Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima
Gary L. McIntosh is president of the Church Growth Network and professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology. He leads seminars and has written several books, including Biblical Church Growth and Beyond the First Visit. Samuel D. Rima is director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Bethel Seminary, where he is also a faculty member in the Center for Transformational Leadership. He is the author of Leading from the Inside Out and Rethinking the Successful Church.
The stories of leaders who crash and burn are many. It seems that as many leaders fail to finish well as a result of self-destructive habits as those who fail at the hands of others. This book found it’s way onto my reading list because good leaders are self-aware. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses - especially those that reside behind the public face. This book makes and delivers three promises: 1) help the reader understand what the dark side is; 2) assist in identifying one’s dark side; and, 3) help to overcome the dark side lurking in one’s success before being blindsided by it.
McIntosh and Rima’s work should be mandatory reading for all leaders (in my humble opinion). Drawing from a variety of fields, the lessons learned from leaders who succumbed to the dark side are clearly articulated. It was easy to find the danger I pose to myself and those I would lead. In addition, part 3 of the book has practical steps to redeeming our dark side and I believe it will be helpful to redirect the energy and passion that lead to failure into more productive efforts. Editorially, this book has one of my favorite features in books designed for reflection and improvement. Each chapter closes with a summary of key points and application of insights through open ended questions, assignments and surveys.
The table of contents and key concepts are as follows:
Part 1 Understanding Our Dark Side
- Blindsided by the Dark Side - The dark side is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience and emotional explosion… or some other significant problem that causes us to search for a reason why. (28)
- Danger on the Dark Side - When we refuse to process in healthy ways feelings of insecurity, unhealthy co-dependence 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. (40)
- Company on the Dark Side - The dark side if found across eras in the lives of leaders. Those who accomplish much have confronted their dark side.
- Shedding Divine Light on the Dark Side - The raw material for our dark side are pride, selfishness and self-deception. (59)
- How the Dark Side Develops - The critical factor in how our dark side will impact our leadership is the extent to which we learn about its development and understand how it influences us… There are definite signs we can become sensitive to that will help us identify the unique ways it has developed over the years as well as the specific shape it has taken in our life. (70) In short, any behavior that seems to overpower us, as well as any urge or motivation that seems to uncontrollably drive us, is a possible sign indicating the presence of our dark side. (71)
- Seafood, Pictionary, and the Dark Side - The dark side can provide energy for success.
- Paradoxes of the Dark Side - When our drive to achieve, fueled by unmet needs and existential debt, is channeled in the right direction, it can be a power for good. However, when that need-fueled drive becomes misdirected, it can result in disaster… (99)
Part 2 Discovering Our Dark Side
- The Compulsive Leader - Example: Moses. Compulsive in a leadership context describes the need to maintain absolute order. (105)
- The Narcissistic Leader - Example: Solomon. For the narcissistic leader… the world revolves on the axis of self, and all other people and issues closely orbit them as they get caught in the strong gravitational pull of the narcissist’s self-absorption. (115)
- The Paranoid Leader - Example: Saul. …Paranoid leaders are desperately afraid of anything or anyone, whether real or imagined, they perceive to have even the remotest potential of undermining their leadership and stealing away the limelight. (123)
- The Codependent Leader - Example: Samson. An emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to and practice of, a set of oppressive rules that prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems. (133)
- The Passive-Aggressive Leader - Example: Jonah. A resistance to demands to adequately perform tasks, often expressed through behaviors such as procrastination, dawdling, stubbornness, forgetfulness and intentional inefficiency. (141)
- Overcoming the Dark Side - Leaders are expected to exercise a higher degree of self-management, redeeming their darks side and thus mitigating its potentially negative influences. (149)
- Spiritual Composting - While parts of our personality are not particularly useful in their present form, they can be redeemed and transformed for a useful purpose. (161)
- Step 1: Acknowledge Your dark Side - If we want to overcome our dark side, we need to start by acknowledging its existence and understanding the shape it has taken over the years… All too often the Christian community… relegates the moral failures and other problems that result from the dark side of our personality to the realm of spiritual warfare and demonic attack. (168) The sooner we stop denying our dark side’s existence, t he sooner we will stop blaming the devil, our parents, bad breaks, and every other possible reason for our struggles. (169)
- Step 2: Examine the Past - We are the sum of the experiences of our lives. The most successful and effective leaders recognize this and are able to separate fact from fiction in their childhood memories while understanding the role these memories have played in their personal development. (174)
- Step 3: Resist the Poison of Expectations - Because the influence of expectations is so powerful, many leaders often live life at a dangerously frenetic pace in an effort to meet all of them and satisfy all of the people who have made them known. (190)
- Step 4: Practice Progressive Self-Knowledge - [Spiritual] disciplines and tools will provide us with a constant stream of information about ourselves that we can use in an effort to understand ourselves and overcome our dark side rather than passively being controlled by it. (199) These include scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, journaling, personality pro0files and tests, professional counseling and therapy, accountability groups and formal performance evaluations.
- Step 5: Understand Your Identity in Christ - We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power that we wield. Rather our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future. Without the grace of God that is found only in his son, Jesus Christ… our best efforts and most altruistic acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight. Everything we might learn about our dark side will be without significant benefit if we fail to find our value in Christ. (213)
Bibliographical entry: McIntosh, G., & Rima, S. D. (2007). Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures (Rev. ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.