The genuine article is a kind of person who exhibits a nature that does not need to be defended. Henri Nouwen, mystic and servant of the disabled-forgotten, writes of the surrendered life, of those who’ve been set free from shame to love, in his book ‘With Open Hands’. He encourages the prayerful life as one of openness before God, ‘slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive.’1
The genuine article lives otherwise, without the struggle of pretense, their lives unhidden, unabashedly open. Their untroubled nature poses a threat because they are not threatened. Their vulnerability poses a threat because they are invulnerable. Simon Walker, in his book ‘The Undefended Leader’, considers ‘the few extraordinary individuals whose occupation and application of power is of a different order altogether.’2
Credibility is offered by a trueness of character and integrity of calling in the life and expression of the genuine leader, the undefended leader. Walker writes that ‘these are the ones whose life and philosophy have involved deliberate acts of weakness and courageous self-sacrifice.’3 The leader is a determined and well-differentiated individual whose authority is authority is earned through ‘their personal sacrifice, often, struggle and loss.’4
Leadership is a curious thing; it can be naturally expressed or awkwardly impressed. The unravelling of leadership depends on the roots and personal development of the individual and their ego. Beyond or by-passing character, weakness can arise by the ego ‘that makes us susceptible to manipulation’ leading to a decrease of integrity, authentic calling and an increasing self-defending (protecting) attitude.5
Sigmund Freud, in his ‘The Ego and the Id’, defines the ego as ‘a coherent organization of mental processes.’6He connects the attachment of consciousness to the ego and considers its control upon ‘approaches to motility – that is, to the discharge of excitations int he external world; it’s the mental agency which supervises all of its constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams.’7 (I absolutely adore what happens to my imagination when I consider the thought of the ego being motile).
Control and power maintenance is within each one of us. Simon Walker, following his comprehensible and revealing analysis on four ego types in the context of leadership (that of shaping, defining, adapting and defending), with their front and backstage theatrics, their strengths and flaws, relates that ‘the root of our problem does not consist in some flaw in our character which we may be able to fix’ but, in our relationships, that ‘the problem lies not within us, but between us and others.’8
The undefended leader realizes the ‘discontinuity between’ and commits to an ego-honesty, an ego-calming (disarming) movement that adjusts nature and order, seeking a pathway toward connection and opening with others. Walker increases hope in the development of the space-in-between, ‘of a faithful, loving relationship (that) can foster confidence in a defended soul and encourage them to climb into light and freedom.’9 Leaders, who are transitioning to being undefended (seemingly a life-long movement), are ones who ‘look inwards’ at the egos they’re carrying as a perceived construct that they can ‘operate beyond it, rather than hanging on to it as if (your) life depends on it.’10 It is painful to ‘hold on’ and it’s excruciating to ‘let go’, then the still small voice of assurance ‘abide in me’ (John 15), the lightness, the peace not to exploit the openness of empty hands.
I would not admit to being a leader, though my ego would push for otherwise. I can with confidence admit to being a student of leadership. The captain of a sports team and leader of a multi-faceted organization are positions of leadership that I have not held. I have often wondered about the kinds of people who are drawn to such stations of responsibility and prestige. In leaders, we have seen the real-sweet, the sordid-sleaze and the lily of the valley. There’s a way, a collars up strut, a confidence that seems to propagate a certain appeal in their targeted audiences, for pseudo-leaders, the interest is in the mirror, winning and fan-base.
There’s method like this, behaviour like this throughout creation, interesting social and political expressions by organisms across the taxa that Suzuki, Attenborough, Wheatley (especially) and so many others are excited to connect to us special ‘ego-people’. My imagination is driven deeper such explorations, life and connection; it’s a fun and playful encounter that enlarges the scope and brings a sweeter precision to the wonder of our creation and the artistry of our Creator, not like personality tests and pigeon-holing. Well, maybe a bit to be honest!
We have been both witness and victim of poor leadership, ‘leadership that is full of hypocrisy and deceit, leadership that is manipulative and abusive, leadership that sells us a lie of some future utopia, leadership that lacks courage and is really concerned with securing the leader’s reputation.’11 For those who awaken to the illusion, to the plastic and façade of something ‘not real’, a yearning can beckon for justice and relief, for something genuine.
A match, to what is believed a leader is, the kind of life and heart a leader is contained by, for someone genuine, can be a source for hope as people come together in any context that engenders community, exposing a position for leadership. We have a model of ‘genuine article’ living and ‘genuine article’ leadership. His name is Jesus. He is the undefended leader who from his throne of nails and thorns offers forgiveness. He stood in judgement and stands, undefended, and he loves as only the truest, most pure nature could.
- Henri J.M Nouwen, With Open Hands (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1972), 154.
- Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (The Undefended Leader Trilogy Book 1), Piquant Editions. Introduction. Kindle.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Intro.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Ch. 1.
- Rasmus Houggard and Jacqueline Carter. “Ego is the Enemy of Good Leadership.” Harvard Business Review, November 6, 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/11/ego-is-the-enemy-of-good-leadership
- Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id (London: Hogarth Press, 1962), 7.
- Freud, The Ego and the Id, 7.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Ch. 10.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Ch. 8.
- Chris Pearse. “Ego: The Enemy of Good Leadership.” Forbes Magazine, December 14, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrispearse/2018/12/14/ego-the-enemy-of-good-leadership/?sh=51130c985678.
- Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are, Intro.