Tag Archives: leadership

Leadership and the Monsters within



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:

  1. Insecurity about identity and worth – not knowing ‘who’ we are or ultimately ‘whose’ we are as the very children of a loving God.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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,

Chris +




Management, Leadership and Personal Identity in the Marketplace

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown



Forgive me as I’m working on some material, thoughts and personnel development for my day job in the marketplace and these are the thoughts I’m coming to.  Let me know what you think, challenge or question.

  1. Management – this is the base expectation for employees in the marketplace.  This is largely how do things ‘get done’.  Job descriptions are written and measured based upon these base expectations.  Showing up on time and fulfilling these expectations is the bare minimum of what it means to have employment.  The deeper levels of higher quality management revolve around such things as competence, controls, efficiencies and profitability.  Management is pragmatic, it’s getting things done.  Great management is doing those things more intelligently and effectively with enduring results beyond the competition.
  2. Leadership – this is not about things, but about people.  Leadership is about the empowerment process of making others greater.  Leadership is not only worried about the questions of what, but more about the questions of how and who.  Leadership is a broader process of drawing others into the game and allowing them to contribute with a kind of harmony that joins many parts into a cohesive whole.  When leadership has the trust of many and the many act and perform with this kind of unified whole within their giftedness, the results are powerfully exponential.  Great leadership is not about personal titles or offices, great leadership is about the empowerment of others towards a common goal.  It is not a science, it’s an interpersonal artform.
  3. Personal Identity – here’s the dirty little secret they didn’t teach you about in school or your college textbooks; your leadership and management skills are largely determined by how much you are aware of your personal identity that is rooted in your story.  Your story forms your core and it influences everything you do, how you act, how you are motivated and how you motivate, how you react and how you respond.  The painful parts of your story create vulnerabilities that when they are touched on, like a raw nerve, will cause you to over-react or lash out in fear.  The more grounded and mature chapters of your story allow you to anchor down in raging storms of marketplace life and act with power while others are tossed and turned by the circumstances of the day.  Out of your core you know who you are and why you are here.  Your core is formed out of your story, you can’t escape it.  We all participate in a lived story.

Our lives have to be bigger than our job descriptions.  We are more than what we manage or get done.  We are more than how others respond to our leadership.  If we get our personal worth out of efficiency numbers or what others think of us, we will live and lead largely out of a great deal of insecurity.  However, if we dive deep into our personal identity and interact with the vulnerabilities of our story, we will find the power to know who we really are that never changes regardless of the circumstances.  That’s the story I want to live and lead others into that same journey for their own discovery, freedom and empowerment.  The power that comes from knowing who we really are is not acquired like a commodity, it is learned and honed with deep introspection.  This kind of power is not contrived, it is exponential.

When Leaders are Tested

“The secret of a leader lies in the tests he has faced over the whole course of his life and the habit of action he develops in meeting those tests.” -Gail Sheehy

Under Pressure

I have long subscribed to the idea that there are 2 kinds of people, those that dream and those that experience their dreams; the only difference is discipline applied to get there.  How do we acquire those disciplines?  Usually it’s not because we are super-human and practically perfect in every way, usually it’s because we have been through battles and been tested and learned what persevering looks like.

When pressures come, the exterior wrapper of our false selves gets peeled away and we are seen a bit for who and what we really are.  The things that are revealed on our inside is our true character and pressure has a way of bringing it out to the surface.  It is there and in that place where I have to deal with my ugliness, look at it in the face and decide I want to be a better leader/person than that.  In our insecurity, we can look away or blame others, but that is for cowards.  Real leaders have the guts to look closely and adjust accordingly because they know if they pass this test, it will build something they want seen in the next revealing test.  Real leaders understand vulnerability, they have to eat it for breakfast every morning to deal with their frailty.

Experiencing dreams do not come by accident, it happens on purpose.  Part of the discipline to get there is being willing to gain character in times of testing, I happen to be in one of those places right now.  How about you?

“3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 3:3-4)

The open hearted leader

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.
Madeleine L’Engle


The fallacy is that leaders are supposed to have it all together, be strong, take control, make things happen, have the answers.  At least that’s what followers want to believe.  If leaders believe their own press and come to the delusion that they do have it all together . . . well, history tells us that they are a train wreck waiting to happen.

What if leaders were open hearted about their lack of having it all together?  What if leaders were honest about their fears and insecurities?  What if leaders embraced vulnerability?  What if leaders didn’t have the answers, weren’t self-sufficient, weren’t always strong, weren’t always sure, weren’t always secure?  What if they were a hot mess like you and me?  Would you still follow them?

If leaders are not open-hearted about their struggles, how can they lead at all?  If they aren’t like us, how can they be an example to follow?  The open hearted leader is one that makes peace with their vulnerability and that in fact becomes a trait in which others connect with and want to emulate.  The open hearted leader says ‘I’m not okay, you’re not okay’ but let’s have the courage to face that reality.  The open hearted leader does not find their strength in being sure, they find their strength in showing up and facing the storm on behalf of others, with others and supporting others from behind.  I’m convinced that 98% of leadership is just showing up.  There are many that talk a big game; but when the chips fall and the storm is at it’s peak, open hearted leaders show up.

Being vulnerable is not weakness, it’s being human, it’s being real.  Those that know who they really are do not need to project a false self, they can unabashedly be their real self, warts and all.  The open hearted leader is a dangerous man/woman because their hearts are free, they belong to no one and no thing.  When leaders lead out of a clear sense of self, they are free to be dangerous.  Being open hearted is a dangerous thing, enter at your own risk.

Leadership as Art

I would rather die of passion than of boredom. –Vincent van Gogh


Leadership is not a title, it isn’t a paycheck, it isn’t an office, it isn’t a cold strategy and it certainly is not a science, it’s a human art form.  It’s one of those things that is mostly unseen but when it is not present, everyone knows it.  When it is present, it happens so seamlessly that all involved believe and act as if it is just the natural order of things.  Leadership is weaving the colors together in the background so that the viewers are inspired to stop and look.  Leadership is about being picky about the right paint, brushes and canvas to do the job one has in mind.  Leadership is not linear, it is not paint by numbers.  Leadership is creative and imaginative.  Leadership is messy, it is about getting your hands dirty.  Leadership does not operate within a managed time-frame, it free flows until the inspired product is complete.  Leadership is in fact never complete, it will always require some additional tinkering and finishing touches.

Leadership is never boring, it lives on the edge of where life is breathed and our hearts beat.  Leadership is about people and the beauty of hope.  Leadership is about what could be and a re-imagined future.  Leadership is what can get us out of bed in the morning and decide to change the palate.  Leadership is about being patient during the sculpting process.  Leadership is about deep feeling and deep expression.  Leadership is about stopping and noticing the details.

Leadership is a passionate art and a lifestyle.  I’m all in.

Leadership is not for cowards

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” —Publilius Syrus


This is a quote from the first century Latin writer and I’m pretty sure the embedded truth within it’s meaning still rings true today.  Leadership is not for the weak.  Leadership is not about titles, riches or glory.  Leadership is not for the selfish ambitions of prideful men and women.  Leadership is not often what makes headlines.  Leadership is not a calculated science of planned procedures.  Leadership is often not executed in predictable weather, rather it is needed most when the turbulence is high.  Leadership is not easy.  Leadership is not for cowards.

Leadership most powerfully is influence when the stakes are high.  Leadership is tasting the salty sea air and refusing to close your eyes no matter how much it stings.  Leadership is a steady hand in the storm because you know that you’re being watched and looked up to by the rest of the crew.  Leadership is being anchored and rooted in something far bigger and far greater than yourself so that when the waves come, you cannot be moved.  Leadership is not a science you tinker with, it’s an art that stretches you beyond your limits.  Leadership is a decision to not see only the limitations of the storm but to have the vision for calmer seas and refuse to settle for anything less than navigating a way there.  Leadership is courage, it is determination, it is vision and it is hope.

Whatever you are leading and influencing today, your leadership may be tested.  If you see the storm clouds forming on the horizon, have no fear, this is your time, make a decision to be brave.  Grab the wheel, batten down the hatches, face the storm straight on, navigate your crew to calmer waters, you were made for this.  This is when leaders show up.  Leadership is not for cowards.

Acceptance of self

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.
Thomas Merton

road trip to Venatana Mountains and Tessajara Zen Center

It’s important to me that I live and seek for an examined life, one that has an anchoring within the contemplative.  For as long as I can remember about myself, I have been injected with the virus of being a leader, it’s a sickness that I carry around.  In the western world, leaders are measured externally for what they can produce, what they can ‘make happen’, their level of being dynamic and entertaining to others and their ability to achieve results for the organization.  All of that is a normal part of work and vocational life this side of the meridian.  But if leaders aren’t careful, they may believe the lie that the only qualities that are valuable about themselves are the things that can be measured as results and production.  If that is your core belief about yourself, then you are only one good and strong wave away from having the sand beneath your feet dissolved, it is not firm enough ground to build your foundation on.

Self confidence is a tricky thing.  My core identity and spirituality is as a follower of Jesus. His guiding principles involve both an ongoing commitment to deny oneself and simultaneously to radically redefine yourself as one loved by God.  Christians throughout history have created systems of religion meant to be about self-denial but ended up resulting rather in tyrannies of legalism that offer none of the freedom and joy God designed his world for us to play in and find peace in.  I’m also seeing that the ways in which I bought into the lies that I have value not because of who I am as one loved by God, but only as one who can be a productive leader and as one who goes all out in sacrificing for others/the organization.  Legalism doesn’t work, nor does a kind of self-sacrifice that leaves me used up on the scrap heap.

So even at 40 I’m seeking after a proper and healthy view of myself where i understand my value in the grander scheme of things and can anchor down in a core identity that doesn’t change, regardless of the chaos around me.  I believe the answers to this search are not found ‘without’, in the circumstances around me.  But rather I believe that they are accessible ‘within’, that a healthy acceptance of self is within my grasp and control right now, even at 4:30 a.m.

So I write these thoughts not just for myself, but I suspect that I’m not alone in this leadership and identity quandary.  So for today, I bless you to go and find that place within, that voice within that says you have value, you are loved, you are worth protecting.  As Brennan Manning would say, “radically redefine yourself as one loved by God.”  You are not what you do, that starts with a healthier acceptance of who you really are.

You don’t have a right to exist


Interesting article here on iconic brands that have vanished in the past few years either due to mis-management, acquisition or other contextual factors.  They once were entrenched and moving along assuming their future’s existence and then through a series of factors they vanished into a memory of yester-year.  They highlight companies like Compaq, Saab and Cingular and also banking/lending companies that fell during the onset of the recession.

Are you a company, organization, school, church, business, leader, manager or investor that is actively thinking through it’s right to exist?  History says in all these areas that you don’t have a right to exist, factors change and if you don’t change with them there is not an assumption that you have to exist post-transition.  The world is cruel in that way, no assumptions can be made.  We are largely a product of the choices we are making today, so what choices are you making?  In the words of the wise sage, Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.

If history sets us aside, the best we may be able to hope for a transition out of glory is by bringing some definition to the new paradigm.  The ‘horseless’ carriage could not compete with the wave that was about to come upon it’s shores, in what we now know as automobiles.  But for awhile, it existed and helped bring formation to the new paradigm by stating what it was in comparison to the old paradigm.  There were horses with carriages for hundreds of years but before we could fully move into the era of the automobile, we had the horseless carriage to help transition the way.  But unless those companies made choices to transition themselves, they were left behind with no right to exist.

Are you on the bottom looking up?  If so, don’t lose your hunger, transitions are happening in every sector, keep building on your contribution and as the big fish lose their footing, be ready to add your influence with clarity and power.  Are you on top?  You better look down, you don’t have a right to exist, there are others who will gladly supplant you if you get full of yourself and lose your contribution to your unique market.  Timing and circumstances we have little control over, but we are largely a result of the choices we are making today.  Are you building and growing on what you know and what you believe, or are you resting on your laurels in the kind of pride that precedes a fall?

A proper humility is the beginning of wisdom, I hope I’m listening to it’s gentle warning for the things I’m trying to influence.

Why I don’t take myself too seriously as a leader

‘There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale’, by Bilbo Baggins

I have begun re-reading the ‘Hobbit’ by Tolkien in preparation for the first installment of the movie trilogy coming out this year and to be honest, it (LOTR) is the only fiction I have ever enjoyed.  I never read fiction, not sure why, but it’s not a genre that connects with me though I really like ‘story’ and ‘narrative’.  Perhaps I’m more of storyteller than a reader.  But I do find the themes in the LOTR epic to be full of meaning and lessons for our real-life adventures.  Themes of courage, perseverance, community, friendship, wonder, questions, lusts, greed and the personifications of evil.  This is the stuff of real life.  The simple hobbits from the idealic shire have much to reveal to us as to how to adapt and take on the challenges in life we choose, and more importantly, how to take on the challenges in life we have not chosen but seemed to have chosen us.

Most notably in the Hobbit, it is a theme of life being incredibly ‘cyclical’. 

There’s a cycle to life in that if we live long enough, we start in diapers and we end in diapers.  But that’s not the adventure I’m speaking of.  Bilbo is coerced to leave his simple life and in the end, he returns back to his simple life, though notably changed.  When we look at the cylcles of societies, governments and nations in history, we see similar cycles.  Nations are born out of revolutions of the people, typically the grassroots.  Once the grassroots gain power, they organize as is neccesary for governing.  William Penn experimented with the ideal of less governance so that the people would choose rightly, they rarely did and metaphorically ate each other in early Pennsylvania days.  Penn practiced leadership differently in his later governing period than he did in his early and perhaps naive Quaker roots.  Given enough time, organizations/societies/governments naturally evolve away from grassroots to the development of systems that exist to perpetuate the norms and the survival of those systems.  In worst case scenarios, this leads to a kind of institutionalism that is a far cry from its revolutionary cry.  Literally the revolution became what it was against, co-opted by time, differing agendas and the complexity of organizational leadership.  In time, new grassroots rise up and revolutions are spurred on only to repeat the cycle again.  It is a world history tale of ‘there and back again’. 

While in Korea the past couple weeks, I listened to the history and evolution of the Christian Church in Korea.  It has for decades been seen as the hotbed for evangelicalism around the world.  Of the 100 largest churches in the world, Korea has 50 of them while sending missionaries around the entire globe.  The narrative of coming out of poverty after Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the explosive growth of the church in South Korea paralelled the equal growth of economy, technology and modern development.  A driven and faithful people rising early several mornings a week for concentrated prayer, they ‘awakened the dawn’ asking their God for deliverance and direction.  Growing nationalism was directly tied to growing Christianity.  What resulted was a miraculous crescendo of the Modern ‘Era’ like never seen before.  However, like the rest of the world, with the dawn of postmodernism and the seductive power of consumerism, the church in Korea is on similar decline like the West.  Out of poverty, they don’t have a yearning for deliverance as they did in their ‘grassroots’ days.  This is so similar to the American story yet in such a dramatically shorter timeframe.  It is showing a ‘cycle’ that no one is immune to, it’s another story of ‘there and back again’

So why don’t I take myself that seriously as a leader?  I’m not a fatalist, but I deeply understand by looking at history that I’m a part of a larger story that is in and of itself, a part of a larger story.  I live on a globe that is one planet in a galaxy of what we now understand is interconneted with millions of other galaxies.  Quite simply, it’s not up to me.  But also quite remarkably, I’m an individual story in community with trillions of other stories called life in this Creation.  And I do get to play a part.  I get to choose some adventures, and I also get to respond to some adventures that seemingly have chosen me.  It’s not up to me, but I do get to live my story and let it rip so that others can read of and learn of my tales.  Leadership isn’t a science, it’s not done in a clean and sterile lab.  Leadership is a response to the needs in front of you and a thirst to get on the adventure of doing something about it.  People don’t follow statistics, they follow those with dirty feet who have been to the dark places and can act as the guide for a way out.  None of us know ultimately how our story will be used in the greater story, but we do get to choose to show up, have some courage and even fight a few dragons along the way. 

My encouragement to leaders is not to take yourself too seriously, it’s not about you.  It’s about the wonder of a larger story.  Cheers to the tales of your courageous journey of ‘there and back again’.

Good Grief: When a Leader Mourns

“Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis in the Problem of Pain


Here’s a dirty little secret:  we leaders need to be needed.  Within the context of spiritual leadership, this is particularly grueling as we have expectations that the lives, minds, hearts and words of these kinds of leaders are sacred just like the deity they represent.  Many leaders are infected with the false idea that we can ‘fix’ ourselves if we just get involved in the work of ‘fixing’ everyone else.  Sometimes, spiritual leadership at it’s root, is a masked attempt to live out an addiction to a need to be needed.  You have a broken leader who is sent to lead a broken people with broken motives and broken expectations.  This is a recipe for disaster.  In the words of Charlie Brown: Good Grief!

This is not how we start out however.  At the beginnig there is the desire for glory, the lofty ideals of changing the world and standing up in a world gone awry.  We answer the call, we throw our stick in the fire at summer camp, we walk the aisle after an emotional plea from the stage.  At some point our heart-strings are tugged and we see the light.  It’s difficult to exactly locate the timing, I think it is between the 3rd verse, the key change and the bridge, right before the crescendo of the 4th verse.  This is at least somewhat what it felt like for me, but when the song and service were completed, I was alone with my new lifeling commitment.  I missed the part where someone told me that answering this call to this kind of lifelong leadership would lead me down a horroring path of loneliness, alienation, ridicule, dissertion, hardship, loss, suffering and soul pain.  As a leader, there are many days and nights of mourning.  Grief is a killer. 

Leadership of most any kind can lead you to a place of utter isolation.  This is where Shelley Trebesch’s book “Isolation: A place of transformation in the life of a leader” comes in.  Shelley describes these places of isolation in terms of desert or wilderness experiences.  They are unwanted, unplanned and avoided if at all possible.  Her thesis is that we don’t try just to survive, endure or get past these times, but to begin to see them as the very transformational experiences that may be preparing us for another journey.  Within the crucible of pain, grief and isolation, we can learn and grow in powerful and transformational ways that only suffering can do.  We shouldn’t try and ‘avoid’ these times, but we should embrace them as a kind of ‘good grief’.  The crucible of pain reveals the shallowness of our previously held goals and expectations and God desires to deepen our life into more of what the truth really is about ourselves and our world.  In this way, the truth very much does hurt.  However, it is also only the truth that sets us free. 

Trebesch is speaking directly to the broken leader I found myself to be in my first semester at seminary as an outwardly successful rising star in evangelicalism, but internally a disallusioned, exhausted and lost wreck of a human being.  I’ll never forget the chapel speaker Viv Grigg, a New Zealander, who was begging us American hotshots to come and walk amongst the poor with him in Calcutta.  I thought his plea was quite odd, but then he said it.  He said he had only one question for us aspiring young leaders in America, “Who told you to be successful?”  And then he sat down.  In one interogatory sentence, he undressed my entire worldview, personhood and personal identity.  I couldn’t move, I found myself at 26 outwardly successful, but inwardly undone.  This ushered in a 5-10 year isolated desert experience of learning for me.  I had to go completely back to the drawing board and ask the fundamental questions of who I was, why I was here and what did I want to do. Some days were excruciating and painful, other days were more of a kind of “good grief“, much like a sabbatical.  The wilderness was a complete transformation.

Trebesch describes this kind of isolation experience well this way:

“Instead of finding identity in the ministry or in what one does, transformed leaders find identity by looking at the Artist, by looking toward the Author.  Having experienced the stripping and wrestling that reveals who God has created them to be, broken leaders can now embrace their true identity wholeheartedly and enter ministry knowing their giftedness as well as ther weakness.  Thus, when the pressure comes to perform or be someone they are not, leaders can return to the roots of who God has created them to be.” (50-51)

We need not seek to avoid these times, we can embrace them.  We don’t like grief, it’s painful, but in the hands of the One who made us, there is such a thing as ‘good grief’.   We can find Hope even in the most grievous of times and circumstances.  In utter darkness, light can yet shine through.  I love these words from Henri Nouwen: 

Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business.  Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown.  Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.” (60)  Turn My Mourning To Dancing

Good grief is when a leader can embrace a time of mourning with the hope that transformation is good for their very soul and the souls of the ones they serve.  I’m still learning.