Over the past decades of working with people to establish ministries and enterprises, I have observed individuals who are “toxic” leaders. Sadly, it is not always easy to identify a toxic leader, too often we will not realize it until we see the destruction they cause to the team - and ultimately to the mission.
Building a successful ministry or enterprise requires diligent and prayerful oversight of the team. Jesus modeled this by keeping his team of disciples with him for three years to adjust their natural thinking, attitudes and behavior so they would represent the true nature of God when he sent them into the world. Even after three years of living and with Jesus, Judas still determined in his heart to be self-serving and betrayed Jesus for only thirty pieces of silver. Jesus’s brother Jude warns us about the people who will sneak in and join you in fellowship meals… but are like “dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.” These are toxic people and the enemy is simply using their natural gifts to undermine and destroy your mission.
Beware of the Toxic Leader!
A Toxic Leader is someone who contains un-godly character traits that manifest in extremely harsh, malicious or harmful ways to infect and poison others. The result of this poisoning behavior is demoralizing to teams; slowing, if not halting, the advance of the mission and often leads to the destruction of that leader. The danger is - they masquerade their true self in front of leaders for too long.
Why they are toxic is not the focus here. What matters is how to recognize the toxic leader and what to do with them to avoid destroying the team and diverting the mission. The Bible is full of stories of deception (the Gibeonites), warnings by Jesus (beware of whitewashed tombs), cautions by Paul, Peter, Jude and others. Jesus warned to not “judge by mere appearance.” Far too often, Christians assume people are telling the truth and appear to be “Godly” when all the while they are concealing their true self. Jude witnessed this and wrote about “certain people have crept in unnoticed… who pervert the grace of God…they are spots in your love feasts without fear, serving only themselves. Clouds without water…trees without fruit, raging waves of the sea…” Toxicity is a poison that spreads like a cancer; one word or one action can infect anyone nearby.
One heart for One Purpose
Paul advised the Philippians in 2:2, “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another and working together with one heart and purpose.” To build and keep a healthy team, apostolic leaders must be shepherds who watch out for the signs of a toxic leader. Like David who looked for wolves, lions and bears who would harm the sheep, leaders need to use the rod and staff to protect the team and team moral. They must promote Godly cooperation between team members.
When the teams knows the leader is watching out for them, there is great peace, power and effectiveness. It creates a powerful unity as everyone can work together with one heart and purpose. And, everyone is more willing to go the extra mile when needed to finish a mission (the Nehemiah model).
Be Aware of these Signs of a Toxic Leader and why they are Not team players.
1. Audience Driven: Toxic Leaders need to be the center of attention.
They love to talk about themselves: how much they have done for others, who they know and how God is using them. They interrupt others to turn attention back on themselves. They are deceived into thinking that their life is proof God favors of them and what they do must be the result of the fruit of the Spirit in their life - but it’s a smoke screen to cover up their lack of fruit.
It is one thing to boast about their greatness, but they don’t stop there, they use it as a weapon to manipulate and criticize others by comparing what they have done to the seemingly lesser endeavors of others. By accentuating their life over others, they demonstrate a lack of humility and the fruit of the Spirit, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
2. Animosity drives Alienation: Toxic leaders actively alienate team members them from the leader and from each other.
When a toxic leader is on the team, they are not interested in working together with the team, but commanding the team to submit to their will or deliberately neglecting and abandoning the team once they get what they want for their own exaltation. They withhold information to sabotage the team’s efforts. They make others appear to be poorly informed or ineffective. They drive wedges between people and secretly rejoice over the trouble they cause for others on the team. The goal is to rid the office of potential dissenting voices and rivals.
Toxic leader will not work to develop team members because they see them as “not worth the time.” They criticize team members and manipulate conversations with other leaders. They are duplicitous: saying one thing to some people and another thing to others on the same issue. Their favorite saying, “He’s not spiritual enough or gifted enough. He doesn’t get the vision or he doesn’t understand the mission.” What they really mean is, “He’s not as gifted as I am or he doesn’t understand me” or “he’s in the way of our (my) mission.” A toxic leader will never use affirming words to a team member however; they might say something positive to a higher leader to manipulate that leader’s opinion of them.
Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things the LORD hates – no seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord among brothers.”
3. Ambition for Authority: The goal of alienation is gain more authority by a higher position.
Toxic leaders really want the top position - they want the power and prestige authority brings. They work to position themselves to be the “teacher’s favorite” by manipulating facts to put themselves in a better light. They want the leader to see their viewpoint so the “vision can grow better.”
Esther chapter three describes the attitude of Haman the Agagite who positioned himself to be promoted by King Xerzes, “making him the most powerful official in the empire next to the King himself.” He wanted this position to have authority over everyone and receive the same honor as the King; all the people would bow down to him. Hamon needed the ear of the King in order to manipulate him ultimately to sign a law to destroy all of Mordecai’s relatives, the Jews.
© 2017 John P. Kelly Ministries, Inc. / www.johnpkelly.org