DMINLGP

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

Undefended Knope

Written by: on November 14, 2019

There’s an episode in the television hit, Parks and Rec, where Leslie Knope is trying to create the best dinner party for a guy she’s dating. This guy is a big wig lawyer and has stories of traveling around the world and doing awesome things. Leslie, in an effort to win him over, invites him to her home with her friends. What she doesn’t know is that he’s exhausted so while he is disengaging from tiredness, she creates more and more for the dinner party to do. Before you know it, they have a belly-dancer, a lecture on quickbooks, a five-course meal, and a general disaster on their hands.

 

In his profound book on leadership, Simon Walker reminds us that leadership is really about being a host.[1] Leading should really be focused on the space that’s created between the leader and the followers and the relationships that can be found within that space.[2] Walker alludes to this type of leadership as hospitality. This focus on hospitality releases the leader to let go of control over what is going on, in order to make room for the space in relationship. This “letting go” is described as being “Undefended”. In essence, we need to have a deep sense of calling and authority about who we are as leaders, and this knowing ourselves come from “the humility of learning to trust and to receive”, not skills and power.[3]

Leslie Knope actually teaches me much about leadership and being undefended. In her quest to win followers, she takes control over the party and micromanages the entire thing. In the end, she never gets what she’s hoping for. Her date falls asleep and her party-goers are annoyed and all leave. Is the case in most situational TV comedies, Leslie learns her lesson and recognizes her mistakes. In fact, in this specific episode, Leslie turns herself over to the city regulators for a misuse of her power because the people she brought to entertain at the dinner party were in jeopardy of losing their jobs.

 

 

Leslie’s party was one that from the beginning, was based on fear. She struggled with the fear that she was not enough for this guy. Walker reminds us that undefended leaders should have freedom from the need to be great.[4] The reality is that there is enough greatness in the world to go around. It’s not a zero-sum game. Secondly, Leslie was so busy trying to navigate all the different components of her party that she lost the freedom to be fully available.[5] Had she also been an active participant in her party, she would have noticed that her guests were agitated and that

her boyfriend wasn’t tired of the party but that he had many other things going on. These two components were the downfall of Leslie’s party, and ultimately, I think my own leadership. So often, I am trying to navigate creating the perfect environment where all those I lead can bring all of who they are into the office every day and when they have challenges, rush in and save their day. I’ve realized over the last few years that that type of behavior prevents me from actually serving and leading those around me. I

am leading them out of fear that they won’t like me, which is actually stifling to them and me. I’m so busy trying to meet their needs that I run at a frantic pace to do everything, and I’ve prevented them from their own self-authorship and learning.

 

Walker ends his second book with the third freedom, leading with nothing to lose.[6] This is the place I’m striving to get to now in my own leadership. I want to lead from a liberated place that lives fully into the calling and vocation as a leader that can only come from the goodness of God. It’s the ability to give back all that God has given me and to be used by God for the work of God’s kingdom. While I may never achieve this, I hope I never stop trying. And in the words of Leslie Knope, “We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends and work. But work has to come third.”

___________

[1] Simon P Walker, The Undefended Leader: Leading Out of Who You Are, Leading With Nothing to Lose, Leading with Everything to Give. (Carlisle, UK: Piquiant Editions, Ltd. 2010), 307.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 309.

[4] Ibid., 303.

[5] Ibid., 304.

[6] Ibid., 304.

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

8 responses to “Undefended Knope”

  1. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Oh how I love Leslie Knope! One of the things I love about her character is how much she needs the people around her, but then in return, they thrive. What do you see as some key ingredients to finding the right tension between the sufficiency of Christ for you as a leader, with the healthy empowerment that comes when we genuinely need the people around us?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      Good question, friend! I think it all depends on where our ultimate sense of value comes from. For Leslie, often times, her value comes from an unhealthy dependence on others, even though they do thrive as part of her inner circle. That being said, I do think if we are grounded and rooted in Christ, we know where our value lies and we can give from a full cup to others around us, trusting that they will give in return.

  2. Thank you Karen for illustrating leadership through the Parks and Recreation TV episode which I heard for the very first time. It helps me to appreciate your context in a small way. Your use of Leslie’s role play and her micromanaging of the stage brings out a clear picture of how the leader either empowers or disempowers the followers, through his/her hospitality.

  3. mm Mary Mims says:

    Karen, thank you also as a leader for using humor to get an important point across about how to be an undefended leader. Although I don’t watch the show I can just imagine it. Thanks for the lesson and the levity.

  4. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thank you Karen. I am now challenged to write a post next semester on Tom Haverford’s leadership style. You have set the bar high!

  5. mm Sean Dean says:

    Never would I have thought of putting Leslie Knope with Simon Walker, but it works oh so well. Thanks for your reflection.

  6. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Karen,
    While I am not familiar with Leslie Knope, I am glad to be reminded that work is always third in priorities. Thanks so much for your vulnerability in recognizing you are often driven simply by wanting those you lead to always like you. Undefensiveness/hospitality provides excellent constructs for us to simply let go and let God move in the space of our undefended leadership. Truly, this is leading without fear (even the fear of being disliked on occasion). Thanks again for your witty and vulnerable post.

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