Stop Facilitating Toxic Leadership Behavior!

bad boss“We love to play our staff against one another.” I turned to look at my friend who had just uttered this aside in a discussion about coaching.
“I want to come back to that statement,” I said.  And as soon as the meeting was over I pulled my friend aside and asked him what he meant.

“Our pastor loves to play the staff against one another, he thinks this heightens creativity and innovation,” he responded.  However, my friend’s expression and tone, now turning dark and hushed, did not look like creativity or innovation to me.

“So,” he continued, “the staff knows this and they talk together before they complete any assignment because they have all learned to play the game.”

I wanted to ask a question but it was late and everyone dispersed from the meeting quickly. As I drove home I pondered this. It is not the first time I have met this kind of thinking – in fact playing employees or staff against one another is celebrated by many of the CEOs and owners I know who read the biography of Steve Jobs as though it were a text-book on how to create an effective money-making machine.  The behavior does not work in business, it only adds cost as employees devise ways to stonewall unreasonable demands and backtrack over the relational wreckage created the wake of bad leadership behavior.

The behavior does not work in the church either. It is the opposite of the vulnerable, transparent, and healing behaviors Jesus led his disciples toward.  How is it that we (people who are the church) don’t make the connection between our behavior and the toxic behavior of bad leaders. We lament scandal and corruption and wonder what happen.

Stop! You and I bear accountability in the failure and misdeeds of bad leaders. Accountability is built into the nature of Christ’s church. Yet, board members and other organizational influencers continue to think that they are protecting the reputation of the church by hiding its dirty laundry.  The church is like the king and his new clothes. Do you know that story? The tailors of the kingdom decide that their monarch’s arrogance has become so destructive to the kingdom that they play to his arrogance at the anniversary of his coronation. They present him with fabric so exquisite that only the wisest most astute men can see its beauty.  The king can’t admit he sees nothing in their hands and so he agrees to let them tailor festive robes for the coronation celebration. According to the story, the king parades through most of his kingdom to the snickers of his subjects before he realizes that he is in fact walking naked. The tailors in the story of the King and his new clothes model what it means to respect, honor, and esteem a leader without falling prey to celebrity worship.

Covering over dirty laundry only makes a bigger stench. How does a world in need of change find a road map to change if the church fails to model what it means to confess, repent, and be transformed in the midst of its own humanity? We are hypocrites!

Authenticity takes courage. I know, I have seen how bad leaders use their power to punish those who disagree – and I have seen others sit silently by to watch one of their own be belittled and marginalized or ousted by a leader in the midst of an adolescent rage.

Leaders ultimately have no more power than the power granted them.  There is nothing inherent about a leader’s power!

The question I wanted to ask my friends was simple, “do you love your pastor?”

Why love?  It is love that finds the courage to approach and question behavior. It is love that endures rage while pointing to the rage as an example of bad behavior. It is love that refuses to be put off by denial and persist in raising questions. It is love that respects another enough to walk with them through periods of vulnerability and change. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not hide from the truth but allows the truth to challenge and transform.

I will encourage my friends to talk with their pastor in love and respect to ask him if he understands the impact of his behavior. If he listens I will encourage them to work together to change the way they all behave. If he does not listen I will encourage my friends to go to the board of their mega-church to ask them engage the pastor’s poor behavior. I will encourage my friends to do this with the intent of growing together as a team of people who powerfully and tangibly illustrate what it means to know Jesus Christ and grow as healthy people. Enough with the spin and damage control – it isn’t working it is just getting stinky!

Stop facilitating toxic behavior.  Let’s develop healthy and healing organizations that show what it means to follow Christ.