By Greg Moore
Over 42 years of work experience (22 in business and 20 in ministry), I have seen leaders make many mistakes, myself included. These mistakes often go unnoticed by the leader who makes them but are evident to staff, volunteers, and others impacted by them.
Poor leadership behaviors can cause severe collateral damage that is often hidden. Low employee engagement, low quality of work, limited influence, demoralized and confused employees, high employee turnover, feelings of disrespect, and lack of trust toward leadership are all symptoms of a single root cause – poor leadership behaviors. While good leadership is one of the most essential factors in determining the success of an organization’s performance, tolerating bad leadership behaviors is costly for the organization. Helping leaders overcome bad leadership behaviors significantly increases engagement, productivity, and relational equity.
I am writing this to church leaders (or any other organizational leaders) in the hopes we can all lead healthy, happy organizations. I have witnessed eight common leadership behaviors that can devastate an organization.
1. Creating an atmosphere of fear
“Fear has no place in management and leadership. If anyone uses fear as a strategy to get their people to work, that person has no place leading or managing anyone” – Gifford Thomas.
When there is any atmosphere of fear, people shut down. They are too afraid to share their thoughts out of fear of reprisal. Fear creates an atmosphere where you never hear “no” or “I disagree.” People in this situation are too afraid to have productive conflict. When people are scared, it stops them from providing ideas that are not from the leaders. Fear-based leadership prevents the possibility of better ideas being on the table and growing the organization.
Fear-based leadership prevents the possibility of better ideas being on the table and growing the organization.
When ideas are not welcome, the team looks at the leader and thinks, “You tell us what to do.” This produces people who can follow orders but does not produce future leaders. The ability to lead and even fail are critical to the development of a person. The fear-based leader only produces followers who do not learn to think for themselves or grow.
Leadership First sums it up nicely: “Fear-based leadership or management doesn’t work; it may be short-term, but the quality of work will be average at best and never sustainable in the long run.”
2. Putting your family ahead of theirs – versus serving others
Of course, my family will be more important to me than a staff member’s family. What I mean is giving the impression, through policy or action, that I, as a leader, don’t care about your family.
How do we as leaders project “I don’t care about your family?” Asking those in your organization to be at church instead of with their family when you won’t be there because it takes time away from your family. This sends an “I don’t care about your message.” I’m not saying there won’t be times when staff members are required to be there when you are not. I am talking about times we are all supposed to be there, like a Sunday Service.
When a leader focuses on their own needs, they limit their influence.
The win would be to tell everyone, “I want to have time with my family, and because family is important, I want all of you to have time with your family, too. So, we are canceling this service or event and replacing it with another time so we can be with our families.” When a leader focuses on their own needs, they limit their influence. The goodwill in prioritizing everyone’s time with family, not just yours, will show the staff you care about them.
3. Dropping idea bombs
Every week or worse, every day, do you drop a bomb on someone in the organization? It could be some new idea, direction, or brilliant new thing you came up with. Something that absolutely must be done right now. You might not realize it, but to your team, the barrage of random ideas (they appear random due to poor communication) seems like they are coming completely out of left field.
When this happens, you can see hearts sink. People realize that you’re about to shift tasks; what they are working on isn’t going to get done anytime soon. Usually, this would be alright, except this is the third time you’ve done so this month.
It is challenging to report to a constantly changing leader, dropping new ideas left and right. Yes, you must make changes if things aren’t going as planned. I’m talking about some idea you think is great and must happen ASAP. You are making rapid changes before you know if something needs to be changed or before the last change you made has had time to sink in.
Constant change demoralizes and confuses people.
Constant change demoralizes and confuses people, and over time, they will start to wait to implement those ideas because they know another change is coming. I have had staff members tell me they haven’t started moving on a plan because they think it will change again, so why waste the time?
When we make changes, we must give people time to understand the change, let it sink into their minds, implement it, and have time to work on it. Changes will not take root if the leader moves on to other ideas before implementing each change.
4. Surrounding yourself with yes people
As leaders, we find peace in being supported by those around us. When we present an idea, we tend to want acceptance of that idea rather than criticism or perceived criticism. Thus, whether we realize it or not, we are driven to surround ourselves with yes people. People who think and act like us.
Having people who support you in life is critical. It can facilitate decisions and take the weight off you as a leader. A problem arises, however, when these people become so supportive that they do not provide criticism or disagreement when it is deserved or needed.
Leaders who have gone through a difficult time, such as a failure or some criticism, will tend to surround themselves with yes people. This allows the leader to feed off the feeling of being right.
Leaders, you don’t want to surround yourself with “yes” people. If you are on a sinking ship and no one dares to tell you it is doomed or disagrees with your decisions, you will fail over time. The Bible says there is safety in numbers (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22)
Remember this, “yes” people can harm you! By encouraging bad decisions, “yes” people will lead you to regret and those following you not to trust you. By then, it will be too late to take back the words and deeds done.
By encouraging bad decisions, “yes” people will lead you to regret and those following you not to trust you.
As a leader, you need at least one person who can say “no” when it is necessary to oppose bad ideas and get behind good ideas! In other words, debate ideas and plans behind closed doors and leave in unison. You want to surround yourself with people who care enough about you to be honest. People you know you can trust who love the truth enough to seek it out and not just push their ideas.
5. Not respecting people
Respecting people is critical for a leader. Showing respect takes conscious effort. It takes healthy communication and the ability to empathize with others. Respect is also associated with appreciating the value of another person. As a leader, I should respect and honor everyone in the organization, not just lead them.
Respecting others means I listen to them. I ask for their ideas and listen. When I ask a ministry leader how to best move the ministry forward and then don’t listen to them, I am being disrespectful. After all, I have put that person in leadership over a specific area and expect them to be knowledgeable in their area of expertise. For example, I expect the CFO to know more about accounting than I know. If you have hired the right talent with the right capabilities, respect them. Too many leaders feel like they know enough about every area and let others know it.
Another way leaders disrespect their people is by canceling meetings with them consistently or, when they do meet, showing up late. Nothing says I disrespect you more than setting up a meeting to hear what a person thinks and then canceling it repeatedly. Think about how you would feel if a leader did that to you. Would you feel respected?
Am I treating everyone in my organization as if they are important to me?
Leaders, ask yourself, am I treating everyone in my organization as if they are important to me? Or do I treat them in a way that says, “You’re unimportant”?
6. Not treating all staff equally (especially regarding compensation and other benefits)
This does not mean you pay every person the same across the board. It means you pay them according to a set standard – a range for their position. You pay people differently based on their experience and skill, but it is all within the scope of their position.
It is the same with benefits. Offer the same thing to everyone regarding health care, retirement plans, etc. Don’t give more to others based on their position or relationship with the top leader. A person with a higher salary may get more in a 403b, but it must be based off of the same percentage.
By not having a consistent compensation method, leaders convey that we value some people more than others. By having a standard, each person in the organization will understand why someone is compensated more for a similar position and what they need to do to be paid better. This creates trust in leadership. Instead of people thinking they are not being treated fairly, they believe in leadership and how they do things
By having a standard, each person in the organization will understand why someone is compensated more for a similar position and what they need to do to be paid better.
7. Over-recognizing or over-complimenting others
The leader must recognize those doing everything we want them to do or more. A nice word or compliment can go a long way, and research shows that compliments often make the receivers feel better than most people anticipate. Everyone wants to hear from leadership when they do what the organization wants and that you cared enough to let them know.
But can you over-recognize or compliment others? The short answer is yes. Over-complimenting someone is, in effect, deceptive. Research shows that over-complementing is knowingly or unknowingly building up our own needs. It could be the need to be liked or to get you on my side. Regardless, over-complimenting is usually done to benefit the person doing the complimenting, to get something from the other person.
The problem we run into as leaders is that the other person knows they don’t deserve the recognition you give them or, even worse, what you are saying is insincere. Therefore, over-complimenting can cause the leader to come off as disingenuous and their motives for such compliments to be suspicious. If I tell someone, “You are the best (fill in the blank) in the country,” they will know that is probably not true or disingenuous. How many people can be the best at something? Thus, we create a situation as leaders where those reporting to us don’t know what to believe when we say things, and thus, by being too “nice,” we create a lack of trust, which damages our leadership, and people start questioning our motives.
When complimenting someone, be sincere and specific – “You did this thing well” versus saying something non-specific, such as “You’re the best.”
When complimenting someone, be sincere and specific – “You did this thing well” versus saying something non-specific, such as “You’re the best.”
8. Micro-managing others
This leadership issue can tremendously harm your people, your organization, and your respect as their leader.
What is micro-managing? Webster’s dictionary defines it as: “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details.” In other words, to direct or conduct the activities of a group or an enterprise by micromanaging them.
Here’s how (and why) you should stop micro-managing.
Micromanaging is one of the most damaging habits a leader can have. Teams get bogged down going through laborious procedures; worse is the environment it generates. Groups that adapt to a micromanagement style are either quietly rebellious or hapless, unable to make independent decisions (Forbes). They get so used to the overall leader making all the decisions, even the most minute, that they are not leading in their area. They are not growing as future leaders and people.
Micromanaging is one of the most damaging habits a leader can have. Teams get bogged down going through laborious procedures; worse is the environment it generates.
This leaves you, the leader, constantly putting out fires rather than focusing on the larger tasks only you can perform.
The reasons for micromanaging range from lack of trust to simple inexperience. To help overcome micro-managing, surround yourself with other proven successful leaders. Share the details of recent decisions you have made and all that went into it. Then, ask them how you did as a leader. Did you set the vision to be accomplished and then let those in charge run with it? Or did you micromanage every detail of that event?
One of the best ways to identify bad leadership behaviors before causing collateral damage is to foster a culture of honest feedback. Most employees are uncomfortable offering honest feedback to their leaders. Therefore, the best way to start is by having a way to get anonymous feedback from all leaders regularly – at least once a year. A 360-degree review is a proven way to get honest feedback.
A 360-degree review is a proven way to get honest feedback.
Once bad leadership behaviors are identified, give the leader(s) the necessary coaching to address these behaviors. If there is no significant improvement in the leader’s behavior, it may be prudent to let the leader go. Sometimes, firing a single toxic leader is enough to improve the entire team’s morale!
If any of these leadership behaviors resonate with you or you want to take your leadership to the next level, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about overcoming these challenges and being the leader your staff and church deserve.
Contact Greg Moore at: email@example.com
Want to improve the health of your church or organization? Check out 95Network’s VisionDay at 95Network.org/how-we-help/consulting/#visionday for quality consulting for your organization. For post-VisionDay implementation, Greg Moore specializes in helping organizations enact their VisionDay plans for healthy change.