So many statements in Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh resonated with me and my work. The author’s definition of the Dark Side is what keeps me in business as a therapist. McIntosh defines the Dark Side as “the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion.” Most people I meet with have many things going on inside of them that they are unaware of until the emotional explosion comes and they schedule an appointment, usually in a desperate panic. This process of emotions and thoughts being bottled up for weeks, months, and often years is so normal to people, they are rarely aware of the volcano brewing inside of them. This is why it is vital to be self-aware in order to be an effective leader. As the Jesuits say, “If all leadership is first self-leadership that springs from personal beliefs and attitudes, then each person must first decide what personal leadership legacy he or she wants to leave behind.” Their concept of self-leadership is brilliant, and something many leaders today are lacking because they are leaving what is going on inside unexamined.
We have heard it said that our greatest strength is often our greatest weakness. Well, it appears that McIntosh agrees when he says, “In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.” I have seen this time and time again with various successful leaders, their strength of charismatic leadership becomes the aspect that draws unhealthy admirers and tempts them to fall. Because of this lack of self-awareness, leaders tend to get blindsided by the dark side of the aspects of their personality or strengths that lead to their success. The other thing I notice is people rarely trust another person to be in a trusting accountability type relationship with, especially successful leaders. They are not submitting themselves to another person to allow them to “proofread” their life on a regular basis. Many times these leaders struggle to find someone to play this role for fear of being exposed to the organization they are leading. This keeps them stuffing their pain and emotions, only to set themselves up for a potential emotional or moral meltdown.
Another aspect of the Dark Side that often gets missed is the fact that “leaders that we perceive to be exceptionally confident and in command are often compensating for a deeply rooted sense of inferiority and insecurity.” This is the classic explanation of why bullies tear people down, because they feel inferior and insecure and want to pull others down to their level. This type of overcompensation is very common among leaders, but all people see is the confident persona they want you to see. This deep sense of insecurity is often at the core of the pain they are holding inside and not adequately dealing with. I couldn’t agree more with the author when he says, “When we refuse to process in healthy ways feelings of insecurity, unhealthy codependence issues, feelings of personal shame, deeply sublimated anger or fear, or some combination of these or other issues, they will wreak havoc in our lives and leadership and eventually endanger ourselves and others.” In the book he highlights the astronaut, Lisa Nowak, as an example of what can happen if we don’t process the uncomfortable feelings inside. Sadly, I have had countless people sitting on my couch recounting the devastatingly destructive road they went down in life as a result of unresolved, unaware pain, insecurity and low self-worth. Most were completely unaware of the dangerous volcano bubbling below the surface for years before whatever unhealthy incident occurred.
Another common reason for leadership failure is pride. “Simply put, the first human leadership failure was the result of unrestrained pride and selfishness with a healthy dose of self – deception.” We have been warned of this long before, thanks to the Good Book that says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.” How many times do we need to watch this kind of destruction follow the prideful rise of a successful leader. I’m sure they don’t set out on a mission to be prideful, but power, fame, and money do strange things to people. We tend to forget Who gave us the gifts and talents to be in that position, and Who opened the door and gave us favor for us to have success. We see this in Hollywood over and over again. Famous people who seem to have it all and take pride in this lofty position in society, only to be miserable inside and unhappy with their life. This is mostly because they have not figured out the secret to a happy life is actually not in what you have or do, but in who you are (that’s why we are called human “beings” and not human “doings”). Once again I agree with McIntosh when he says, “Leaders who are aware of their dark side and are willing to deal openly and honestly with it before God are empowered for greater effectiveness.” The Jesuits were on to something when they emphasized the need for leaders to have self-awareness and a willingness to look inward and process the feelings of insecurity, pain, pride, etc. in order to be the leader God has called them to be. May I and those in my awesome cohort have the courage to do this well!