Getting sick is the worst, isn’t it? We absolutely hate it, because we can’t do what we want to do. Our bodies won’t let us.
We want to put the finishing touches on our sermon for Sunday, but we can’t because we have a splitting headache. We want to play with our kids in the yard, but we can’t because we get dizzy every time we stand up.
Aside from the sanctification issues at play here, getting sick is a good metaphor for what can happen to our leadership if we’re not careful.
Like our bodies, our leadership can be exposed to diseases that greatly weaken our effectiveness as leaders. In fact, if these leadership diseases go unnoticed and unchecked, they can threaten to work against what we’re trying to do as leaders.
So recently we put our heads together as a team and came up with 5 of the most common leadership diseases that can hamstring you as leader, despite your best intentions.
Leadership disease #1: Consumerism
You can get a lot of heads nodding in any room full of pastors by decrying the evils of “consumerism in the church.” But most of us are unaware of how we as leaders are part of the problem. It’s so easy to unwittingly create environments where consumerism can thrive.
Here are some symptoms of the leadership disease of consumerism:
- We try to leverage the awesomeness of some aspect of our ministry to get more people to participate in it (“Don’t miss next week’s sermon! It’s going to be off the chain!”)
- We believe God won’t “show up” unless we make things more awesome.
- We feel a relentless pressure to make things awesome every week.
- We assume we need to cater to every preference people have (a “traditional” service and a “contemporary” service, for example).
- We think that if we could just get a better worship leader, a renovation of the sanctuary a new location, that everything will be okay.
Leadership disease #2: Individualism
A second leadership disease is individualism, and it works hand-in-hand with consumerism. Individualism treats church as a way for me to find individual fulfillment (through consuming the “products” the church offers: worship services, etc).
Here are some symptoms of the leadership disease of individualism:
- The application points of our sermons are always geared toward helping individuals apply the sermon (rather than imagining how a community would embody it).
- Sermons always encourage individuals to apply things later, on their own time, rather than call us as a congregation to respond to good news now, together.
- The leaders don’t have any close relationships with anyone in the church (or with one another).
Leadership disease #3: Authoritarianism
Our third leadership disease is authoritarianism (which is as bad as it sounds).
Here are some symptoms:
- Everything is rigidly controlled by a senior leader
- Nobody can really do anything without the explicit permission of the leader at the top of the hierarchy.
- There is a “results at any cost” mindset that uses fear, guilt, and shame to put pressure on people to meet quotas and perform impeccably.
- There can be a “nice” version of authoritarianism, where we use flattery, bribes, and rewards instead of fear, guilt, and shame, but any time the goal of leadership is “getting people to do things,” authoritarianism is at work.
- There is a “my way or the highway” mentality at the top. Everyone is just a tool in my toolbox, and if they can’t get the job done, I’ll just find another tool that can get the job done.
Leadership disease #4: Pragmatism
The fourth leadership disease is pragmatism, which looks nicer and more flexible than authoritarianism, but in essence are quite similar.
Here are some symptoms of the leadership disease of pragmatism:
- The first move in approaching any problem is to look for “whatever works” to fix the most surface level issue, rather than attempting to really understanding the core problem.
- There is a focus on things that are easy to measure (attendance and money), rather than focusing on what those things are supposed to signify (so we end up focusing on increasing attendance instead of whether or not we’re making disciples, for example).
- We focus on “best practices” from famous churches and pastors who speak at conferences, rather than discerning what God is doing among us here.
- Eventually, you stop relying on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide and empower your ministry and you end up with a “mechanical” vision of leadership devoid of the presence and power of God.
Leadership disease #5: Narcissism
The last leadership disease in our list is narcissism. This one is a doozy, because it’s difficult to detect and does so much hidden damage to everyone in the organization.
We’re not psychiatrists (and you probably aren’t either), so in talking about narcissism we aren’t trying diagnose anyone with a psychological condition, but as a “leadership disease,” it’s important to learn to recognize narcissism when you see it in yourself or others.
Here are some symptoms of the leadership disease of narcissism:
- The church or organization is fueled by the leader’s popularity and celebrity (when church becomes a cult of personality).
- The leader has a constant desire to “win” and be admired.
- Leaders are unable to really listen to criticism, or really listen to people in general.
- The leader doesn’t have any close friends who speak into his or her life
- The leader manifests a lack of empathy for how decisions affect people
- The leader thinks of the organization as an extension of themselves (“This is MY church!”).
Needed: a new/old way to lead
Like us, you may have noticed that these leadership diseases seem to be on the rise in the church. Our hunch is that they’ve always been there, but as we move further into a culture where the church doesn’t enjoy the privilege it once did, these leadership diseases are simply becoming more obvious.
And while diagnosis is the first step toward cure, we recognize that there are some vital shifts that need to take place for most of us to learn to lead well in the new context we find ourselves in.
FREE webinar replay: Why Leading Is Like Dying
This is part of what we talk about in this FREE webinar replay called Why Leading Is Like Dying (cheerful title, no?).
In this webinar replay, Gravity Leadership cofounders Ben Hardman, Matt Tebbe, and I discuss 3 counterintuitive insights to transform your leadership from maintenance mode to missional movement.
This is the stuff they didn’t teach you in seminary, but is crucial to leading well in our current cultural moment. Fill out the form below to get instant access to this free webinar replay.
We’d also love to hear from you in the comments:
Which of these leadership diseases have you seen in action? What were the results? Leave a comment below to let us know.