Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

Whenever I go to ministry conferences I am always amazed by the stories that I hear, by the people that I meet, and all the different ways that God has wired people for ministry.  While we often celebrate the strengths that God has given us, we also need to be aware of our weaknesses, and the vulnerabilities that come with those strengths.  Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima’s book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership helps leaders understand just what those vulnerabilities are… and how to work through them.

In the beginning of the book, the authors lay out the assumption that “the personal characteristics that drive individuals to succeed and lead often have a shadow side that can cripple them once they become leaders and very often causes significant failure.”  It is this shadow side that the book works to bring light to, in an attempt to help church leaders better understand their dark side, and how to keep it from taking over their ministry.  We have all heard the stories of leaders who are remarkably gifted but have allowed their darkside to taint their ministry… this can, and needs to be, prevented.

Through the course of the book the authors describe five basic dark sides, and then allow readers to take a self assessment to help them understand their own dark sides:

  • Compulsive Leaders.  These leaders are status conscious, and seek to find approval from those in authority.  They tend to be controlling, workaholics, and can be moralistic and judgemental.  Compulsive leaders, at their core, tend to be angry and rebellious.  They may feel as though it is inappropriate to share their true feelings which leads to repressed anger and resentment.  The authors point to Moses as a compulsive leader.
  • Narcissistic Leaders.  A narcissistic leader is driven to success by a need for admiration or acclaim.  They tend to have an over-inflated sense of importance, great ambitions, and grandiose fantasies.  These leaders tend to be self absorbed and are driven by a deep sense of inferiority.  These inferiority leads them to not enjoy their success, be uncertain, and be dissatisfied with their lives.  The authors point to Solomon as a narcissistic leader.
  • Paranoid Leaders.  Saul is a great example of a paranoid leader.  Leaders like Saul exhibit suspicion, hostility, jealousy, and are fearful that someone will undermine their leadership.  They will are overly sensitive to the actions of others, attach subjective meanings to motives, and cling to control.  These leaders have deep seeded insecurity and a lack of confidence.
  • Codependent Leaders.  Samson struggled with codependency.  These leaders are the ultimate peacemakers: covering up problems, rather than dealing with them.  They tend to be benevolent, with a high tolerance for bad behavior, rarely say “no”, and spend most of their time reacting instead of being proactive.  At their core, codependents are repressed, frustrated, and have a hard time fully expressing their emotions or problems.
  • Passive-Aggressive Leaders.  The author’s biblical example here is Jonah.  Passive-agressives tend to be stubborn, forgetful, and intentionally inefficient.  They control their environment through complaints, procrastination, and short outbursts of sadness or anger.  These leaders struggle with anger and bitterness, as well as a fear of success… which will lead to higher expectations.

Pastors that end up in the news are typically the ones that fail to acknowledge that they have a dark side.  The dark side is not a good thing or a bad thing… it is just a thing that we all have, and that we must acknowledge in order to allow the Holy Spirit to work more fully in and through us.

What is YOUR dark side?  How are YOU keeping it in check?



About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.