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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

26 Nov '12

Nine overlooked but unhealthy character issues in leaders

Posted by T.J. Addington in unhealthy leaders
Leaders often get a pass on character issues that are not blatantly sin but are problematic nevertheless. This is especially true of leaders who can produce results and it is not uncommon for results to trump character in our evaluation of leaders. 

The problem is that these overlooked character issues do in fact matter. Allowing them to continue is dangerous for the leader as these traits generally grow rather than diminish if not checked. It is also dangerous for the organization and in fact puts the organization at risk both of a problematic culture and the possibility that their leader will get himself/herself into trouble because of these character issues.

Supervisors, colleagues and boards all should be aware of these problematic behaviors and find ways to press into them when they see them - for everyone's sake. No matter how good someone is, these behaviors are a loss for everyone!

Never being wrong. This may mean a lack of admission, blaming others when things go wrong, spiritualizing them away or not apologizing to those for whom wrong decisions had a negative impact. Not admitting errors or bad decisions is a sign either of an insecure or prideful leader. Often the two go together.

Spiritualizing everything. This behavior is problematic on two counts. First, people usually spiritualize when something goes wrong and they don't want to take personal responsibility. Second, it is the "God card." To push back on something that God is "responsible for"  is pretty hard. Lot's of things are not spiritual. They are what they are and they are the results of decisions we have made.

Manipulative behavior. If you feel manipulated in a relationship it is probably present. This can take many forms but its design is to use you for their purposes. Manipulative behavior is really about using others for outcomes we want and is thus a violation of the free will of other people. It is wrong, violates other people and a sign of a personality disorder in the one who uses it.

Exaggeration. This is usually about ministry results or it may also be about ministry possibilities or plans. Exaggeration is dishonesty whether through overly optimistic thinking or wanting to paint a picture so good that it violates truth. It is salesmanship over the top rather than truthful and factual and it goes to the heart of what it means to speak truth and to avoid untruths.

Information withholding. This is actually a form of control and manipulation. As a leader, if I withhold information that could and should be known by others I have power that they don't have. It is very effective and very unhealthy. Some leaders will share information that makes them or their cause look good but carefully withhold information that would do the opposite. It is a dishonest, manipulative and self serving behavior.

Unwillingness to listen. This behavior conveys an arrogance that I have the answers, I know the direction, I don't need you and you have little to contribute to my thinking. Eventually this behavior and attitude will contribute to problems if not a train wreck. Those who will not listen carefully to others are displaying a dangerous autonomy.

Anger if crossed. This is both a sign of self importance and entitlement - how dare you disagree with me - and well as manipulative - this is what happens when you cross me. Autonomous people don't like to be challenged and autonomous people are dangerous in leadership. Anger shuts down alternative views and robust dialogue.

For or against mentality. This behavior rewards those who agree with and push the agenda of the leader and punishes those who disagree or speak candidly. Those who agree are insiders while those who disagree find themselves outsiders. Like, anger, this behavior shuts down alternate views and robust and healthy dialogue. 

It is not uncommon for those with this behavior to reward their inner circle with gifts, compliments and praise while being critical and cool toward the outsiders. Again, this is manipulative behavior designed to allow the leader to get his/her way and accomplish their agenda. They have the skill of making insiders feel very good and outsiders very bad - even abandoned.

Self importance. All of this is about an inflated self importance and the assumption that "I am the one who can make this ministry flourish." Without me it will fail or be much less than it is with me. Self importance must elevate self and to do that it must also devalue others and their contribution. When it becomes about the leader, healthy team is impossible.

These behaviors are antithetical to the leadership style and teaching of Jesus. They are also destructive to team and devaluing of others. When we choose to overlook them we end up hurting the ministry we represent and the staff who are impacted.