Beware - Insecure Leaders Are Dangerous

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves” (T. S. Eliot ).

Leaders are easy targets: Let me begin by recognizing that strong leaders are easily misunderstood and often wrongly judged as self-seeking and self-promoting.

Sometimes these leaders are guilty as charged. A leader unwilling to admit that he sometimes battles this temptation is probably not one you should follow. Yet we should be aware that people often wrongly project evil motives on leaders because they either feel threatened by them or jealous of them.

Like most leaders, I’ve experienced the full spectrum. I’ve been guilty as charged and wrongly accused. I believe leaders are more vulnerable to selfish motives when they are younger and more likely to be falsely accused when they are older and more recognized for their leadership.
Beware - Insecure Leaders Are Dangerous
5 Reasons Leaders Sometimes Make Leading About Themselves:

Why would someone use leadership for self-affirmation and self-advancement? There are at least five possible reasons.

1. Making a difference: Good leaders strongly desire to make a significant difference in a world driven by hype and distorted notions of success. Leaders who fall for misguided measures of success will easily become discouraged and possibly turn to self-validation by fishing for affirmations from those around them.

2. Feelings of inadequacy: Even the strongest leaders battle feelings of inadequacy. The magnitude of the task of leading God’s people can be daunting. Who is equal to such a task?

3. Unrealistic diversity: The pressures of pastoral ministry are complicated by widespread confusion about a pastor’s role. Is a pastor a shepherd who tends a flock or an entrepreneur leading a business and marketing a product? Pastors are expected to be spiritual teachers, overseers, biblical scholars, administrators, CEOs, financial advisors, professional counsellors and friends. If a pastor tries to be effective in all of these areas, insecurity and inadequacy only intensify and possibly result in higher needs for affirmation.

4. Unstable backgrounds: Before one is appointed to leadership, careful consideration should be given to the potential leader’s upbringing. Relationships with parents form the basis for one’s identity and security and future relationships. If a man, for example, had a father who continuously degraded him, he will be more vulnerable to using leadership as a means of building self-esteem. In principle, this relates to the prohibition in I Timothy 3:6.

5. Fear of being wrong: No one likes to be wrong, but some people attach their egos to their need to be right. For such people, being right is a matter of identity. Leaders sometimes assume that if they let others see them sweat or find out they’re wrong about something, the people won’t respect their leadership. If you feel you always have to be right, stay away from leadership roles! If you say, “It’s just that I typically end up being right,” Repent!

Insecure leaders threaten the team!

Leadership roles should not be given to insecure people. Such people drag down or destroy unified team leadership. Insecure people wear their sensitivities on their sleeve and attach their egos to their ideas. They will sacrifice a team to promote a self-serving focus.

For the past 30 years, I have been blessed with a great team of leaders. Many of us have served together at our Church for most of those years. Team leadership requires deference, mutual honor, servanthood and love.

My current role is to be a leader among equals — a leader to our leaders. Our equality as a leadership team is in our office as elders, but not in our years of wisdom and experience. This means that younger elders must be humble enough to defer to those with far more years of experience. If young leaders give in to pride and insecurity (and these traits always travel together), they’ll miss the learning gained from those who have acquired wisdom with years.

Yet older leaders must learn to listen and be willing to recognize that wisdom doesn’t fully reside in one generation. Without hesitation, I can say that we’ve experienced a taste of heaven in the unity and fellowship of our team leadership.

Protection in the community!

When leadership involves a lot of public work, it increases the vulnerabilities. Years ago, I realized that I could not expect those who are not in leadership to fully understand the tensions that come with it. In a helpful article dealing with the dangers of narcissism in leadership (especially pastoral ministry),

JR Kerr acknowledged that “Rooting my calling and ambitions in my community helps keep me from slipping into a self-centred focus. Without the community, it becomes all about me, my ministry, my dreams, my achievements. Community is used by God as a guard against this tendency to self-promote.”

Such a community (especially at the leadership level) also protects you when others misread you or wrongly judge your motives. I speak at many places outside of the walls of our home Church and gratefully I have not often experienced this kind of misunderstanding. But when accused, I’ve always considered it important to examine my heart before God. I also refuse to react (to take the bait and escalate).

Gratefully, I’ve been able to deflect wrongful accusations not just because I knew my own heart (for it can be deceitful) but more importantly because I was known deeply by people who have worked closely with me for many years. When judged from a distance, being known closely by a highly respected and godly team affords protection from wrongful judgments.

A tension we must embrace!

One of the tensions we all live with as obedient followers of Christ (and public leaders often feel this tension more than others) is between Jesus’ call and warning in Matthew 5:14-16 and 6:1.

The call – “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

The warning – “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Another community!

Kerr transparently shared how God used his wife to help him see his way to and through a personal battle with narcissism. In his words:

“Recently I came home to find my wife researching narcissism on the computer. We have been in counselling for a few years and during a session where we discussed my relentless ambition, the phrase “narcissistic leanings” came up. My wife was researching the concept to see if it fit me and what the implications might be for our marriage.”

“At first she was embarrassed that I caught her, but I was interested as well, so we read the characteristics of narcissism together on the screen. My immediate thought was, This isn’t a problem for me. Narcissism is the adulation of the self, the diminishment of others, and often expressed as reckless ambition. Nothing could be more inconsistent with the character of Christ—the self-sacrificing servant who sought only to do the will of his Father. How can I be a pastor, a servant of Christ, and struggle with this?”

“But as we read the definitions online, without saying a word we both knew we were reading an accurate description of me. I am a believer and yet I remain a sinner. I am a pastor and I’m often a self-promoter. I endeavour to serve Jesus and I also have narcissistic tendencies.”

“What I’ve come to see since that day, is that I am not alone. Many other church leaders share this struggle to one degree or another. We may not all be full-blown clinical narcissists, but we share that bent toward insecurity and selfishness. Most gatherings of pastors will usually include subtle or overt self-promotion. I’m not the only one who has used attendance numbers or new initiatives or “my vision” as a badge of self-importance” (from JR Kerr, pastor at Park Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, ).
Marriage and family provide great community for promoting reality

We now have an empty nest. Raising children to adulthood affords more than a few reality checks! Over the years, our sons, 27, 24, and 20 and our daughter (25) provided plenty of these “reality checks.” They’re a great bunch who are usually ready to respectfully tell it like it is, even to their Dad/pastor.

A good word to apply!

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Think about it!

At the end of the day, why should it matter how big your Church is or how many twitter followers and Facebook friends you claim? Does it really matter how many Blog visitors or radio listeners you can claim? Does it matter how many books you have written or sold?

Scriptures to protect you!

“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

Steve Cornell

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