Two Leadership Pitfalls to Avoid

Like many things in life, leadership styles tend to default toward extremes. Just as a person needs to balance things like hard work and rest, seriousness and levity, intellect and emotion, so leaders need to guard their leadership from falling into equal but opposite dangers.

The Timid Leader

Some leaders are simply too timid. Part of the calling of leadership is courage, assertiveness, and the ability to get it done. Leadership is inherently results-driven. The whole point of leadership is to move others toward a common goal, and if leaders are too timid, they will inevitably fail at what they are called to do.

A lack of leadership always creates a vacuum. If the appointed leader is too timid in carrying out their charges, someone else will step up and exert their own influence, even if they are never actually identified as the new “leader”. This happens in organizations and in churches all the time.

Some leaders are far too passive and lack the passion, zeal, and grit to carry out their responsibilities. Leadership is hard work, lonely, and emotionally draining. As such, many leaders are tempted to coast and settle for second-best. Over time, if not checked, this habit will strip a leader of their ability to influence others, and rather than driving the mission forward, they become a manager of the status quo.

Leaders with passive personalities, fear-of-man issues, and overly-sensitive egos are particularly prone to become too timid. It is important for every leader to know their own weaknesses and face them accordingly. Do you prefer to let others take the reigns simply because you are lazy? Do you take the path of least resistance? Are you afraid of making tough choices because of how others might respond to them? Do you get all worked up at conflict or criticism?

If so, that’s okay—we all have weaknesses—but you can’t let it control you. Leaders must be aware of their vulnerable spots and work on them. They must do the hard work of getting outside of their comfort zone on a regular basis and doing that which scares them.

The Tyrant Leader

On the other hand, some leaders use their power to become tyrants. They never feel timid or shy about exercising their authority. Instead, they over-use it to the point of crushing people. Tyrant leaders tend to have dominant personalities, and they don’t back down from a challenge. Unfortunately, this aggression can get the better of them. And while they are no doubt effective and moving things forward, they run over people in the process.

Christian leadership is unique from other forms of leadership in that the main “product” is people. We are not striving for bottom-lines or technological advancements, but spiritual life and growth in human beings. Therefore, if a leader runs over people in pursuit of a goal, they are pursuing the wrong goal.

Christian leaders who lean toward being more tyrant than timid need to be aware of their own weaknesses too. Tyrant leaders are often combative, unnecessarily harsh, and unable to discern when a tender word might be more effective than a harsh rebuke. After all, Jesus used both in his encounters with people.

Though it may not seem like it, tyrant leaders struggle with the same thing timid leaders do: fear. While fear causes the timid leader to shut down, it causes the tyrant leader to put up his dukes. As they say: fight or flight! Tyrant leaders fear failure, or sometimes they deal with insecurities that cause them to get their back up at perceived threats. Like timid leaders, they need to be aware of their own weaknesses and combat them directly.

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Leadership in Balance

Healthy leaders are those that are neither timid nor tyrants. They aren’t overly soft, and they aren’t overly hard. They find the proper balance in the middle, where they are able to be firm but understanding, confident but humble, assertive but caring. They put people in places where they can flourish and contribute. Sometimes a leader needs to stick to their guns and not cave to what others think; other times they need to be more open-minded to the ideas of people around them. Discernment, humility, and wisdom are key to good leadership. These skills take time to hone, but a good leader is pressing after them.

While no leader will ever strike the perfect balance, we all need to keep away from the extremes we naturally gravitate towards. If leaders will allow God to guide them and speak to them, he will use imperfect people like us to advance the most important task on the planet, for the salvation of souls and the praise of his glory, not our own.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which do you naturally gravitate towards being: timid or tyrant?
  2. What tendencies make you come to that conclusion?
  3. Think of one or two examples when being too extreme caused a negative effect in your leadership. How could things have gone differently if you kept a better balance?
  4. What fears drive your leadership decisions?
  5. What is one practical thing you can do to avoid going overboard in your leadership style?
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