October 24, 2012

Fragile Leader or Broken Leader?

Free Photo of a Broken Porcelain Vase Stock Photo

Jill and I are speaking in Tasmania soon and one of the sessions is on bad leadership cultures in churches. I’ve been doing some research for the topic and this blog post from eleven years ago (prior to the Acts29/The Crowded House issue) came up in my research. I think it’s prescient still…

Are you broken leader or a fragile leader?

Have you worked with a broken leader or a fragile leader?

On the surface these two things, fragility and brokenness, appear to be similar, but in actual fact they are a world away from each other.  Chances are you already know that, especially if you have worked with a fragile leader. In light of my blog post yesterday on gospel brokenness in leadership, let me highlight some of the differences for you:

1. Right versus wrong

Fragile leaders always needs to be right. Fragile leaders spend an inordinate amount of time proving to you that, even though they appeared to be wrong, they were actually right, and that, by inference, you were wrong.

Broken leaders do not need to be right all of the time. In fact a broken leader is sure that they can learn from their mistakes and from others. A broken leader will not waste time proving their rightness with increasingly contorted arguments but will explore with you how best to move forward.

2. The Strengths of Others

Fragile leaders never surround themselves with those who have gifts that outshine their own.  Consequently they are cursed by the law of diminishing returns. They can never staff to their weaknesses and instead gather around themselves a series of paler reflections of their own strengths – and weaknesses.

Broken leaders celebrate the giftedness of others and are quick to spot those who can complement their own gifting, filling in the spaces where they lack.  Consequently they always attract other good leaders who will strengthen the organisation.

3. Hiddenness Versus Openness

Fragile leaders are constantly scared of being found out. They play their cards close to their chest.  While they are keen for you to disclose your own weaknesses, you would be foolish to think that this in order that they might bear your burdens.  It is usually in order to get “one up” on you, to have some “money in the bank” so to speak.

Broken leaders are no longer scared of being found out.  They are relaxed in the fact that they have been found out completely, there is nothing left to hide. The one who knows them most loves them most. Subsequently they are an encouragement to you because they will walk with you in your struggles and share helpful advice about their own insights into struggle.

4. Self Pity Versus Self Appraisal

Fragile leaders descend into self-pity should someone challenge them or is critical of what they do. They will stew on it and go into a deep funk. Since they surround themselves with a compliant inner core group – those who tell them what they want to hear – they are constantly surprised, then dismayed, and finally angry, if someone challenges them. The role of their core group is to defend them come what may, resulting in an echo-chamber experience in which they only hear affirmation.

Broken leaders, by contrast, rise above self-pity and reach towards self-appraisal. They will assess whether the challenge or critique has any validity.  They will have gathered, over time, enough people around them who can say “no” to them and who can look them in the eye and say whether or not the criticism carries weight. This give them the confidence that their blind spots can be revealed and tackled in order to improve.

5. Churn vs Stability

Fragile leaders experience and create churn.  The family portrait in organisations run by fragile leaders is constantly Photoshopped as relationships sour, end quickly and the ensuing conflict is unresolved or reframed.  Fragile leadership is generally pointy in structure, because those surrounding the leader are either immature emotionally, or in actual years.

Broken leaders create stable long-term groups in which mature members stay and new members join. Efforts are always made to deal with conflict in an appropriately open manner, and relationships are given every opportunity to remain intact, even if ways should part. There will be a broad sweep of ages and experiences within the wider leadership group.

To summarise, fragile leaders are in constant fear of being broken, because they fear the exposure and cost to their self-identity that this would bring.  Broken leaders, once broken however, no longer fear what they have already experienced, and are ironically, rendered unbreakable.  It is nigh on impossible to explain to a fragile leader what liberation brokenness will bring to them, it is like telling a man blind from birth what red is.

Are you fragile or broken?  It makes a big difference.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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