The most notable of leaders tend to be extroverts with personalities of charisma that charm their followers towards the mission and purpose at hand. The greater their charisma, the higher the pedestal we exalt them upon towards an idealized model of what we all want to become. These leaders become great at performing in the outer world but perhaps also become effective at ignoring their inner life. Innocently and seemingly to our nature as humans, we set up these leaders for a long tumble off that pedestal if they in turn are not acutely aware of the danger of the stage of influence. If the leader does not confront the monsters within, the stage of influence can become a place of delusion and self-importance where the leader is not spreading freedom to their followers but actually a thorny path of doing more harm than good.
“Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who can lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.” (Palmer, p. 80-81)
I’ve been re-reading Parker J. Palmer’s “Let your Life Speak”, and in his conclusion for vocational leaders, he proposed 5 inner monsters leaders need to be acutely self-aware of:
- Insecurity about identity and worth – not knowing ‘who’ we are or ultimately ‘whose’ we are as the very children of a loving God.
- Obsessed with competition – believing falsely that the universe is a battleground and hostile to human interests as opposed to a belief that all things are working together for good.
- Functional atheism – the delusion that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This shadow leads to burnout and resentment, I’ve been here far too many times in my life.
- Fear of the natural ‘chaos’ of life – we believe that good leadership is about controlling and eliminating chaos as opposed to allowing it to lead us to greater creativity and break-through.
- Denial of death itself – not letting things that have run their course have a natural death, holding everyone hostage to a day gone by where there is no longer any life. Ultimately this is fear of failure instead of seeing the new data as an opportunity for clarity for the next break through.
“A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.” (Parker, p. 78)
I resonate with all 5 of these inner monsters and I’m learning not to avoid them but to press right in on them and not let them control my inner life and heart. Pressing in on them, presses them down to a foundational grounding out of which we live, love and lead. Instead of saying ‘there are no monsters’, they may in fact be real, and they are ‘us’.
Peace to you and your own monsters,