Caution and Help for the Hyperdriven Leader

by Mike Ayers January 4, 2017

According to Wookipedia (the Star Wars Wiki of course), hyperdrive is a type of propulsion system that allows a starship to enter light-speed and therefore travel amazing distances at incredible speeds. Hans Solo’s famous Millennium Falcon had hyperdrive capabilities.

Just like light-speed cruisers, there are leaders that propel their churches forward at breakneck rates helping them journey great distances and achieve impressive results. Though they often refer to themselves as “visionary leaders," I would argue that many of them are more hyperdriven than visionary.

Here’s what I mean: God has given the body of Christ many amazing leaders who possess a unique ability to see a more ideal future for their church and communicate it in ways that move people to reach it. This is the blessing of visionary leadership for the body of Christ and it is essential.

But the designation has also been used as a self-label by some seeking to justify their own excessive and compulsive drives. In the leader’s mind, the euphemism excuses their obsession with results and the tunnel-vision that accompanies their success. These leaders are often hard on staff, demanding of people, and are constantly charging a hill. When this occurs, the visionary leader creates vision-weary people. In extreme cases (and also in the name of vision), they may be authoritarian, autonomous and even downright mean.

Why would otherwise great leaders act in such destructive ways?

The first answer is that they can. By the sheer force of their personality, hyperdriven leaders have often maneuvered themselves into positions where they don’t have to answer to anyone, and if they have achieved a measure of “success” (a.k.a. church size, budget amount, etc.) people let them get away with it. Why is it that a leader’s persona and achievements intimidate others to the point of excusing that leader from the ordinary rules of civility in the treatment of people?

Beyond their lack of accountability, there are three underlying issues at the heart of a hyperdriven leader.

The inability to be content

These are people constantly focusing on what they lack, rather than on what they have. Something within them is insatiable. They are incessantly consumed with the need for that which can never be attained— more. The tragedy is that in focusing on getting what they lack, in time they tend to lose what they have. Having a future-focus in ministry is essential, but in the extreme, these leaders are fad-driven, have a propensity for burning people out and often experience a revolving door of leaders and staff. To them, Psalm 23:1 is a vague and elusive pipedream.

They do not know the meaning of "no" or "not yet"

Hyperdriven leaders have never learned the rhythm of lasting leadership. They don’t understand that people need starting points, clear destinations and rest stops. For them, faith means that God always says “yes” and “go”. They overlook the many scriptural examples when faith directed a leader to go smaller, do less, save and not spend, retreat, and celebrate. I would suggest it often takes more faith to hear and submit to God’s “no” and “stop” than it does to rapidly and always move forward. In the realm of faith, stopping can actually be a way of advancing forward (i.e., advancing deeper in faith and maturity). Hyperdriven leaders don’t allow their leadership to breathe. Instead, they and their people are always just out of breath and tend to linger in survival mode.

They must have it their way

Hyperdriven leaders deeply crave control. But the sense of superiority that accompanies control is in truth insecurity. That’s because these leaders are far more likely to behave poorly when they aren’t getting exactly what they want. In other spheres of life, we would call this immaturity, but in the church, it’s often blamed on God’s will as interpreted by the leader. In a deeper sense, it is rooted in a blind lack of trust in God’s sovereignty. Hyperdriven leaders don’t understand that in God’s economy He has the ability to do more with less and that doing the right thing, even when it’s not expedient, efficient or “wise” (as the world might estimate), is the right thing to do. As the old preacher said, “God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.”

I personally know how frightening it can be to feel out of control. I spent most of my early years of pastoring relentlessly seeking to prove my worth and subconsciously worrying that I would forever fall short. I have devoted more recent years far more focused on trying to become a more caring and encouraging leader.

So, if you have hyperdrive tendencies surfacing within you, here are a few suggestions:

1. Develop the discipline of noticing

A good, visionary leader notices when others serve and behave properly. That’s because when people serve sacrificially and willingly, and when they affirm your church’s culture by their words and behaviors, they lend to the achievement of God’s vision for your church. Good leaders don’t take people and what they do for granted. Instead, they genuinely thank them for it. They notice others and communicate recognition to them when they do.

2. Learn to be grateful for imperfect gifts

Perfectionism is a common trait of hyperdriven personalities. However, nothing in life is perfect—people are not, circumstances are not, and on this side of heaven the fulfillment of vision is not. If things must look perfectly and people must act perfectly in order for me to be grateful, then I never will. Ingratitude, therefore, is not only the active expression of feelings of frustration and words of discontent. It is also the withholding of thankfulness to God and others. Ingratitude is a moral blindness. It is the inability to see the good in all of life, to experience the peace that comes from resigning our churches to God’s control, and to behold the beauty of people doing God’s work together in the Kingdom.

3. Love the people you lead

Most hyperdriven leaders spend endless hours and energy in building and running their churches — and far less in anything else, including taking care of their soul, their family and the people who work for them. To a large extent, people are simply a means to an end. Take a moment and consider the people who follow you. Ask: what must it be like to walk in their shoes? To live their lives? To be married to their spouses? To raise their children? To deal with the stresses of their jobs? Empathy will almost surely result… and empathy is the precursor to compassion.

Hyperdriven leaders must learn to assimilate into their character the traits of noticing, thankfulness and love. General ingratitude and a lack of compassion should be warning signs that something far worse than one’s leadership is awry. In truth, leaders who do not express thanks or love to others almost assuredly are not thankful or loving individuals. It’s often said, “You cannot give to others what you do not possess”. I would say it another way: you don’t give to others what you don’t possess. Examine therefore what you’re not giving to others and ask God to give it to you first.

In the new year, may we see life differently and become more noticing, grateful and compassionate leaders.