Confronting Potential Failures
It is unfortunately true that in our day the ministries of many prominent leaders have been compromised by moral and ethical failures. This is not only tragic for the people involved in these problems, but it is a black mark on the church. It is also very sad to think of how we are letting the Lord Jesus Christ down with our behavior.
Ministers are only human and will all fall into sin, but as they mature, sin can be avoided. This book, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, has some biblical and theological advice for how to identify and avoid the moral problems that seem to be especially big temptations for leaders. The authors have also given the readers some practical tools to use that will help in strengthening their leadership.
The authors use the Biblical imagery of “darkness” and “light” when they speak of the characteristics of leadership. Though we are born again into a new Christian life and have the help of the Holy Spirit to walk in the light, we still fight the old, sinful nature with which we were born (Romans 7:14-25). This is the dark side, explained by Rima and McIntosh in this way, “It is the inner urges, compulsions, and dysfunctions of our personality that often go unexamined or remain unknown to us until we experience an emotional explosion . . . or some other significant problem that causes us to search for a reason why” (McIntosh, Rima, p. 28). These negative personality traits include jealousy, envy, manipulation, dishonesty, hunger for power, pride, and insensitivity.
There are several things to note here. First, many of the dark traits in one’s personality were developed over a long period of time during childhood or young adulthood. Rima and McIntosh note that, “our family – and our developmental years in that family – most certainly provides the catalyst for this mixture of pride, selfishness, wrong motives, and self-deceit that is the “recipe for our dark side,” (McIntosh, Rima, p. 72). God has given each and every person a unique life and family with individual circumstances that will be a mixture of good and bad. How people deal with the problems that they face should help them to grow emotionally and spiritually. Everyone is more or less successful as they are maturing. Many struggles do not get dealt with well, and these factors are taken into adulthood as negative traits.
Some people respond by shoving the problems down inside, others by trying to control their emotions. Often signs of the bad influences in the past will surface, but the leader does not know their source. Many times the frustrations will creep up and surface suddenly. The leader finds that she does not feel in control of her life or the people she is trying to lead. This is the time to try and identify the dark or shadow side of her life that was developed during childhood in the family in which God placed her.
Secondly, the authors point out that the dark side is not just a negative force. The inner drive for success may be used by God for service to Him. The contrast in the lives of Jim Bakker and Bill Hybels shows how some leaders will struggle with their dark side and lose the battle while others will fight against their pride and selfishness and come out stronger in their spiritual lives. The factors from early childhood that contributed to problems for leaders can be the shadows of the ones that will contribute to their eventual success. In the rest of the book, Rima and McIntosh explain how to recognize those shadows, how to overcome them, and how to harness the energy into something positive.
The key that will determine success or failure in leadership is for leaders to become aware of their dark side. Then they should put some defensive measures in place to prevent themselves from becoming selfish, arrogant, ineffectual, or failed leaders. With prayer, self-analysis, and active participation in the fight against their negative traits, they can turn their energy to service for God and others.
A tool that can be used to help leaders begin to understand their dark side is the inventory of five broad categories of characteristics of the dark side. These characteristics are developed during childhood and unless they are properly channeled, they can lead to destructive behavior.
Following is a summary of the five categories, as well as how I scored in each category:
1. Compulsive – This type of leader feels the need to maintain absolute order. As a child, this person probably suffered rejection and is looking for approval. She tends to be a perfectionist, expecting it from herself and those she is leading. I scored 31.
2. Narcissistic – A narcissistic leader feels the need for admiration and acclaim. He may also have grandiose visions of himself and his ministry. Because of his self-absorption his actions towards others may be thoughtless. He does not receive criticism well. I scored 19.
3. Paranoid – A leader with this trait is suspicious of others. She worries that they are talking about him and that what they are saying is negative. She lacks self-confidence. Her response is to try and maintain rigid control. I scored 16
4. Codependent – This is not a negative trait like compulsiveness, or arrogance. It is a broad category of behavior, mostly identified with those who have grown up with or lived with others who are dependent on something, such as drugs or alcohol. A codependent person has a hard time with leadership because she wants to be a peacemaker, covering up problems in an effort to make others feel better. She tends to be reactive rather than proactive. She has a hard time saying, “No!” I scored 40
5. Passive/Aggressive – Jonah was a good example of this type of leader. He resisted completing tasks. He had bursts of anger and sadness. He had short periods of contrition and sorrow followed by periods of impulsive behavior and general negativity. This type of leader may fear success because then the standard would be set even higher for his performance. Therefore he will complain, procrastinate, or deliberately “forget” in an effort to maintain control of others around him. This person grew up learning anger and bitterness. I scored 15
It is really obvious from these scores that codependency is the most influential factor affecting my dark side. This was not surprising to me since I grew up in an alcoholic family. I learned about codependency through attendance at many Al-Anon meetings. Though I am over sixty years old, I still have trouble saying “No”, and I do pick up the pieces for others around me.
These results were also not so surprising, since I am a “2” on the Enneagram.
The most surprising score for me was the one for the compulsive leader. I think it was mostly because my definition of “compulsive” was different than that of the authors. I thought it meant “unstable”. However, I really do like order!
Over 45 years ago I gave my life to Christ. Looking back, I can see much spiritual growth. I haven’t arrived yet and my first goal is still:
I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)
6 responses to “Confronting Potential Failures”
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Mary, I love that both you and I recognized that transformation happens when we seek to be like Christ and join in his sufferings (that Philippians 3 passage is so powerful!), and that it is a life-long practice of conforming to his likeness. If, after 45 years of following Christ I can have grace and courage like you do, I’d be much better off. Thanks for sharing.
Mary, thanks for sharing your story. I’ve taken so many tests in my life and every time I do one it shows me something a bit different about myself. Even though it was a very quick read for me, the book impacted me in a positive way. I’ve already set it to some colleagues. I agree Co-dependant leaders do carry a heavy load, especially those who like order! 🙂
Great post, Mary.
Mary, I fit this statement –
“Some people respond by shoving the problems down inside, others by trying to control their emotions.”
Being an introvert, I keep everything inside, that is probably one of the causes to my heart and blood pressure issue.
Thanks for the post.
Beautiful blog Mary. I really liked this “Secondly, the authors point out that the dark side is not just a negative force. The inner drive for success may be used by God for service to Him.” Leave it to God to use all things for His glory. I’m so glad we have Him as a Friend and a Redeemer. I call him “The Great Recycler”. He uses everything.
Mary, thank you so much for sharing your scores and talking about your story. I was just thinking “I bet she’s a 2 on the Enneagram” when I read on and you said that you are! I love twos so much, mostly because a healthy 8 integrates to the healthy characteristics of a 2. So I look at people like you and see the amazing things that I hope to one day be. Our shadow sides hold the grief and pain while our open sides use the underlying strength to build the Kingdom. You have done a mighty job of turning your shadows into strengths!
Mary thank you so much for your transparency! Yes our childhood experiences play such a huge role in the people and leaders we become. Taking time to reflect deeply on the experiences that have shaped who we are whether traumatic or not is SO DIFFICULT at times and yet necessary to gain a better understanding of who we are. Great post!