Chances are, you’re probably not a bad leader…yet. Still, all leaders are potentially bad leaders waiting to happen. By its very nature, leadership invites sinful attitudes and habits. Even the most gifted leaders, with the best intentions, must always be on watch for the major warning signs of poor leadership.
Here are a few things to be on the lookout for as you lead:
1. Thinking you have arrived.
Part of leadership is living with and exuding a sense of self-confidence. However, confidence can quickly become self-aggrandizing arrogance. The moment you begin to think that you are a great leader, you've actually stepped towards becoming a bad leader. Leaders ought to be confident, but humble. If you believe the Scriptures, you must accept that you are broken and the truth is, you may never "arrive." The moment you think you've arrived is actually proof that you haven't. Pastor, you are a work in progress (Phil. 1:6).
2. You are the only one with good ideas.
One of the defining features of good leadership is when a leader consistently develops other leaders. If your leadership team (other pastors, staff, lay leaders) never shares any original ideas, your idea of leadership is faulty. One of two things has likely happened: (1) You've built a terrible team, which tends to reflect bad leadership, or (2) You’ve never sought to welcome input from your team. Yeah, bad leadership. Invite others into leadership. Equip them and then trust them. Leading a church is a community effort.
3. You never accept criticism and have to be right about everything.
I’m convinced teachability is the most important aspect of being a good leader. History's greatest leaders were lifelong learners. Personally, I hate criticism. Unless you're a personal friend of Simon Cowell, you probably do too. Still, constructive criticism is a great opportunity for growth. If your knee-jerk reaction to any criticism, including the constructive kind, is to defend yourself, you may be about to slide down the slippery slope into poor leadership. Think of criticism as strength training. Building muscle is painful, but the payoff is the strength needed to handle increasingly heavy loads. The same is true in church leadership. As you grow through criticism, you can increasingly handle more and more pressure while being criticized.
4. You have to be in on every play.
If you think you are the only one qualified to make the final decision on everything, you are assuming your own omnipotence and omniscience. Scary! Let me be very blunt with you: You're almost assuredly not a polymath. Its cool, I’m not either. Ask me about the historical development of Trinitarian creedal language and I’m your guy. Ask me to balance your checkbook (does anyone still use those?) and I’ll warn you that I have trouble counting past potato. You are not an expert on everything. Build a good team and learn to trust them.
5. You routinely remind people who is in charge.
If you constantly have to remind people you're the leader, you are most likely not the leader. If you notice, every one of these symptoms of bad leadership is ultimately grounded in idolatry – specifically the worship of self. Yet, leadership isn't about you consuming others to build your ego or increase your platform. Leadership is about allowing yourself to be consumed for the good of those in your care.
Good, Christ-honoring leadership and this sort of idolatry are mutually exclusive. But as John Calvin so eloquently put it, our hearts are indeed "idol factories". Thus, we are always on the verge of becoming bad leaders. This is why the Scriptures warn us to be on guard by watching not just our doctrine, but also our lives (1 Tim. 4:6). Let this be an encouragement to take a step back and take a look at how you’ve been leading lately and consider what may need to change.