Shadow-Casting Monsters: Parker Palmer on dealing with our souls, part 3

parker-palmer-header-520x280Bringing my reflections on Parker Palmer’s five ‘shadow-casting monsters’ from his book Let Your Life Speak, I want to bring our attention to the fourth and fifth of that list today.

Shadow-Casting Monsters #4:
4. “Fear, especially our fear of the natural chaos of life” (89).

Don’t we fear the chaos of things? Having participated in church planting in various forms over the past ten years, as well as also following up a founding pastor of thirty years at an established church, I have experienced many different forms of the chaos of life. Yet, it has also been in the midst of that chaos that I have seen some of the most exciting and creative things occur. What would have happened if we had rejected the new and exciting because of our overwhelming fear of chaos? Nothing. Nothing would have happened. How completely sad. Palmer goes on to say: “The insight we receive on the inner journey is that chaos is the precondition to creativity: as every creation myth has it, life itself emerged from the void” (89).

5. “The denial of death itself” (90).

Here’s two more insights from Palmer on this one:

We also live in denial of the fact that all things must die in due course. (90)

The best leaders in every setting reward people for taking worthwhile risks even if they are likely to fail. These leaders know that the death of an initiative – if it was tested for good reasons – is always a source of new learning. (90)

This fifth shadow-casting monster reflects perhaps one of the most important things I have learned in the past three years. There are life cycles in our lives, in the seasons, in our work, and in ministry leadership. There is a time to live and there is a time to die, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says.

How often we, as leaders, become a stultifying force in our organizations when we fear the natural way of death. I have seen and experienced the waste that happens when an initiative that needs to die is kept alive because of tradition or some sense wrong ownership. It is no longer fruitful. It is no longer risky and life-giving. God forgive us for doing this in the church.

May we be leaders who face the shadow-casting monsters in our lives, organizations, and ministries so that God’s best for us and others is realized as we work with Him, and not against Him.

Shadow-Casting Monsters: Parker Palmer on dealing with our souls, part 2

parker-palmer-header-520x280Continuing my reflections on Parker Palmer’s five ‘shadow-casting monsters’ in the life of a leader from his book Let Your Life Speak, I turn now to numbers three, which is: “‘Functional atheism’, the belief that the ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us” (88).

Here’s a bit more from Palmer on this one:

This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God. (88)

What do you think about this one? After working within a few different churches in the evangelical tradition, I’m tempted to wonder if this is one of the most pervasive of Palmer’s monsters in that church tradition at present. I find it in myself, too.

Let me stop to ask some tough questions:

  • do I think I own my leadership tasks more than God does?
  • do I feel the need to shoulder everything on my own, or do I submit myself to God and His ways (‘not my will, but Your will be done’)?
  • am I considering what is mine to do and what is not mine to do, or do I try to do everything?
  • do I even think about God in all of this?

For those who are able to master this monster, Palmer writes these words:

We learn that we need not carry the whole load but can share it with others, liberating us and empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether. The great community asks us to do only what we are able and trust the rest to other hands. (89)

I’d love to hear some feedback and comments on this.

Shadow-Casting Monsters: Parker Palmer on dealing with our souls, part 1

parker-palmer-header-520x280Awhile back, I read through Parker Palmer‘s brief book Let Your Life Speak. This is an outstanding book on life and leadership. Palmer has worked quite a bit with educators and as an advocate for peace in our world today. He comes from a Quaker background.

To set the tone of what he is trying to accomplish in this book, slowly read through the following quotation in the book:

It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. (82)

Immediately after this important statement, Palmer outlines five ‘shadow-casting monsters’ in the life of a leader. I wanted to outline three of those here today, with particular attention to the first one.

Shadow-Casting Monsters #1-2:
1. “Insecurity about identity and worth” (86).
2. “The belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests” (87).

In pondering the first of Palmer’s leadership monsters, I was challenged to look into myself. Am I leading out of insecurity or lack of worth? Am I trying to get a sense of value and meaning in my life through those I am leading? Am I controlling or manipulating others in order to create a sense of value in my own self? Our shadow-side stretches out to satisfy our own selves through what we do. This is not true leadership or ministry.

Further in on this first monster, Palmer writes these words that every leader should consider deeply:

These leaders possess a gift available to all who take an inner journey: the knowledge that identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others. It depends only on the simply fact that we are children of God, valued in and for ourselves. When a leader is grounded in that knowledge, what happens in the family, the office, the classroom, the hospital can be life-giving for all concerned. (87)

The alternative to such a grounded living? Flipping Palmer’s words on their head, it would be giving death to those around us.

Five Steps for Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8In my previous posts on Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima‘s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, I summarized their key assumptions in the book, the definition of the dark side, how the dark side develops, and five dark-side issues leaders often encounter. In this final post on the book, I turn to the third, and most hopeful, part of the book: “Redeeming Our Dark Side.” If reading my posts up to this point has made you despair of growing beyond your dark side, please make sure to read this part. As the book concludes, McIntosh and Rima suggest five steps to overcoming the dark side of leadership, which I’d like to summarize below.

  1. Acknowledge Your Dark Side (165-171): “Though it may sound simplistic, 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. For many people who have spent a lifetime in church, this is not quite as easy as it sounds” (168). Christians tend to blame our failures on “the enemy,” minimize issues by saying “I’m forgiven,” or rationalizing our dark tendencies. However, until we name the dark side for what it is we will never grow through and beyond it. Like David confronted by Nathan the prophet, we must say here the hard words, “I am that man,” and then move through authentic repentance to growth.
  2. Examine the Past (172-180): “We are the sum of the experiences in 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). Because our past experiences often shape our deepest drives, an appropriate reflection on our past history with the guidance of the Holy Spirit can help us see motivating factors and historic patterns that shape us positively or negatively. This may lead us into a season of repentance, a need for conversation with someone in our lives, or inviting God into the broken places of our past. Ultimately, “gaining freedom from the power of your dark side involves extending forgiveness in some form” (179).
  3. Resist the Poison of Expectations (181-198): Expectations shapes our lives. Some are helpful and necessary, while others are imposed upon us by ourselves or others in ways that create a legalistic sense of obligation or a debilitating craving to proves ourselves that can be destructive. “If we are to overcome the power of the dark side, it will require resisting the poison of extrabiblical, unrealistic, legalistic expectations in favor of God’s liberating grace. We will need to identify the numerous sources of the expectations that bind us and then soundly reject then. Be warned. It will not be an easy task for those who have lived under their weight for many years” (196).
  4. Practice Progressive Self-knowledge (199-212): “In addition to the previous three steps, gaining any measure of control over our dark side will involve the ongoing process of fathering knowledge about ourselves through the practice of specific disciplines and the use of certain tools” (199). We must engage in spiritual disciplines such as Scripture reading, personal retreats, devotional reading, or journaling to know ourselves in God’s presence. Along with that, other tools, such as personality profiles professional counseling, personal accountability groups, or formal performance evaluations, can help us to know ourselves better so as to avoid ignorance of our dark side.
  5. Understand Your Identity in Christ (213-219): “Ultimately all of the previous four steps will leave us feeling frustrated and empty if we do not understand and accept our true identity in Jesus 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 in his son, Jesus, Christ, as Isaiah the prophet declared, our best efforts and most altruistic acts are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isa. 64:6). Everything we might learn about our dark side will be without significant benefit if we fail to find our value in Christ” (213).

What do you think about these five steps to overcoming our dark side?

Is there something that’s missing, or does this cover it?

Which of these are most difficult for you?

Which of these have you benefited from?

Five Types of the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8Continuing with my exploration of Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima’s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, in the second part of the book the authors give attention to what they call “five dark-side issues experienced most often by leaders” (16). They group those dark-side issues into individual chapters that describe in greater detail what each of these issues might do to the leader. Here is a summary of each of those five types:

  1. The Compulsive Leader (103-109): “Compulsive in a leadership context describes the need to maintain absolute order” (105). The compulsive leader experiences difficulty with delegation, tending toward workaholism. They are conscientious but moralistic and may become judgmental. They are conscious of their status, looking both for approval and reassurance from others, yet learning toward anger and rebellion on the inside. The compulsive leader in the church setting relies upon administration and organization as the safety net for their fears of losing control, whether of staff, their board, or the ministry of the church. Moses is an example of the tendencies toward control seen in the compulsive leader.
  2. The Narcissistic Leader (111-118): “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).  Leaders with this dark side tend to overestimate their own achievements and abilities while stubbornly refusing to recognize the quality and value of the same in others” (115). They are often driven by unmet needs for admiration toward the pursuit of success, and can be simultaneously over-inflated in their sense of importance and deeply insecure. In the church setting, the narcissistic leader will promote themselves, their endeavors and their gifts aggressively, and thereby make themselves seem like an essential piece of everything without which nothing could possibly succeed. Solomon is an example of the tendencies toward self-obsession in the narcissistic leader.
  3. The Paranoid Leader (119-126): “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” (122-123). Oftentimes, paranoid leaders overreact to criticism, guess at others’ motives, and rigorously root out those who seem to be against them.  The paranoid leader in the church will keep anyone else from preaching or do anything they can to keep their board from meeting without them. Saul, the first king of Israel, is an example of the tendencies toward suspicion seen in the paranoid leader.
  4. The Codependent Leader (127-138): Codependency is “an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules that prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems” (133). Codependent people compulsively worry about the feelings of other people – even taking responsibility for others’ actions and emotions – while often being out of touch with their own emotions. Codependents are often reactive instead of proactive. “Ministry and Christian service organizations provide the perfect environment for a leader to focus on others to the exclusion of self. This often results in the codependent pastor or leader’s failure to car for himself, producing burnout and other debilitating maladies” (136). Samson  is an example of the tendencies toward emotional and relational stunting experienced with the codependent leader.
  5. The Passive-Aggressive Leader (139-146): “Passive-aggressive leaders have a tendency to resist demands to adequately perform tasks” (140), oftentimes based on a fear of failure. The passive-aggressive leader may have outbursts of intense emotions, manifest various forms of impulsiveness, and can become perennial complainers. In the church setting, passive-aggressive leaders radiate edgy irritability, often complaining about their workload, the people they work with, and the sort of things they have to do. They make impulsive decisions, while also procrastinating essential tasks, both of which can alienate congregants and volunteers from them. Jonah is an example of the tendencies toward emotional outbursts and impulsiveness often seen in passive-aggressive leaders.

Have you experienced this sort of leader in your life, particularly in your church? What might it look like for you to learn from that experience?

Now, look in the mirror for awhile, and consider what your own dark side tendencies might be. How can you bring those to God today?

 

How the Dark Side Develops

In chapter five of Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima explore how the dark side of leadership develops in our lives.

Though we may not be aware of its presence, we have been impacted by the dark side throughout our life. 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. Often we are conscious of these signs in our motivations and recognize their influence on our behavior, yet we are not quite able to make a solid connection between them and their source. (70)

Things like “a drive to succeed, desire to be accepted, irrational fear, need to be in control, perfectionism, or various compulsions” (82) are signals of the development of our dark side.

While building largely off Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, McIntosh and Rima propose that the “dark side is inclined to be an overcompensation for needs that have not been met in our lives and develops as we attempt to repay the existential debts of varying degrees that we have taken on” (83). Below is their chart outlining the predictable pattern within the development of our dark side (79).

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For each of us the particulars will be different, but the basic process will be essentially the same….Whatever it is that you find yourself plugging into those categories in the chart, it has almost assuredly led to the development of your dark side. When those experiences and influences are combined with the raw materials of pride, selfishness, self-deception, and wrong motives, we can begin to see how our dark side develops into a powerful, controlling influence in our lives and leadership. (82)

What is the Dark Side of Leadership?

fullsizeoutput_ac8Here is another excerpt from  Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima. In this brief portion of chapter one, “Blinded by the Dark Side,” the authors provide an overview of what they mean by “the dark side of leadership.”

The dark side, though sounding quite sinister, is actually a natural result of human development. It 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. Because it is a part of us that we are unaware of to some degree, lurking in the shadows of our personality, we have labeled it the dark side of our personality. However, in spite of the foreboding mental image the term dark side creates, it is not, as we shall see, exclusively a negative force in our lives. In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.

At times the dark side seems to leap on us unexpectedly. In reality it has slowly crept up on us. The development of our dark side has been a lifetime in the making despite the fact that the assault by these powerful emotions, compulsions, and dysfunctions can be sudden. Like vinegar and soda being slowly swirled together in a tightly closed container, our personalities have been slowly intermingled with examples, emotions, expectations, and experiences that over a lifetime have created our dark side.

If not tended, the mixture will ultimately explode with great ferocity. For some, the lid can be kept on for quite a period of time before the explosion finally occurs. Others sense the strange stirrings and ominous bubbling deep inside, and not knowing for certain what is taking place, they periodically release a little of the pressure by lifting the lid in a solitary act of frustration or some other form of emotional release. Yet for others, those foreign stirrings deep within are denied, ignored, explained away, and even completely repressed until finally the container can expand no more and it explodes in a sudden and massive moral failure or some other unexpected, shocking, or bizarre behavior. This denial and repression along with the resulting emotional explosion are particularly common among religious leaders who feel the constant need to be in total control of their lives so they can minister effectively to others. Regardless of how sudden the explosion may seem, it has been in the making since childhood.

This description reminds me of John Ortberg‘s wonderfully challenging message, “A Leader’s Greatest Fear,” which was later turned into the brief book Overcoming Your Shadow Mission.