarily at male leaders. In reading through the text, one will note all core examples are about men, including each Biblical character and the references within the chapter revealing the ways the dark side is lived today. There are two exceptions where women are primary examples, both in business. First is Lisa the astronaut mentioned in chapter two as an example of “When Our Dark Side Endangers Others”.[2] The second is Janet, the young businesswoman in chapter seventeen who is unable to resist the poison of expectations.[3] Beyond Lisa and Janet women are mentioned as a backdrop for men as their co-workers, spouses or victims (note The Scarlet Letter, Eve and Bathsheba). Of the 108 references to ‘her’ more than half are in general ‘him or her’ language while the more than five hundred references to ‘his’ refer specifically to the male authors, God, or specific examples of male leaders and their stories. This doe not mean women cannot glean from the text. However, it does not speak from a woman’s perspective or to who women are as a growing segment of the church and leadership within the church.

While an argument can be made that both younger generations and women can benefit from McIntosh and Rima’s text, there are a variety of leaders who are speaking to modern and more diverse audiences, including Brene Brown and Sally Morganthaler. As Morganthaler has stated, “In the end, ministry effectiveness in the postmodern turn is not the result of a leader’s gender, but the degree to which they are embedded in the new world, how little their personal identity is tied to power and position, and how clearly they get what needs to happen now that the show is over.”[4]

 

[1] McIntosh, Gary L. and Samuel D. Rima. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures. Baker Publishing Group: Grand Rapids, 2007. Location 216.

[2] McIntosh and Rima, Location 479.

[3] Ibid., Location 2358.

[4] Morganthaler, Sally. “A New Conversation about Gender.” Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2007/november/new-conversation-about-gender.html (March 1, 2018)

 

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

14 responses to “Reading between the lines of the dark side”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Great critique, Trish. And I, too, was not impressed with this book. I did find it very male-dominant, which goes to show that simply using “his or her” language is not enough to establish an egalitarian stance.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your generational perspective as well. There’s a shift in how we lead and how the next generation is leading as well. For example, th ebig struggle in France is not competition for leadership roles, but finding someone who is willing to step up. The dark side that leaders here wrestle with is not feeling like they are qualified enough to lead or not wanting to risk leading (because leaders get blamed when things go wrong).

    Are there topics or approaches that would make a book like this accessible to our generation and those behind us?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      I think some of what Jean spoke about in her post is helpful and I think there are a lot of newer/diverse leaders and authors that could help make the conversation more accessible. Mostly I think the author’s are narrowly focused on a particular audience due to their own experience and theological belief. If they were to expand they would need to begin researching and interviewing people not like them. That would be a lot more work and they might as well look to other’s in varying fields to help them understand. Overall, I would just choose a different book and let them be who they are. 🙂

  2. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Trisha, thanks for bringing in a unique perspective. Do you feel there are unique darksides that women or the younger generations will face that were not represented by the baby boomer men? I have not heard of those two authors you mentioned at the end and I’m interested in their unique flavor of this subject.

    Excellent post. I want to press you and ask what the book has meant for you personally. It’s funny we can become so critical in weighing the academic validity of a sermon or a book and miss where God might be trying to illuminate a truth to us. Where is your dark side?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Kyle, here is a TED talk from Brene Brown. It went viral a few years ago and is totally worth watching. She also has a few best sellers (read Jean’s post for more on Brown).
      https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

      I think women face being demeaned by other women and men for choosing/being called to lead at times and then have all sorts of guilt issues around working and family and balance. Also, many women have what’s considered a double bind- if they are strong in who they are they are deemed too a (insert cuss word) and if they are too effeminate they are seen as incapable to lead. All of this has to do with the fact that they are constantly compared to or are comparing themselves to men because men have been the forerunners in the west of power and position.

      Millennials face different aspects of the dark side too. All in all, I think people are more nuanced and the book is out of touch with younger generations and females and doesn’t strike at the heart of our identity which could have been placed as an earlier chapter.

      Regarding my dark side, I could see aspects of myself in each of them, in particular the constant leader and the codependent person. I am a 3 with a 2 wing who has walked through a lot of leadership and failure. I am currently in a place of introspection on a number of levels as this has probably been one of the most challenging seasons we have endured. It’s not something I share publicly as that has been a dark side aspect from my past- oversharing, in order to gain people’s care for me. I do have people who journey with me and I am grateful for them.

      • mm Kyle Chalko says:

        Trish, im just now seeing this post. Thank you for your real response back to me! Excellent point about the unique struggle of women in leadership. I think you are right on.

  3. Well said Trisha! In fact my wife and I were commenting on the same thing, that this book was very male dominated and did not speak to the many different “dark side” struggles that women struggle with compared to men (thanks to my amazing wife pointing this out to me 🙂 ) You said it well when you said…”This does not mean women cannot glean from the text. However, it does not speak from a woman’s perspective or to who women are as a growing segment of the church and leadership within the church.” I need you to write a book about what it means to be a woman in leadership in the church and the struggles and challenges that come with it (just a simple request for your spare time).

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Jake. I will get right on that book request. I figured my perspective in this post had the potential of being a bit more unique and maybe insightful/similar to our conversation recently. I am excited for your and Jenn’s work!

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trish,

    Solid critique and your recognition that it seemed to be aimed at leaders who were men of a certain generation and age is not unfounded. I too struggled to find meaningful reviews of the book and hardly any solid critiques so yours is about as good as I have seen. I am thankful for your insight because I am a man of a certain age and though the text did resonate with me (in large part due to my current personal circumstances) I also recognize that in many ways I am ‘invisible’ as I am a white, heterosexual, middle class male and thus do not regularly encounter questions of identity like those who do not share my unearned status do. I am thankful that you highlight these issues for me. I need the consistent reminder.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      The fact that you recognize your position is a big one. I can tell via language pretty easily when people do not. As I work with students and people of color more and more I see that I have to get out of my own position and privileged place.
      I wonder how all this relates to your students and if you see uniqueness in their dark sides that varies from the text?

  5. Chris Pritchett says:

    Trisha, I really appreciate your post and I resonate with both your affirmations but even more your critique of the book. I didn’t realize that it was written for baby boomers, but having read it and then learning this, it makes lots of sense to me. The baby boomer generation came with 10,000mg of ambition with no psychology of healthy leadership research having been done yet. That’s a recipe for disaster and we Xers and Millennials have seen and experienced the damages enough, and have read enough leadership and psychology, to consider a book like this to be “common sense” at best. Of course I did not pick up on the male dominance as you did, but I see it now. Perhaps that is partly because the author is a professor at Talbot Seminary, who doesn’t support the ordination of women. Another aspect of the Baby Boomer generation that is, if anything, a justice issue in the other direction for our generation. It is striking that most (if not all) famous perpetrators in the #metoo unfolding are Baby Boomer men. I hope and pray that my generation of pastoral leaders know better than our predecessors, and I also hope and pray that the men (especially white men like me) do not continue to dominate the pulpits of America.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks for your prayer Chris. I feel like more than ever I want to advocate for people not like me, namely people of color. Especially because I realize the marginalization I may have endured is a shadow of what some of my peers have endured and they need benevolent advocates. There are some great organizations doing that but I am not sure that is totally true in the church.

      Also, I chalk the male dominance language up to the theology of the authors as I looked them both up as well.

  6. Greg says:

    Thanks Trisha. I like many others read this book with only me in mind (how very American of me) and didn’t think about what was missing. Like Chris as I think back over the examples in this book, I do see how not only are they boomers but all men. I appreciate you for your concern about those that follow (both male and female). Like Kyle I haven’t heard about the authors at the end (except in Jean blog) and need to be more widely read.

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Thanks a lot Trisha…I’m feeling really guilty now because the geek in my kept enjoying the Star Wars “Dark Side” comparison and you had to use a big word like … “enneagram”. Forget my Jar Jar Binks impersonation…searching the dictionary instead. LOL

    All seriousness now; so I do have an honest question for you regarding your post. I agreed with your assessment on the mainly male focused direction of this reading; to be honest, I may have connected better with this book than any other this semester. So the question: I know there is a male-dominated society…both in the world and in the church still today, but does that reality ever become the “dark side” issue for women? Does it become an issue that can actually interfere with your ability to be the person you desire to be?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Shawn, I have seen other other women who have made men their target/dark side and that just becomes toxic. I think we often want to blame to make ourselves feel better about our problems but we need unity and being mad over time doesn’t accomplish the end goal in healthy ways. I am grateful to have the men in my life (father, husband, son, co-workers, bosses, friends) who have been some of my best advocates and have helped me maintain a healthy perspective on where to be frustrated and where to seek change. I hope the same for other women and attempt to model this to those I mentor.

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