6 Dangers of Self-appointed Leaders

Malcolm Webber is one of my favorite leaders of leaders. With a PhD and over 20 books on leadership to his credit, he insightfully describes the dangers of a self-appointed leader in his book Healthy Leaders. He draws insight from a self-appointed leader named Korah described in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapters 16-17. I’ve paraphrased these dangers below and contrasted them with 6 qualities of true God-appointed leaders.

Fashion man pointing at himself

Self-appointed leaders…

  1. resist existing spiritual authority (Nm 16.2).
  2. … criticize and question existing leaders (Nm 16.1).
  3. … accuse other leaders of what they themselves are guilty (Nm 16.3).
  4. aren’t satisfied with the positions they hold. They push for greater authority and position (Nm 16.10).
  5. murmur against leadership that God has appointed (Nm 16.11).
  6. ultimately face God’s judgement (Nm 16.31-35).

God-appointed leaders…

  1. willing submit to existing authority (Daniel’s repeated examples).
  2. when issues and questions arise, they appropriately appeal up the chain of command and go to their leaders in private and in person (Mt 18.15)
  3. avoid a judgmental spirit (Mt 7.1-5)
  4. wait on God to promote them (Paul and Moses spent years in obscurity before rising to significant leadership)
  5. only speak well of their leaders whether to their faces, behind their backs, or in the presence of others (Eph 4.29).
  6. lead with the eternal goal in mind to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25.21).

Of these two lists, which one most characterizes your leadership? If the first list does, what changes do you need to make so that list two most characterizes you?

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5 Signs You’re a “Bounce Back” Leader

Inevitably all leaders face disappointment, setbacks, and difficulty in their roles. As a pastor, I’ve faced my share at times: significant budget deficits, losing crucial staff members, people leaving the church in a huff, programs that didn’t meet expectations, and painful conflict. This side of heaven we can’t avoid the pain that leadership sometimes brings. Some leaders bounce back quickly from such adversity. Some don’t. So what does a “bounce back” leader look like? As you read the following list, ask yourself how many of these qualities would characterize your leadership when you face adversity.

Bounce back

The term often used for this ‘bounce back’ quality is called resilience. So we could actually call this list “The Resilient Leader.”

Resilient leaders…

  1. Don’t lead from perpetual caution.
     They take reasonable risks, but don’t “bet the farm” on risky leadership options.
  2. Admit they hurt when they face setbacks. They are honest about how much it hurts. However, they don’t wallow in their pain. The more we ruminate over our disappointments, the more we actually strengthen the fight-flight-freeze-appease parts of our brain which in turn dampens our ability to think clearly.
  3. Seek to learn new insights from their setbacks. Often a setback can be a blessing in disguise, for without it we would not be open to new learning. Resilient leaders are perpetual learners.
  4. Keep a long haul perspective through difficulty. Failure is never fatal nor final.
    Rather, it prompts resilient leaders to step back and refocus on their long term goals, objectives, and core values. Read my post here that explains how we can discover our true north values.
  5. Refuse to let their devotional life slip. In fact, such leaders recognize that in tough times they must draw closer to Him for strength and wisdom.

When you’ve observed great leaders face disappointment and setbacks, what qualities have you seen in them?

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Are you Leading Well? 13 Questions to Ask Yourself

A year ago I began a new adventure…leading a new church in a new country. I accepted the lead pastor role at a great church in Canada, West Park Church in London, Ontario. This church is filled with great people committed to God and the cause of Christ. I’m loving my time here and although I’ve faced some challenges this first year, overall it has been a great year. Before I even started, I spent three weeks preparing for my new ministry and I learned these 4 keys necessary to start well and sustain healthy ministry. I’ve also included 13 questions that help us determine how well we are leading.

Leadership

I use the acronym PALM to illustrate these 4 simple keys. It describes four practices that not only make a new transition go smoother, but represent leadership priorities I recommend every good leader embrace whether or not he or she is new to a ministry role. I’ll briefly explain them and then pose some questions to help you evaluate how well you are embodying these principles.

Prioritize family and self care. This concept simply means that to lead well, we must lead ourselves and our families well. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say that a healthy ministry flows out of a healthy marriage.

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. How would your spouse or kids say you are doing in keeping family a priority?
  2. How often do you take a day off when you truly disconnect from your leadership role?
  3. Are you getting enough sleep and exercise?
  4. Are you saying ‘no’ enough to demands people try to place on your time that you know if you said ‘yes’ would not further your mission?

Avidly over-communicate. This concept implies that leaders must intentionally use multiple means to keep theirs churches and teams informed of what’s happening.

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. Do you have an intentional process you use to communicate to others progress in achieving your goals and key initiatives?
  2. How many tools do you use to communicate? Or, do you count on one method and hope it’s successful?
  3. How often do you repeat your church’s overall purpose and objectives?

Listen and learn. This idea embodies the principle that good leaders are learners and learning happens when we assume a listening posture. 

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. In meetings how much talking do you do? Are you mostly telling or asking questions and listening?
  2. When you meet new people, do you ask about their lives or do you talk about yourself?
  3. When others are talking to you, how often do you mentally check out as you prepare your response?

Manage change wisely. For any church or ministry to make a Kingdom difference it requires that we effect change. But change for change’s sake seldom moves us forward. However, wisely managed and needed change will make a Kingdom difference.

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. How often do you include in the conversation about a potential change those who would be affected by such a change?
  2. When you bring change, how often do you evaluate after the change to learn how well it went?
  3. What changes need to be made now in your setting and what are you doing to prepare your church or team for the change?

 Leadership brings leaders great fulfillment, especially when we lead well. Consider how you might apply these 4 keys in the PALM acrostic to your leadership setting.

What other keys have you discovered that make for successful leadership?

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The Moody Leader: 4 Reasons NOT to be One

Churches, non-profits, and businesses require emotionally healthy and aware leaders. While competency, good management skills, and vision casting ability certainly matter, research now shows that emotional intelligence (EQ) profoundly impacts leadership effectiveness as well. One aspect of EQ, knowing our emotions, reinforces the idea that leaders must never be moody ones. Neuroscience gives us four reasons why.

Range of Emotions - Mad to Happy

Before I list the reasons why leaders should never be moody, here’s how I describe a moody leader.

  • Employes and followers aren’t sure what kind of mood he will bring to work.
  • When he feels anxious, which is often, he’s short with others and demanding.
  • He thrives on drama in the workplace.
  • He lacks self-awareness of how he comes across when he’s emotional.

So, here’s how neuroscience informs us about the downsides of moody leaders.

  1. Emotional contagion. Emotional contagion is the term that describes how others catch our emotions. If a leader is often moody, sour, or negative, that attitude will permeate that organization or church. I was once treated very rudely when I ordered a hamburger and fries at a hamburger joint. A few minutes later the cook yelled at the person who waited on me. At that point I realized who actually waited on me, the owner of the restaurant. His employees had ‘caught’ his bad attitude. I never returned.
  2. Uncertainty. Our brains don’t like uncertainty. When we sense it (“I wonder what kind of mood the boss will be in today?”), it sets up an avoidance response in us. Or flight-fight-freeze-appease center (the limbic system) ratchets up which results in fear, less team cooperation, and less creativity in the workplace. Moody leaders infuse uncertainty into the workplace. (My blog here describes our brain’s 3 leadership systems we should be aware of.)
  3. Mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a specialized group of brain cells that cause us to mimic goal directed behavior. For example, when we see someone yawn or smile, we tend to subconsciously yawn or smile. But such behavior is not limited to yawns and smiles. If a leader constantly frowns or furrows his brow in a disapproving way, it sets a negative tone in the workplace or the church. Yet, genuine smiles can do the opposite by encouraging a positive, productive work setting.
  4. Theory of mind. Theory of mind is a concept that says our minds can somewhat intuit what others are thinking and feeling. Although not mind reading, the process called mentalizing, helps us understand another’s mental states. Mentalizing helps us imagine and interpret their needs, desires, feelings, and goals. When a leader brings moodiness into relationships, he inadvertently leads others to intuit negative intents, purposes, or desires which that leader probably does not want his followers or employees to think or believe.

So you can see that moody leadership does not contribute to healthy teams, trust, creativity, leadership effectiveness, or cooperation.

If you think you may be a moody leader, ask someone who truly cares about you to gently remind you when you start acting moody.

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Are you in an Unhealthy Relationship Triangle?

Relationship triangles are the essential building blocks relationship systems are built upon. And I don’t mean them in the sense of a love triangle. We can’t avoid triangles. If you spend any time with people, relationship triangles will form. They aren’t intrinsically good or bad, they just are. A triangle provide a visual way to describe the dynamics between two people and an issue/group or the dynamics between three people. They picture how strained relationships between two people cause them to intentionally or unintentionally avoid issues, dump burdens, shift pain, and pass relationship angst to a third person. Often we leaders get triangled in which can diminish our effectiveness. So how do we avoid unhealthy triangles? Consider these suggestions.

Hands holding rope forming triangle isolated on white

1. Think in threes.

Play a grown up version of Where’s Waldo by looking for triangles in your relationships. As you relate to others, always keep in mind that we naturally tend to handle our anxiety through triangles. They come in many forms. Keep an open eye to their pervasiveness. Here are some examples.

  • Husband-wife-child
  • Husband-wife-job
  • Pastor-wife-church
  • Boyfriend-girlfriend-dad
  • Husband-wife-inlaw (or outlaw)
  • Boss-employee-employee
  • President-board-customers
  • Brother-sister-parent
  • Pastor-elder-elder
  • Pastor-board-church vision
  • Brother-sister-inheritance
  • Student-teacher-parent
  • Student-student-teacher

2. Don’t try to fix the problems of the other two in a triangle.

Imagine a triangle and a each point place a different person, ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C,’ with ‘A’ being you. If ‘B’ and ‘C’ are at odds with each other and you are the third point in the triangle, avoid the temptation to force change in ‘B’s’ relationship with ‘C.’ I tried for years in a previous church to get a leader to see another person in the church in a positive light. Even after many attempts, I never heard him say, “Charles, you are right. I don’t know why after all these years I saw ____ like I did. He’s a great guy.”

In fact, the opposite occurred. The harder I tried to make the relationship get better, the worse it got. It wore me out because I was taking on their relationship tension. And for all my efforts, their relationship never improved.

I don’t mean to imply that we should discourage healthy dialogue between two people in conflict. We should often coach others toward healthy dialogue. But when we try to push a relationship to get better, it seldom will. People resist such efforts.

When Martha tried to triangle in Jesus to force Mary help her in the kitchen (Luke 10.38-42), He did let himself get sucked in. He pointed back to Martha’s heart condition rather than trying to ‘fix’ Mary.

3. Don’t bail or distance yourself from those in your triangles.

We naturally tend to shy away from relationships in conflict. We don’t want to deal with the emotionality they bring. However, distancing or bailing out often makes the relationship worse. And when we distance ourselves, we actually keep people in the dark. The result? The relationship often gets worse. So, keep a reasonable connection to each person in the triangle.

4. Expect triangles to intensify in times of change or stress.

When you face more stress in your family, at work, or in your relationships, the tendency to get triangled in will increase as will your tendency to triangle somebody else in. Be more vigilant and aware during those times. Remember to take responsibility only for the relationships you are in, ‘A’ to ‘B,’ and ‘A’ to ‘C.’ Refuse to take unhealthy responsibility for the other two in the triangle, ‘B’ to ‘C.’ Encourage healthy dialogue between the two and focus on your relationship with each person. Often when you do that, the tension between the other two in the triangle will lessen.

5. Focus on issues, not personalities.

When we get triangled, we’re tempted to take sides. The solution to the relationship problem may be obvious to us and to the offending party. However, keeping emotionally neutral can keep you from getting over involved. When you sense someone is trying to suck you and trying to get some commitment out of you to take sides, a good response is, “Let me think about that.”[1] 

6. Know the signs when someone’s trying to triangle you in.

Here are some potential signs that someone is trying to draw you into an unhealthy triangle.

  • When someone obsesses about somebody else not doing his or her job.
  • When someone takes an unhealthy interest in the problems of others.
  • When someone tries to rescue another.
  • When you get an uncomfortable feeling that someone wants to get unnecessarily close to you.
  • When someone over-focuses on you in a negative way (i.e., criticism) or he over-focuses on you a positive way (i.e., extreme flattery).
  • When someone’s reaction to you exceeds what the situation would normally dictate.

7. Map your own triangles.

Think about the unhealthy triangles you may be in now. Draw those triangles on a sheet of paper. Put names on them. Take a learner’s stance and ask yourself these questions.

  • How are you responding to those in your triangles? Is it healthy or unhealthy?
  • What patterns do you see? Are they healthy or unhealthy?
  • Is the same person constantly trying to triangle you in?

When we discover and become more aware of our relational and emotional triangles, we can keep a more objective stance to the unhealthy ones, which in turn helps us lead better.

What are some negative results you’ve seen in your life when you’ve been sucked into unhealthy triangles?

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[1] Margaret J. Marcuson, Leaders Who Last, Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry (New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2009), Kindle e-book loc. 582.