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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.”
 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.
 Ibid., 309.
 Ibid., 303.
 Ibid., 304.
 Ibid., 304.