...isn’t so perfect after all. Those who lead well are gifted, yet broken.
What do a corporate CEO, pastor, social worker, police officer, and medical doctor all have in common? Certainly not their salary! Each has the responsibility to have a positive impact in the lives of others and the community. But, they have one more thing in common – each has a broken internal GPS that left unchecked will lead to self-centered choices and sometimes even harmful actions against themselves and others. Each of them has the opportunity to influence others for good… or for bad.
We expect leaders to be perfect
From the beginning of human civilization, when God first created people, they have acted like they know better than Him and subsequently ignore his instructions. People have continued to try to be like God and expect others to be like Him as well. We expect others to know it all, do it all, and be everywhere we need them to be… all at the same time! For example, organizations and their stakeholders often want leaders who are:
Strong yet sensitive
Decisive yet collaborative
Confident yet humble
Visionary yet flexible
“Idolatry begins with the counterfeiting of God, because only with a counterfeit of God can people remain the center of their lives and loyalties, autonomous architects of their futures. Something within creation will then be idolatrously inflated to fill the God-shaped hole in the individual’s world. But a counterfeit is a lie, not the real thing. It must present itself through self-deception, often with images suggesting that the idol will fulfill promises for the good life.” -Richard Keyes in No God But God
So we strive to be perfect to reap the rewards
Just as our predecessors, we are often quick to accept the challenge and then work hard to fulfill such unrealistic expectations. All the while, we are striving to be something or someone we are not. We really like the perks of being perceived as super-humans. Just as people have made sacrifices to their gods throughout history, leaders today also like the VIP treatment. They receive this when they are able to temporarily act with success in being like god to those around them! Author Bob Goff calls this identity theft – stealing God’s identity and abusing it! Research has shown such leaders can easily begin to develop a propensity toward pride, isolation, and entitlement. Leaders who are elevated to almost divine-like statuses are provided the perks of deity and expected to act like gods. They will sometimes begin to believe their own press, often causing harm to themselves and others. The ultimate results most commonly consist of anxiety, burnout, disappointment, and disillusionment.
“Narcissistic personalities . . . are frequently encountered in top management positions. Indeed, it is only to be expected that many narcissistic people, with their need for power, prestige, and glamour, eventually end up in leadership positions. Their sense of drama, their ability to manipulate others, their knack for establishing quick, superficial relationships serve them well in organizational life.” -Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries, Leaders, Fools, and Impostors
But on that pedestal, it’s easy to lead others astray
We all are gifted to be difference-makers, but since each of us is a bit broken as well, we often believe we know better than the one who created us. Such arrogance and independence can result in us impacting others in damaging ways. This is true whether we are pastors, church members, business owners, or employees. Left on our own, we are lost and don’t know it, and we are taking others with us!
However, God’s reminder from thousands of years ago is a timely one for today’s leaders as well: “This is what the LORD says – I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:7), and “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4). In order to lead well, we need to humble ourselves, get off the pedestal we have helped build for ourselves, and make sure we are using our influence for good.
For more on leading well, read our book FIT – Improving the Leadership Health of Yourself and Others!
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.