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Overboard Blog

Living the extraordinary life of faith!

Mistakes leaders make (5/10)


I’m working my way through a book, The Top 10 Mistakes Leaders Make, by Hans Finzel, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. So for the next ten Saturdays I want to work through these ten mistakes, knowing that they apply to CEOs, ministry leaders, parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and just about anyone in any kind of leadership role.

  1. I promise to keep my summaries short(ish), and I would love to interact with your thoughts as we go along. These mistakes are listed in order of how they occur in the book, not necessarily how I would arrange them. Overboard Leadership requires an honest self-evaluation of each of these shortcomings (sins?) of leaders. Looking for missed posts, click here: Mistake #1, Mistake #2, Mistake #3, Mistake #4)


Mistake #5: Dictatorship in Decision Making

National dictatorships are great if you want a quiet, generally pretty calm and usually a very predictable life. Dictators bring a form of peace that many leaders crave. But it’s a “peace” that comes by crushing the creative spirit and by devaluing the individual. Dictatorships work because people are marginalized into a “collective.”

And dictatorships fall because individuals rise up. People tired of oppression, tired of a joyless existence and tired of having life sucked out of their daily effort to survive wake up, rise up and seek their freedom.

In the same way, a leader -- in the office or home or ministry or team -- who leads like a dictator, sucks the life out of an organization and reduces people to being task-monsters. As Finzel states well, dictators believe that they have “special knowledge or an anointing that gives him or her the inside edge on truth...” They alone determine direction and they alone have the answer for every dilemma the organization faces.

As mentioned in Mistake #1, top-down leadership, the greatest good a leader does is empowering her team for success. Dictators short-circuit the success of the team by implementing their own ideas, randomly changing direction, or by sabotaging or down-playing the victories of others.

In contrast to the dictator, stands the servant leader. This leader is willing to facilitate the growth and achievement of his team, instead of crushing it by trying to control every aspect of the ministry, business or family. While Ephesians 4:12 is a specific call to pastors, I think all leaders would benefit from Paul’s words about growing others to be established in the work you are leading:  [God appointed leaders in the church] “to equip His people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up...” God didn’t appoint dictators to tell everyone how to do their jobs correctly. No! He appointed leaders to inspire others to serve, to expose the giftedness of others and to create an environment where everyone reaches the main objective under the direction of a serving, facilitating leader.

Here are 7 signs that you are leading like a dictator (or working for one!):

Stalin ruled Russia for 31 years, exiling and executing millions who were deemed "threats" to his leadership. Picture from daily telegraph:

  1. Information silo: You control the flow of information, including schedules, menus, long-term plans etc... It’s all in your head, or maybe even written out in a document, but it only changes when you change it.
  2. Idea threats: You feel threatened by the ideas of others, especially Mavericks (see Mistake #4). When you hear a new idea that isn’t yours, your first reaction is usually “No.”
  3. Flow chart: Your leadership flow chart is top-down. It doesn’t matter how wide it stretches, or how many arms come off your position, your position is always seen as “on top.”
  4. Unknown culture: You are distant from those you lead. You don’t really know what’s happening in their lives, and honestly, you may not even care. You keep an arms-length approach to work or family relationships.
  5. Defensive posture: You are defensive any time someone challenges or confronts you. You avoid honest sit down conversations with your team of followers, and you excuse away or blame others when your leadership is questioned.
  6. Control decisions: You make all of the decisions, or limit them to an elite team of board members or friends.
  7. Sudden changes: You make sudden changes in direction, in spending, in personnel and in general day-to-day work. Because you control the info, see ideas as threats and control decisions, sudden shifts in any aspect of the team, ministry or family is your prerogative.

Kaleo Korner 

(From my friend, Justin Vanrheenen, founder of Kaleo Media)

Let’s get real for a sec. Can a dictator change? Here’s my answer. NO. A dictator can not change, will not change, and if you work for a dictator, you have one option; resign and find a new job.

We all like to think that we can be the change, but sometimes you can’t. Hear me on this: because you can’t change the situation, it doesn’t make you a failure. Look at countries that have dictators, they have three options; military coup, get out or die. Assuming a military coup isn't a wise idea for your situation, there isn’t a middle ground.

Sometimes getting out will feel like death. You may take a hit to your reputation by the dictator. You may be ridiculed, and scorned in the process, by the dictator. But get out before you face emotional, relational, or physical death. There is no loyalty to any dictator worth your life!

By contrast, here are 7 signs that you are leading differently:

  1. Delegation: You delegate meaningful decisions to others, even decisions that rest in your areas of “control.” You willingly share your authority.
  2. Involvement: You want to include as many team members as productively possible in the process of achieving success.
  3. Information aqueduct  You want ideas and info to flow freely, to and from every member of the team.
  4. Development: Personal and team development is a crucial part of what you do.
  5. People: You see people as the organization’s greatest resource; not money, not buildings and not programs.
  6. Freedom: You give people real freedom to express their creativity and to make significant decisions.
  7. Accountability:  You maintain healthy accountability with your team, and support decisions you’ve released others to make.

Hans concludes this section by identifying two main characteristics of leaders who avoid decision-making dictatorships. One, they preserve the dignity of each individual and, two, they promote freedom and corporate creativity.

By contrast, dictators are hard to work for and impossible to please. Justin and I were emailing about this post, and we concluded that dictators remind us of the pharisees in Jesus' day. In fact, Jesus rebukes them because they ruled the people so harshly. Listen to how He describes them:

"They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23:4).

"They love the place of honor..." (23:6).

"You [the pharisees] have neglected the more important matters of the law -- justice, mercy and faithfulness..." (23:23).

"...inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence..." (23:25).

"...on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness" (23:28).

To Justin's point above -- that dictators can't change -- think of the fact that even Jesus came to pharisees, confronted them and challenged them and what was their response? "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

It's true that a handful of pharisees were changed by Jesus, but the vast majority of them remained stuck in their stubborn, hard-hearted ways.

How are you leading your followers (Family, business, church, ministry, organization, team...)?

Go ahead and take the plunge, your leadership will be better on the water!

Mistakes leaders make, 6/10

Special thanks to Justin VanRheenen, friend and founder of Kaleo Media. If you want to increase your online presence, or improve your social media content and skills, contact Justin and learn from him!