I wrote this review a couple of years ago in seminary. I was digging through some old papers this week and was reminded that we all have the potential to walk in darkness. My hope is that this review reminds you of the great victory that Jesus’ resurrection promises!
The book, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, has proven to be a very educational, effective, and necessary book for any person in leadership, including myself. This book took adequate time to lead the reader to understanding the dark side of leadership, to discover their own dark side of leadership, and lastly to redeem their dark side of leadership. This book could be an effective presentation of the Gospel to a highly effective leader in the secular world as well as provide Biblical counsel to a leader within the church. In the following book review, I will overview the book through three basic avenues: understanding the dark side, discovering the dark side, and redeeming the dark side. Along the way of this review, I will identify the impact that this book has had on my life and leadership. I will also identify my dark side and the joy that I found in trusting Christ with that dark side.
In the section of the book deemed “Understanding Our Dark Side”, the authors take us on a journey through seven chapters that lead us through an introduction of how the dark side reveals itself in the most devastating and seemingly impulsive ways. The dark side generally hides in wait for the appropriate trigger, impulse, or frustrating event. Then upon the correct trigger, the dark side explodes on the life of the leader and creates destruction for the leader and those closest to him. The authors identify the dark side in this way,
“The dark side though sounding quiet sinister, is actually a natural result of human development. It is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often goes unexamined or remains unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion.”
The dark side was easily identified in my personality. As I reflected on my struggles and development as a man and leader, I found that I have compulsive impulses that are initially good in that they make me effective, driven, and passionate about completing tasks and leading effectively. I believe that according to the author’s definition, all leaders have some form of the dark side that makes them an effective leader. I, however, have struggled with certain areas that the author would classify as the dark side throughout much of my adult and adolescent life. It is apparent that all individuals who are honest will identify with personality types, glitches, and dysfunctions.
The reader continues in the section deemed “Understanding Our Dark Side” where the authors discuss countless stories of leaders, including several presidents and several very effective men, who had a clear struggle and battle with their dark side. Many of these stories ended in humiliation, destruction, and a fall from the top of companies, countries, and families. The author makes clear the sinister destructive effects that the dark side unchecked can produce. The stories of personal failures that led to success lost, reputations ruined, and families destroyed were interesting and at the same time mind blowing.
The authors brought the beauty of the Gospel alongside these destructive, dysfunctional glitches that are throughout humanity in the chapter titled, “Shedding Divine Light on the Dark Side”. In this chapter, the authors identify three avenues of depravity of which the Bible speaks and is manifested through the dark side: pride, selfishness, and self-deception. As a theologian, I appreciated the information in this chapter because it identifies the dark side of leadership at its very core, our depravity as sinful and fallen people. This understanding is essential for achieving success with Biblical counsel and eternal significance for the reader.
After identifying the dark side in its deepest and truest nature, the authors take the reader on a journey to discover their own dark side. The authors draw back from the raw material of the dark side: pride, selfishness, and self- deception, to become practical with all the very different combinations of these raw materials to produce a dark side. The authors discuss five main leadership personality types, but also warn that any given individual may be a combination of more than one. The leadership types include the compulsive leader, the narcissistic leader, the paranoid leader, the codependent leader, and the passive-aggressive leader.
The compulsive leader is a leader who is status conscious, who looks for approval from others, and is usually a workaholic. At heart, the compulsive leader has an angry and rebellious attitude.
The narcissistic leader is a leader who is driven to succeed by a need for admiration and acclaim. They have an overinflated sense of importance and have grand ambition. At the heart, the narcissistic leader is self-absorbed and exercises deep feelings of inferiority.
The paranoid leader is a leader who is suspicious, hostile, fearful, and jealous. They are hypersensitive to the actions of others and attach subjective meaning to motives. They create rigid structure for control. At the heart, the paranoid leader lacks self-confidence.
The codependent leader is a leader who is a peacemaker who covers up problems in an effort to balance the group system. They are very benevolent and have a high tolerance for deviant behavior. At the heart, the codependent leader is someone who is frustrated and repressed. They struggle to give a full, honest expression of emotion.
The passive aggressive leader is a leader who is stubborn, forgetful, and intentionally inefficient. They tend to complain, resist demands, procrastinate, and dawdle as a means of controlling their environment. At the heart, the passive-aggressive leader is bitter and angry as well as fearful of success.
The section deemed “Discovering Our Dark Side” proved very interesting. As I read, I discovered leaders that I know both young and old that would fall into one or two of these leadership styles. I discovered that I fell into the compulsive leadership style. I am driven very often by the approval of others. I find that I work harder than anyone else does, and take pride in that ability. I long to be the most successful, hard working, and effective person that I can be. I believe that my dark side was manifest through some of my personality inherited from my parents, but also from the way in which my parents have valued my work ethic and success. Though I believe that these things are initially good, I also believe that taking pride in these things will prove to be destructive to my family, my career, and myself. I also find that when my compulsion does not place me at the top of my class, career, and society, I default to the passive-aggressive leader. Both of these leadership styles are rooted in anger and rebellion; therefore, anger is the motive of my dark side.
The journey of the reader continues through discovery to redeeming. Redeeming was such an adequate description of this section of the book. In this section, the authors define the answer to overcoming the dark side through five steps. These steps included 1) acknowledging your dark side, 2) examining the past, 3) resisting the poison of expectations, 4) practicing progressive self-knowledge, and 5) understanding your identity in Christ. This section of the book carefully leads the reader through the art of personal humility. This humility begins with acknowledgement of oneself beyond all the influences of everyone else, to the understanding of who Christ is. This process of humility is necessary for genuine repentance and response to the Gospel. This motivation of humility is necessary for an appropriate response to God and His Gospel. Upon reading the final chapters of this book, I was freed to lead, to fight my dark side, and freed to love Christ because I am freed by the Gospel and the reminder that I am not God.