There are significant contracts between healthy and unhealthy leaders. If you lead, take a moment and consider the following contrasts. The reality is that in each case, every leader struggles with some of these and growing in personal health is a lifelong pursuit. Any leader who claims that they are fully healthy in all five is fooling themselves. So....as you read these, consider honestly where you are in each contrasted character trait.
Contrast one: Pride versus humility
Pride sees life as being about us while humility sees life as about others. Pride believes that others should serve us while humility believes that we are here to serve others. People with significant pride focus most of life on themselves while those with true humility focus most of life on others. Prideful individuals like and need the spotlight while humble leaders focus the light on others. For a Christ follower, life is a journey from pride to humility and Jesus is our model of humility.
Contrast two: Personal gain versus a life of stewardship
Leaders have perks. They have more flexibility than others, get paid better, have more power in the organization and have more control over their destiny. Some leaders love it and use their leadership status and power for personal gain whether in salary, power or other opportunities that benefit them. there is a direct connection between an attitude of pride and a desire for personal gain.
Contrast that outlook on life with one that sees leadership as a trust to be stewarded. It is not about personal gain but about stewarding a mission and a staff. Stewards have a humble persona that is not self seeking but is other centric. Leadership as a stewardship sees authority and power as tools to serve the staff and mission and not for personal gain.
Contrast three: Intentionally accountable versus intentionally unaccountable
Unhealthy and self seeking leaders will intentionally foster systems that protect themselves from close accountability or scrutiny. Sometimes the strategy is to surround themselves with people whom they can manipulate. At other times unhealthy leaders use personal intimidation to prevent questions from being raised. Interestingly enough, in the Christian world you can add another strategy: allowing people to place themselves on a pedestal of spiritual leadership which keeps many people from challenging that leader. Make no mistake: These are intentional strategies to screen themselves from close accountability.
Healthy leaders are equally intentional but their intention is to keep themselves accountable so that there are no questions about their integrity, practices and activities. They create cultures that are open and which allow for contrary opinions, allows and encourages questions and is not threatened by debate. In creating this kind of culture healthy leaders create a culture of accountability because nothing is off limits and the open ethos creates natural accountability. While unhealthy leaders try to shield themselves from scrutiny, healthy leaders create a culture of accountability.
Contrast four: Control versus empowerment and freedom
A major indicator of unhealthy leaders is a need to control. That control can be manifested in control of people, of money and resources, of information through its withholding, of debate questions that disagree with the leader and finally, the need to regularly get their way. The greater the culture of control, the more dysfunctional the system. This is not about legitimate controls necessary to accomplish one's mission but a culture of control that seeks to limit the conversation, questions and ideas.
Healthy leaders understand that unless they can pull out the very best from those around them, the organization will not move forward. They encourage discussion around the allocation of resources, they share information liberally in order to foster a flat organization, give people the freedom to share their opinions and challenge the status quo, and people the freedom to use their gifts and abilities to accomplish their responsibilities. It is a culture of empowerment, not control.
Contrast five: Image control versus mission accomplishment
When you encounter leaders who have a high need to practice image control be wary. Image control is about the leader. It is about the leader looking good which is about pride, ego and narcissism. Healthy leaders are not focused on their image but on helping the organization accomplish its mission. Image control is inward looking whereas accomplishing the mission is outward looking.
For those who lead it is worthwhile to think through these five contrasts and where they fit on the continuum with each. Also, don't be fooled by impressive looking leaders who exhibit the unhealthy characteristics on the left of the continuums above. Where you find symptoms of dishealth above, it will harm the organization.