Some leaders smile at the world and others frown. A discussion on competence and arrogance, service and self; an exploration of character, gift and leadership. All the opinions I express here are an exploration based upon experience and the self-observation of a leader who is hopefully competent and not arrogant…
Galatians 5:16-17New International Version (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
The verses found in Galatians capture the challenge of godly competence and human arrogance. Being prepared, focused and considered leads to competence in leadership. Having these ‘gifts’ also means that the leader often gets used to being seen as insightful and usually ‘right’. The competent leader is perceived as directive, an inspirer and good problem-solver and becomes highly valued by others for the godly security they bring. Alternatively, the same abilities can allow the leader to be viewed as arrogant.
The perception of competence or arrogance is a fundamental concept that must be addressed by every leader seeking success in their role. This is the fundamental issue of leadership character. Character is the intellectual and interpersonal issue that lies at the heart of the leader’s integrity. Character is the outcome of the balance between head and heart, between service and self-fulfilment. Character is the picture of our core motivation.
To address the balance of character, from this point on, I’m going to speak about service and self to explain the dichotomy of leadership regarding competency and arrogance as they relate to how ‘good’ a leader really is and who they really are.
If you will, I’d like you to cast your mind back to school and ask you to imagine an X/Y chart with a self axis and a service axis.
Low service, low self. Only ‘natural selection’ will work here as these people aren’t likely to rise to the call of leadership unless they’re related to someone. They may be lovely people to spend time with, but they don’t have the inclination or resolve to step up without a hand up. I’m reminded of the story of Simon who although newly saved still craved the quick fix solution.
Acts 8:18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Oddly those of low self-esteem can, in my experience, possess an arrogance to bluff their way through. The motivation for recognition that may raise their self-esteem is not matched by the effort that service requires. These people are the ‘leaders’ who may see the issues, but never the solutions.
High service, low self. These are the people who provide solid problem solving solutions and do so in a way that’s not offensive or abrasive. They will strive with all their energy to find a resolution. I want these people around. However, if the low self is due to insecurity rather than humility, you may need to do a lot of work to encourage them and to keep them motivated and feeling ‘loved’. I’ve often thought this is the heart of Mary who felt the need to serve over the need to listen and relate unlike her sister Martha. These people are likely to hope their service will speak for them and they may have trouble with being overlooked. Their identity is often only found in what they do and what is recognised and that is an insecure and isolating place to live. These leaders, if given the opportunity, can shine without losing the passion to serve others.
Low service, high self. Alarm bells! They’re dangerous! These leaders don’t realize the limits of their ability and don’t have the good sense to ask for an opinion. How do they even become leaders? They become leaders because we live in a fair society. Everybody deserves their turn. The problem with that is that people then believe their skills are being recognised. They have been taught they are ‘special’ even though it should have been obvious that every kid in the team got a go. We have so many people who are out of touch with reality. This is often a result of unconditional praise and reinforcement. This is the X-factor family of leaders. Our loving parents tell us we can sing even though we sound like a strangled cat. Loving parents need to be honest with their kids and take the microphone away!
We are in the business of building real serving leaders not building self-esteem or leaders for titles. We need leaders who can deal with the challenges of church with competence. Yes, self-confidence can build a tower quickly, but it rarely builds foundations.
High service, high self. These leaders are the most interesting group because of the internal competition they wrestle with. These people know how to be successful, but they can also be destructive to morale and relationships as they are unable to recognise the role of others in that success. These leaders seek out affirming ‘co-workers’ and will run a focused and tight ship. Tight ships aren’t always happy ships.
The high service, high self leader cannot lead a team. Their team will say all the right words and show appropriate responses, but they secretly learn to resent being undervalued. Their voices, which are suppressed in meetings, will find a corrosive outlet in private. They will watch as the leader fails when they could help. They will find comfort in the leader ‘reaping’ his reward. Their loyalty will be conditional.
When appointing leaders, we must look for high service and competent people, but not arrogant high self types. We must look for humility in the character. Humility and competence are the things that can’t easily be taught or coached. These are matters of character that are above any gift.
Teams aren’t the only ones to become demotivated or annoyed by an arrogant leader. Other leaders and partner churches get tired too. A common trait of the ‘high-self’ arrogant leader is the inability to remain silent and listen. Most leaders know when to listen; especially during important meetings. They know it’s critical to allow everyone time to express ideas, even if they differ from their own. Even Jesus patiently listened to some odd answers when he asked, “Who do people say I am?” The ‘high-self’ leader will continuously interrupt and correct others overriding their feelings and insights.
I once experienced being interrupted and corrected by a colleague repeatedly. When I didn’t give in, but tried to express an opinion or ask a question, he slammed down his hand and demanded everyone listen further into why he was right. The result of this type of rude behaviour is a loss of unity and commitment.
A balanced leader.
A balanced leader must acknowledge and accept they can’t have it all at the same time. They are part of a team and their role is draw out the gift of others. They must balance service and self. They must be competent not arrogant.
This definitely relates to having a set of values, but mostly having a vision for the team. As much as we might want to have it all we all have limited amounts of ability, time and energy to give to leadership no matter how committed we are. Having it all is about finding it all in the team. A balanced leader knows what they want and what their call is and works towards it, without sacrificing their character or hurting others. They then discover they are leading a team who are balanced and know where they are going. When service and self are balanced, there will be a positively balanced team because the leader’s character will be good.