Five Types of the Dark Side of Leadership

fullsizeoutput_ac8Continuing with my exploration of Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima’s Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, in the second part of the book the authors give attention to what they call “five dark-side issues experienced most often by leaders” (16). They group those dark-side issues into individual chapters that describe in greater detail what each of these issues might do to the leader. Here is a summary of each of those five types:

  1. The Compulsive Leader (103-109): “Compulsive in a leadership context describes the need to maintain absolute order” (105). The compulsive leader experiences difficulty with delegation, tending toward workaholism. They are conscientious but moralistic and may become judgmental. They are conscious of their status, looking both for approval and reassurance from others, yet learning toward anger and rebellion on the inside. The compulsive leader in the church setting relies upon administration and organization as the safety net for their fears of losing control, whether of staff, their board, or the ministry of the church. Moses is an example of the tendencies toward control seen in the compulsive leader.
  2. The Narcissistic Leader (111-118): “For the narcissistic leader…the world revolves on the axis of self, and all other people and issues closely orbit them as they get caught in the strong gravitational pull of the narcissist’s self-absorption” (115).  Leaders with this dark side tend to overestimate their own achievements and abilities while stubbornly refusing to recognize the quality and value of the same in others” (115). They are often driven by unmet needs for admiration toward the pursuit of success, and can be simultaneously over-inflated in their sense of importance and deeply insecure. In the church setting, the narcissistic leader will promote themselves, their endeavors and their gifts aggressively, and thereby make themselves seem like an essential piece of everything without which nothing could possibly succeed. Solomon is an example of the tendencies toward self-obsession in the narcissistic leader.
  3. The Paranoid Leader (119-126): “Paranoid leaders are desperately afraid of anything or anyone, whether real or imagined, they perceive to have even the remotest potential of undermining their leadership and stealing away the limelight” (122-123). Oftentimes, paranoid leaders overreact to criticism, guess at others’ motives, and rigorously root out those who seem to be against them.  The paranoid leader in the church will keep anyone else from preaching or do anything they can to keep their board from meeting without them. Saul, the first king of Israel, is an example of the tendencies toward suspicion seen in the paranoid leader.
  4. The Codependent Leader (127-138): Codependency is “an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules that prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems” (133). Codependent people compulsively worry about the feelings of other people – even taking responsibility for others’ actions and emotions – while often being out of touch with their own emotions. Codependents are often reactive instead of proactive. “Ministry and Christian service organizations provide the perfect environment for a leader to focus on others to the exclusion of self. This often results in the codependent pastor or leader’s failure to car for himself, producing burnout and other debilitating maladies” (136). Samson  is an example of the tendencies toward emotional and relational stunting experienced with the codependent leader.
  5. The Passive-Aggressive Leader (139-146): “Passive-aggressive leaders have a tendency to resist demands to adequately perform tasks” (140), oftentimes based on a fear of failure. The passive-aggressive leader may have outbursts of intense emotions, manifest various forms of impulsiveness, and can become perennial complainers. In the church setting, passive-aggressive leaders radiate edgy irritability, often complaining about their workload, the people they work with, and the sort of things they have to do. They make impulsive decisions, while also procrastinating essential tasks, both of which can alienate congregants and volunteers from them. Jonah is an example of the tendencies toward emotional outbursts and impulsiveness often seen in passive-aggressive leaders.

Have you experienced this sort of leader in your life, particularly in your church? What might it look like for you to learn from that experience?

Now, look in the mirror for awhile, and consider what your own dark side tendencies might be. How can you bring those to God today?


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