The Leader in All of Us: How to Lead Naked and Unashamed by Michelle Essary

Beginning with an earlier post about Authentic Leadership, or Taking our Cues on Leading from Jesus, I am doing a series of posts about some of the heart qualities of leadership that Jesus exhibited and exhorted us to.  Today’s post by Michelle Essary is about vulnerability.


A few years ago I was talking with a friend whose opinion I valued about how I respected a person I was tasked to lead. I was, however,  not convinced this person was interested in being “a leader” because he didn’t make decisions with confidence.  In my mind these two things were directly linked.  The person with whom I spoke responsed, “Maybe they don’t make decisions with confidence, but people would follow them off a cliff.”

Yes, there are characteristics that define “leadership” as we have come to accept it—or at least the visible, up-front, praised and admired kind of leadership.  When we boil it down, however, a leader is, simply put, an influencer of people.  Two things are always true of a leader: a leader has people they influence, and a leader has a direction toward which they influence those people.

Thus, by this definition, every person is in some way a leader.  I’m sorry if that deflates the concept for anyone.  The reality is, though, that we all influence those around us, for better or worse.  Whether we stand up front and have our face on the poster, or work behind the scenes, we all influence others.

So, the question for every person then is, “Who am I influencing and how am I influencing them?” The “who” may take some thought, because almost always we influence more people than we first realize.  It is the “how”, though, that hides a considerable personal challenge for us.  I posit that how a leader influences has less to do with their mission statement and more to do with their personal development.

A charismatic personality can amass quite a following, but where they are lading those who amass may be off the earlier mentioned cliff if they are not growing in depth and vulnerability in relationship with others.

Naked and Unashamed

We know God designed us to be in relationship with others, but I am not convinced we always know why or how to do relationships well. In the first half of Ephesians 5, after Paul lists ways we “should not” live, he quotes Isaiah to express one of my favorite concepts of Christian life– what I like to call “naked and unashamed”– (it’s how we started out, after all).

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:13-14)

If a “sleeper” or “dead man” awakes from the dead and walks out of the tomb into the daylight, the spectacle will be unsightly at least, if not absolutely shocking to both the “dead man” and any who see him.This passage is not telling us to show God our naked, wounded, decomposing humanity; He made us, He knows us, and He alone has the power to bring life into us…again.  No, Paul is saying we need to be exposed to each other.  We are to be exposed so that in community Christ’s light can shine on the places hidden in the tomb, covered by the grave clothes, and in desperate need of healing by God’s power and through healthy relationships with others.

Connecting Deeply with Safe People

To bring this analogy back to the ground for a minute, here’s what it means: Connecting deeply with safe people grants us access to the hearts of others and others access to our hearts.  This deep connection means the good and the bad are visible and accessible not only to you, but to others you trust.

This vulnerability provides opportunity for incredible healing and growth in areas that we either previously chose to look away from or were blind to completely.  This healing and growth make us healthier influencers and able to lead others toward greater health as well.

To be a successful leader we are tempted focus our attentions and our efforts on the next best activity, strategy, or idea and miss the point. However, if we are going to influence others in the unique and powerful ways God has designed for each of us, we need to be moving and growing into deeper relationships and greater health personally.

After all, just as we have been created for, and long for, this depth and vulnerability, so does the rest of the world.  If we, Christians, are going to change the world, we need to be pursuing change in our own lives and culture first.What about you?  Is there an area where some vulnerability is needed?

Michelle Essary is a Registered Psychotherapist and has recently joined the staff of Southwest Counseling Associates in Denver. She has 11 years experience in Christian ministry and grew up in a missionary family. She served overseas, in high school, college and leadership ministry. Most recently she has been working in leadership development and member care with a large missions organization. Michelle has training in individual, marital and premarital and relationship issues, family and group therapy. She works in missionary and ministry care. She specializes in depression, anxiety, women's issues, stress management, and identity issues.She and husband Brad live with their baby JB and their dog Calvin.  And she’s my daughter! You can see all the "Jesus on Leading" posts here.