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Bad Leaders "R" Us

It seems that everywhere I look, I see an example of bad leadership. And it's not just in the realm of business or politics, either. I've seen pastors and Christian leaders make poor decisions, or make good ones and implement them badly. It's not a problem limited to our day, either. Reading the Sermon on the Mount, it's clear that Jesus doesn't mince words as he describes to his followers what the religious leaders of their day are doing poorly. Setting out to obey God, they've become taken in by their own hype. They pass extra laws, push the boundaries of sin to the nth degree, and blow their own horns—literally!—when giving alms or praying.

But Jesus sees their behavior for what it is—self-interest. He explains to the people that this kind of behavior—leaders doing what makes themselves look and feel good—is wholly inappropriate for the Kingdom of God. God has a whole different way of doing things, and the religious leaders of the day are way off base with their self-centered approach to leading.

What about us? To what extent have we come to resemble the religious leaders of Jesus' day?

Of course we want to be doing things God's way. Give the fallen nature of our world and the pervasiveness of sin, the impurity of our own hearts and the difficulty we have in discerning our own motives, perhaps we should reconsider our approach to leadership.

Most leadership theory, Christian and secular, approaches leadership as something good with occasional lapses. But maybe we've got it backward. Maybe we should approach leadership as something inherently dangerous, highly likely to bring out the worst in us and quite likely to cause us to act in our own self-interest. How might our attitudes and actions change if we came at leadership with fear and trembling and reluctance? What if we figured we were more likely to get it wrong than right? More likely to hurt people than help them? More likely to do what's best for us than what's best for others? More likely to worry about ourselves than about God's people?

I came across a book recently with the slightly crude title, The No A****** Rule, by Robert Sutton. His approach is refreshing because he candidly states that everyone, absolutely everyone, himself included, acts like one sometimes. He has a list he calls the "dirty dozen" of bad behaviors which include, among others, sarcastic jokes and teasing, rude interruptions , two-faced attacks, and treating people as if they are invisible (p10).

Probably you won't have to think too long to remember both doing and receiving some of these behaviors, even from another believer. So, he says, we might as well recognize it and work on dealing with it. If you want to read more from Robert Sutton, check out his blog: He's got some thought-provoking things to say. And if you want to ask yourself some diagnostic questions, you can read "Bad Bosses: What Kind are You?"

Once we've diagnosed the problem, though, what's the treatment? How do we begin to move away from self-interest toward other-person centered leadership? If you have good ideas and suggestions, why not share them here?

November17, 2010 at 1:02 PM

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