Our reading this week, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, I felt was timely (at least for me). I tend to read books like these with caution due to the fact that they attempt to put people in a box and reveal all of their issues while providing “clean cut” solutions to them. Another reason is because without proper support and guidance discussions about emotional, psychological and behavioral patterns tend to lend to opening up Pandora’s Box which brings up areas of past abuse, traumatic life experiences, etc. The wounds and issues of an individual if they remain exposed, without proper support for healing and restoration can have an adverse effect on any individual. The purpose for this book is to (1) help leaders understand the dark side, (2) be able to identify it in their own life and (3) then overcome it before it overcomes them. Rima sets up the book by sharing his own story and struggle with the dark side. I believe this is done as a way to level set with their readers to say I understand what you may be experiencing and I have grown in my awareness and ability to overcome it.
With that said, I found myself at times laughing at the irony presented, pondering about ways in which I could relate to the discussion and also relieved by the unveiling of some of the truths laid out in the book. The authors packed so much in to such a short read. It is definitely a book I will need to reference at times and reread. While I didn’t find anything in this book new or surprising but in the place where I find myself in life, it was a good “pause for the cause” opportunity to reflect on how the where I am meets the way in which I lead.
So what makes up my dark side?
So Part 2 was all about explaining the various personality types—Compulsive, Narcissistic, Paranoid, Codependent and Passive Aggressive. Each chapter provided a biblical and/or practical leadership figure that reflected this leadership behavior. At the end of each chapter, there was an assessment with 12 questions each with a 5 point scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree. Any totals that add up to 21-40 a person possess some tendencies of this behavior but anything over 40 means you probably are that leader. I went through all of the chapters and decided to indulge my curiosity by taking the assessments. As a result, it showed that I have some Compulsive (29), Narcissistic (31) and slight Paranoid Leadership style tendencies (22). While average in score value they do meet the threshold for tendencies. I knew that I would not be in one category because I never fit neatly into any box. Am I surprised? Not really! If I were to be honest with myself, I can see the overlap of all three playing out daily, at times, in how I lead in my life. More so when things in my life feel like they are overwhelming and overbearing. Though the authors would assert “[a]t times the dark side seems to leap on us unexpectedly. In reality it has slowly crept up on us. The development of our dark side has been a lifetime in the making despite the fact that the assault by these powerful emotions, compulsions, and dysfunctions can be sudden. Like vinegar and soda being slowly swirled together in a tightly closed container, our personalities have been slowly intermingled with examples, emotions, expectations, and experiences that over a lifetime have created our dark side.” While these behaviors are negative, with them lie traits that when exercised inversely can be positive. The tipping scale between negative and positive I believe is circumstantial. This is why self-awareness is so important to be able to discern when the tipping in taking place and the downstream impacts it is having on your life and the lives of those in your organization.
What is the recommended solution?
The truth of the matter is that “we can never completely eradicate our dark side. It is always with us. Just as our shadow periodically disappears when the sun is absent, only to return later, we can subdue and overcome our dark side for significant periods of time but it is always with us.” It is not about eradicating but about mitigating the risks through self-management. Awareness combined with the proper tools equips us to be able to lead more effectively and reduce the negative impact on those we serve. The book concludes in Part 3 with some steps to overcoming the dark side. The steps include:
- Acknowledge Your Dark Side
- Examine the Past
- Resist the Poison of Expectations
- Practice Progressive Self-Knowledge
- Understand you Identity in Christ
All of these steps are great reminders. When put into practice become even better life tools and create growth opportunities along the way. For the sometimes Compulsive, Narcissistic and slightly Paranoid tendency leader, I am grateful for God’s grace and that He gives us mirrors in life to reflect upon and see ourselves but he also doesn’t wait for us to reach perfection before He chooses to use us. All of us have some tendency, issue and imperfection. It is a part of who we are as human beings but I know through the power of the Holy Spirit and support in community we can all evolve and grow. That leaves me with an outlook on life that is both encouraging and full of hope for my future.
 Gary McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the dark side of leadership: how to become an effective leader by confronting potential failures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), Kindle Location 319.
 Ibid., Kindle Location 1868.