Mistakes leaders make (1/10)

Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, by Hans Finzel is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, my Hans Finzel is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.

I’m working my way through a book, The Top 10 Mistakes Leaders Make, by Hans Finzel, and I’m really enjoying the challenge. So for the next ten Saturdays I want to work through these ten mistakes with you, knowing that they apply to CEOs, ministry leaders, parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and just about anyone, in any kind of leadership role.

I promise to keep my summaries short(ish), and I would love to interact with your thoughts as we go along. These mistakes are listed in order of how they occur in the book, not necessarily how I would arrange them. The Overboard leader must be willing to honestly self-evaluate each of these shortcomings (sins?) in his/her own life. Here we go!

Mistake #1: The Top-down attitude

Finzel makes the comment that this style of leadership is actually pretty natural to most of us (we like to be in charge!) and is invasive — it spreads to everything a top-down leader touches. If you’ve ever been under this kind of leadership structure, you know just how true that reality is.

This attitude comes with a mentality that the leader always knows best, and his underlings are weak and will succeed only when he directs them. These types of leaders often seek feedback, but only listen to the feedback that already supports the decisions they are making, or the direction they are going. Top-down leaders don’t want consensus, they want obedience. They don’t want employees who work with them, they want employees who work for them.

When you make this mistake as a leader, you often use knowledge (or your lack of it!) as a weapon. Storing information becomes an issue of power, and releasing it becomes increasingly strategic. After all, when people are kept ignorant of the facts, the storers of knowledge are elevated in their position of importance. If you are a top-down leader, you will read books and either excel in dispensing book-knowledge without applying it to your own leadership style or personal growth or horde that knowledge to maintain “your edge.” Top-down leaders like their status as “experts” in their field, and dismiss new ideas as reckless, new systems as unneeded, and new strategies as irrelevant unless it “originates” with them.

Why do people fall into this trap? Hans suggests five reasons:

  1. It’s traditional. So many churches, business, ministries and families have operated like this for generations!
  2. It’s the most common method, despite the overwhelming evidence that it rarely succeeds in families, businesses or ministries.
  3. It’s easy. After all, it’s much easier to tell someone what to do, than to engage people in a process.
  4. It comes naturally. Walk into a room of strangers, and in short time, someone will take “control” of the room.
  5. It reflects the dark side of human nature: We like to dominate others.

By contrast, Jesus came to us as a servant-leader. Yes, He gave instructions and commands as one in authority, but He most-often displayed that authority through servanthood, culminating in His sacrifice on the cross. Even in His final moments with His disciples, He didn’t bark orders, He got down on His hands and knees and washed their feet. His illustration was not masked in parable or hidden in some sort of mystic saying. Simply put He said, “I’m your teacher, your Rabbi, and yet I’m on my knees washing your nasty feet. Learn from me, and serve each other this way.”

Jesus didn’t use His position as God’s Holy Son to dominate those He came to save. Instead, He used His position to promote the well-being of those He led. Top-down leaders use their position as a weapon, not a tool. Jesus said “Follow me because it leads to the best life possible.” Top-down leaders say, “Follow me, because I said so.”

The servant leader turns the pyramid upside down, and believes that helping others be more effective, is the highest calling of the leader. This kind of leader encourages her followers (children, employees, ministry partners) with service, not authority; with meaningful delegation not micro-managed duties; need-based leadership derived from careful listening, not constant dictating; releasing appropriate affirmation, not constant correction; careful, honest and grace-based confrontation, not militant, surprise attacks; celebrating success as a team, not ego-driven self-promotion.

Have you ever seen this form of leadership in your life? Your family? Your work? It’s ugly and it’s painful to work for a leader who leads like this. But more than evaluating your current boss, employees, parents, manager or coach, the question is, “Are you a top-down leader?” In what areas has God given you leadership? In those areas, are you leading from the top of the pyramid down, demanding absolute obedience and conformity to you and your ideas? Or, instead, have you flipped the pyramid upside-down and are you leading from the bottom-up? Are you embracing servant leadership?

When living the Overboard Life, God will give you leadership opportunities, and He longs for you to lead like His Son, led. How are you doing?

Go ahead and take the plunge, your leadership will be better on the water!

Mistakes leaders make, 2/10

A special thanks to my friend Justin for help with this blog series. He is the founder of Kaleo Media: “Every post says something. What does it say about you?” If you want help developing your online brand, and learning how to develop or fine-tune your use of social media, then you need to contact Justin.

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10 Responses to Mistakes leaders make (1/10)

  1. Caleb says:

    Yes, unfortunately I have seen the top down leadership model a lot, and I despise it, I also realize that if I’m not careful I will drift into that model. Servant leadership is unnatural in our fallen world and not understood by most, but when it’s done properly it’s a beautiful thing.

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