I have spent much of the last 15 years or so studying leaders and leadership. Much of that time I have also been actively leading. Through reading, coaching, mentoring, observing, academic study, conferences, case studies, etc, I consider myself a pretty serious student of leadership. While I have not always led well, I am passionate about leadership, helping people develop their gift of leadership, and seeing leaders operate at their full God-given potential. And I am most passionate about leadership in the areas of church, ministry, non-profits, etc. But I study it all — business, military, sports, politics, academics, etc.
These days, I am not leading much of anything. But I am still studying leaders. I also still get the opportunity to sit and talk to folks who are on the front lines of leadership every day — mostly pastors, but also business people, non-profit executive directors, etc.
One of the things I have noticed is how often — especially in church settings — leaders are dehumanized.
I know that it is popular to bash leaders… to say things like they are power-hungry, ego-driven, people who don’t care about the people they lead.
This has simply not been my experience.
I know both good leaders and not-so-good leaders; good pastors and not-so-good pastors. But I have to tell you that I have never met a pastor who wasn’t a passionate follower of Jesus, committed to the mission Jesus as given them, filled with love for the people they lead and the people they are trying to reach.
Yet, they are so often dehumanized.
Here is what I mean by that… we treat them like they aren’t real human beings.
We do this by saying nasty things to them and about them — things we would never say to anyone else and would be mortified if someone said it to us.
We do this by projecting our own issues, weaknesses and issues onto them.
We do this through unrealistic expectations for them — in terms of availability, always get the right decision, balancing compassion with mission, etc etc etc.
We do this in how we talk about and analyze their lives within the comunity.
We do this by putting leaders on pedestals and then being angry when they fail to live up to our fantasies about what they should be.
We do this when make them into father-figures and mother-figures.
We do it with our words, our attacks, our critiques.
Almost every leader I know has a deep heart for the people they lead — and yet are constantly being beaten up by those same people.
Then, when leaders burn out we blame them.
Now I think leaders need to do more in the area of self-leadership to protect them from these things. I know that I needed some good places to just vent and process when I was leading… I needed regular sabbath and days-away and personal retreats… but it was still hard.
I think congregations and Boards can do a lot more to help, serve and love their leaders than they do. I have posted some of my thoughts on this here. I was very lucky, at least in my last position. I had some very close and supportive friends in the congregation and some older and wiser mentors as well. That made a big difference — but it didn’t eliminate the attacks. And in previous jobs, all I can say is that you probably would not believe some the stories I could tell you… now they are kind of funny, but at the time it was deeply hurtful, painful and stressful.
But I am interested… what are your thoughts and experiences? Why do you think it is so easy for people to dehumanize leaders? Have you seen this at play? Have you done it? What can be done to change the culture?
Would love to hear your thoughts…