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

The head and the body: one DNA

Written by: on November 16, 2018

After reading Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve, I have not stopped pondering the influence a leader has, whether or not they are near those they lead. The idea that a leader can have a major impact on an organization or family system indirectly is profound, especially that the effect can be just as much or greater when not attempting to directly motivate others. One of the primary metaphors from Friedman’s text carries over to biblical truth as well as to the content from this week’s text, The Leadership Mystique by Manfred Kets de Vries. The specific metaphor is that of the head and the body.

Friedman’s reports,

“I found an uncanny parallel that enabled me to put leader and follower together conceptually in a systemic way. The parallel lies between the latest understanding of the connection between the brain and the body in a human organism, on the one hand, and the effects of a “head’s” functioning on a “body politic” in a human organization, on the other… The functioning of a “head” can systemically influence all parts of a body simultaneously and totally bypass linear, “head-bone-connected-tothe-neck-bone” thinking. What counts is the leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.[1]

The biblical representation of the head and body are found in multiple of the Apostle Paul’s writing but none is as poignant to Friedman’s point as Ephesians 4:15-16. “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”[2]  Christ’s presence and authority directs the body and is a permeable presence, throughout. If the body is in fact one with the head, then the DNA is the same and there is continuity to the whole being. The body cannot be separate from the head to be alive.

Manfred Kets de Vries could easily have inserted the head/body metaphor in his recognition that “Problems in organizations start at the top; the CEO sets the tone and conveys his or her dysfunction down the ranks.”[3] What is being conveyed throughout Kets de Vries text is that the most important role of any leader is to care for themselves. Their influence as the head of the organization will set the tone, the very DNA of their organization.

Focusing on the soft issues of emotions and intuition have not been the norm for business (or ministry) leaders. However, Kets de Vries argues leaders who understand their own motivations and what motivates those they lead are better equipped to thrive. Growing in emotional intelligence, a leader must first recognize and manage their own emotions. Then a leader must consider the emotions of others through active listening.

Beyond emotional intelligence, The Leadership Mystique encourages work-life balance and the practice whole living as key components of successful leaders. Leaders who set an example of self-care through balance influence their employees to do the same. Though Kets de Vries explains five attributes to motivating followers, the most influential is the leader’s modeling the behaviors they hope their employees will personify. The greatest influence a leader can have is to personally embody the attributes they want to communicate to their team, whether incorporating play, communicating vision, or modeling self-control.  Regardless of the ways a leader promotes self-care, if they are authentically living a life of health, especially emotional health, they will create an environment where others begin to become more emotionally healthy. Just as Friedman found, the brain can communicate to the rest of the body and make change, so too, the leader can communicate to the followers toward making healthy change.

I have seen this time and again in ministry. The church is only ever as healthy as the pastor. The denomination is only as healthy as the leadership who are in positions of most authority. When leadership communicates health but is not embodying a healthy lifestyle, it is intuited by those around them. The false self never communicates in transparent ways like the authentic self.

Just a few days ago I was at a pastor’s training session for my tradition. The contracted group teaching the session were active pastors who have created several modules to help ministers turn around their churches. They spoke of self-awareness in the morning then went on to mission, vision and values conversations in the afternoon. The irony was that as good as the content was, there remained a lack of personal health by one of the leaders and it was obvious that some blind spots to them were showing in their presentation. The leader was frustrated about a petty issue with the mic, made a slightly undercutting remark about his co-leader and began to talk about a third non-related incident from the day before in an attempt at comedy. Yet the whole time I wondered what was going on that this was all coming out at a training event with people they didn’t even know.  Why was the one leader so on edge? The leaders, empowered by the head leader in the room, were subtly creating an ethos contrary to their own training.

Thinking through the ideas presented with regard to the head and the body relationship, I come to my doctoral research. In my discernment toward creating an artifact, I want to do what is most effective for leaders in my organization. I originally intended to create a training for those currently in positions of leadership (those functioning as the head) to grow in their leadership health through inclusivity. Yet, as someone who is not the head, although I have influence, I am realizing it may be more influential to work with those who are just beginning in ministry leadership (more in the body role) while partnering with someone who has more influence and leadership than myself. Regardless, I will be working with leaders toward their own personal health as it relates to their influence on others.


[1] Friedman, Edwin H.. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 464-473). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ephesians 4:15-16, NRSV


About the Author


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.

16 responses to “The head and the body: one DNA”

  1. Great job Trisha writing a post based on reading around the book (thanks to no Kindle option 🙂 ) I appreciated your reminder of the body metaphor and loved how you came to focus on those in the body and on personal health and growth. I also thought it was interesting how you picked up on the lack of health in the leader at the training you attended. I can’t help but see this all the time. I feel like it all comes down to self-leadership that leads to the most effective leading of others.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Totally Jake! Self leadership seems to take the cake for me right now. It’s just so glaringly obvious that this is the only way to lead others but I have been guilty of not doing it and being blind to areas that need some self-care too. This is something we have to advocate more for in ministry.

  2. I love you example from the training! That kind of behavior is so telling, and I’m often amazed at the lack of self-awareness in so many “heads.”

    I also really like where you are heading with your artifact. I’m think targeting emerging leaders is a great idea. Pour into potential! Doing that with the support of a “head” could be absolutely revolutionary in your denomination.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Totally! I think there’s a lot of potential, just a matter of reception from the head. And, if not, the number of leaders growing from the body side of things will continue to grow and eventually move into the head position. There’s my optimism at work. 🙂

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Great introduction and use of the head-body leadership metaphor. Nice comparison with Freidman and the DNA theme of leaders and organizations. EI is a name for what leaders have always needed to be aware of, but now we can discuss it intelligently and put names, themes, and ideas around it and make our leadership journey more scholarly.
    I found your discussion on “self-care” very interesting. I know from my work histories that while I have always promoted healthy living, choices, and safety I have had to balance the stressors between performance and employee. So, for me, in the marketplace ministry, it is more like a homemade goulash. Hey, you use a Dutch oven to mix all the ingredients together, cook until done, and add seasoning to meet the recipient taste bud requirements. I think self-care in leadership is something like that. Weird I know, but I had to find a Dutch connection. P.S. I like your musical inserts in your posts.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Mike, I think self-care is hard and most leaders struggle with it, especially as those who want to serve Jesus and lay down our lives. We seem to most often become martyrs in loving our neighbor via ministry while missing the ‘as yourself’ part, particularly our inner world. It is becoming more apparent in my own life and ministry that the more I take care of my own issues the more effective I am with other people’s.

  4. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Trish- this is gold and so true: “The greatest influence a leader can have is to personally embody the attributes they want to communicate to their team, whether incorporating play, communicating vision, or modeling self-control. Regardless of the ways a leader promotes self-care, if they are authentically living a life of health, especially emotional health, they will create an environment where others begin to become more emotionally healthy.” Thank you for this reminder and a great post on the influence of a leader, even if she or he is not close to the constituents. It would be interesting to reflect on that first paragraph of your post in light of Trump’s presidency. What is the ripple affect that his leadership brings to or infuses within the fabric our nation and culture? I know many people who voted for him because they liked his policies and were willing to overlook his flawed character, but to me that seems so foolish based on what we know from Kets de Vries, Friedman, and others.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Chris, I get knots in my stomach thinking about the idea of Trump through the lens of leadership influence. There is such a toxicity about his words and actions that is breeding a xenophobic culture. It makes me really sad and angry as it’s so contrary to the message of Jesus and so many who consider themselves Christians are willing participants.

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha…great post! We have actually been dealing with some leadership issues in our church this past month that really echoed the phrase you quoted, “Problems in organizations start at the top.” We had a disgruntled deacon, who, rather than take his grievances to the elder-ship, or even to me, instead allowed himself to get caught up in a bashing session with some of our members. Though he claims he did not start any gossip, what he does not seem to grasp, is that he initiated the griping session. I have been battling the gossip that has erupted a lot this week as a result.

    It is the reality that as leaders, we hold a lot of responsibility for those we serve and lead; perhaps this is why James writes, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      My prayers are with you Shawn. Keep persevering toward health and take a day off. 🙂 It seems these texts are good for us all as we minister.

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Trust I like how you have interacted with this book and considered adjusting the target audience of your artifact. There are certainly more middle leaders than top leaders, and your paper might reach many more people now after this.

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Yes, I was thinking that as well…I have some different ideas on how to do this. We will see what’s most effective.

  7. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    This was a great post. Your discussion on the headship of Christ being a perfect example for us as leaders and the discussion of the ways a leader can both influence a group whether in a positive way or negative way was great insight. I understand wanting to maybe change focus to upcoming leaders, I am wrestling with the same thing, the issue I am concerned with though is will the young leaders be “taught” by the older leaders an forget their training. I have seen it happen in the corporate world, “let me show you how it really is” is too often heard. You would have to build a strong case not to listen to the naysayers.


    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jason, that is a good question- how will the leaders at the top respond? I am hoping to get their approval, incorporate my part and then facilitate coaching for them from someone else who they can better listen to.

  8. Greg says:

    Hmm. Makes me wonder how I have used humor to hide some of my short coming….:-0 I have been in meeting where these awkward moments have made me wonder was was going on behind the scenes as well.
    Great job working to incorporate Friedman into this week’s blog…I think you did a great job speaking to some of the issues even though neither of us read this week. (we are such slackers:-) I also appreciated the discussion on Friedman and the head and body conversation we all had last week. Even with a “team” structure there needs to be a head to coordinate the the conversations within a team structure. This was a good reminder as I work to corral a team of leaders in a way that is encouraging and honoring to their gifts and abilities.

  9. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Greg, thanks for your reflective thoughts. I appreciate how you don’t just say good job but bring our posts into your own ministry contexts to keep learning. That’s influential to me. Also, good work considering the non-reading! 🙂

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