(Disclaimer: If you’re a Star Wars fan and have come here looking for more fuel for that fire, turn away, my young padawan: it’s not that “dark side.”)
A BOOK REPORT ON
Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership
(Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima)
by Brett Best
THE USEFUL MAIN THOUGHT
Whatever it is that makes a leader effective is a two-edged sword; those who are not careful in wielding it may cause self-inflicted wounds on the backswing.
“It was during this research that it became clear that a paradox of sorts existed in the lives of most of the leaders who had experienced significant failures: the personal insecurities, feelings of inferiority, and need for parental approval (among other dysfunctions) that compelled these people to become successful leaders were very often the same issues that precipitated their failure.” (p. 13)
“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.” (Italics by the authors, p. 28.)
“The aspects of life that push us in a positive way toward success can also exert a negative pull, destroying our effectiveness.” (p. 33)
“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.” (p. 71)
“Though expectations are necessary to a degree, they can also be a two-edged sword in our lives. These healthy expectations can motivate the people toward whom they are directed to behave and achieve beyond their current level.” (p. 185)
“We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success. True success is a state of being not having.” (Italics by the authors, p. 19)
“For, all too often, when the lessons of the dark side are never learned, it drives even successful leaders to make unwise, impulsive, unethical, or immoral choices that may ultimately lead to the forfeiture of the very success it created.” (p. 91)
The authors quoted Abraham Lincoln: “All human beings have their weaknesses, but not all of us realize them, come to grips with them, or offset their negative impact. As a group whose primary endeavor is interacting with other people, leaders must accomplish the paradoxical task of managing their darker sides.” (Italics in text, pp. 150-151.)
“The purpose of examining the past is not for the assignment of blame, but for self-understanding.” (p. 174) I chose this quote because it is the sole balance against repeated exhortations to engage in the dredging of one’s past for the purpose of finding where the corpse-like seeds of self-destruction may lie. It read to me like a call to psychotherapy. As we live in a culture predominated by lawyers and therapists (evidence of our national self-destruction), I found myself wishing for more balance. Blaming dad and mom can serve as a mechanism for not taking ownership of the person we’ve become.
“Our legalism is well-intended; nevertheless it is also quite repressive and destructive for those who must live and lead under its weight.” (p. 184)
“We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power we wield. Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future.” (p. 213) This is the best quote in the book and should have been in the introduction.
MY OPINION: PRAISEWORTHY PARTS
The authors precisely identified their aims and assumptions in the opening sections of the book. They numbered them and set them aside to make them obvious instead of making use delve into the text to mine them or discover them by accident. I appreciate assisting the reader by making the important bits obvious.
I read the revised version of the book; the original was published in 1997, the revised version in 2007. I mention that because that time frame overlaps the rise of popular study of “emotional intelligence” in our culture. Although the authors reference little or none of the fruits of this research, they ran on a parallel track. Students of “EQ” will recognize the strands of thought shared with psycho-social observers of the time, purveyors of emotional sophistication in our intellectual processes. In fact, with repeated references to Maslow and Jung, the greater portion of their teaching is based on social sciences than Scripture.
It is helpful to identify leadership styles and explore the light and dark sides of each. A “Cosmo”-style self-evaluation is offered as a means of identifying one’s predominant leadership style. Of course, the names assigned to the styles are negatively-oriented to their dark side: the Compulsive Leader, the Narcissistic Leader, the Paranoid Leader, the Codependent Leader, and the Passive-Aggressive Leader.
A five-step program is offered to aid leaders in overcoming their dark side, whichever form it may take. If employed, I can see where this basic level of organization may help someone whose score in any of the dark sides was eight or more points.
MY OPINION: SHORTCOMINGS
The authors too frequently resort to generalizations like “many in the Christian community.” How many? What statistical data or anecdotes or other evidence can you offer to support such a contention? To me, this is not scholarly; it is a lazy kind of writing that asserts as truths non-facts that are unproven and probably unprovable. While I trust McIntosh and Rima as observers, it is simply not helpful to toss these sweeping generalities around as if they were self-evident.
This is a book on leadership among thousands. It makes a point that may be examined in a more scholarly fashion elsewhere, but it is an important point to be made. My concern is that the authors have given us an inoculation but not the cure. The book successfully alerts the reader to the important point about the double-edged nature of leadership qualities, but, in spite of its length, does so superficially. I would advise the reader who is concerned about their own dark side to turn to more competent sources of information on emotional intelligence.
The self-evaluation is an example of a double-edged nature. While it is the backbone of the book, there is no more science here than one of the hundreds of quizzes on Facebook. Science would establish a database on responses to these questions and create a sense of how commonly each aspect of the dark side occurs. Science would trace connections to discoveries about emotional intelligence and explore linkages between these components of the dark side and established mental illnesses.
Having said all this, it would appear that I’m arguing that the book needed to be longer, to include more information. Actually, my biggest concern about the book is that it is too long because it is filled with the wrong kinds of information; the author’s summations, generalizations, and exercises of imagination that stand in the place of genuine research.
To me, DARK SIDE is an example of a “padded book.” There is enough new and useful information here for a journal article. The rest is padding added to increase it to book length. The authors make profuse use of historical/biblical examples of leadership meltdowns.” While anecdotes are useful rhetorically, in this case their profusion indicates a shallowness of substance. Another example of padding is extensive use of quotations. It amused me to see multiple quotations from Sue Grafton. I was under impression she is known as a popular author of fiction. Is leadership theory part of her publishing resume? The book is simply a mile wide and an inch deep.
MY OPINION: FINAL GRADE
If I wanted to be cute, I’d give DARK SIDE a “D” for “dark.” Instead, I’m giving it a “D” for the shallowness of scholarship and the addition of too much padding to stretch a viable journal article into a salable book.