Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

October 2019
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Leadership Letters

Check Yourself: Is Your Vision Abusive?

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Are You an Abusive Leader? Part 1

Servant leaders differ from abusive leaders in all three basic issues of leadership: direction, alignment and achievement. They also have significant personal differences, and impact their followers in profoundly different ways.

Note that you do not need to possess all the characteristics that follow to be a truly abusive leader.


The servant leader leads, ultimately, for the benefit of others, in the fulfillment of God’s will. Thus, he is a “servant” leader. The abusive leader, however, leads for his own benefit. Servant leaders pursue visions that benefit their organizations, whereas abusive leaders build their own power base at the expense of the organization.

In developing their vision, servant leaders are responsive to the interests and desires of their followers. They incorporate their followers’ hopes, dreams and aspirations in their vision. Followers actively contribute to and develop the vision further so that it becomes truly shared by all.

Abusive leaders derive their visions solely from within themselves. Their goals promote their own personal agenda often to the disadvantage of others. In the extreme, the leader’s vision is pursued without question and with total disregard to the damage caused to others. Any effort he makes at seeking consensus is only a superficial and symbolic “going through the motions.”

Servant leaders desire to invest in others to see the vision accomplished. Jesus’ hope was for His followers to do “greater things” than He had accomplished (John 14:12). Moreover, the time frame of His vision was future; it was only after His ascension that His followers “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Thus, He was not merely doing things for His own accomplishment now – He built others for their accomplishments in the future.

Abusive leaders, however, want to see results now. They need the affirmation and significance they think the results will bring. Their vision is more short term and revolves around numbers and outward success.

The servant leader is willing to live and die in obscurity, investing in a few, focusing on them and not on himself, knowing that if he does this properly the fruit will come eventually, perhaps after he is gone (Matt. 13:31-32). He is willing to lead for the long term. He is willing to lead for the few.

The abusive leader demands impressive results now. Impacting a few is not enough for him. He leads for the short term. He leads only for the many.

Servant Leader Abusive Leader
Leads, ultimately, for the benefit of
Leads, ultimately, for his own
His vision serves the interests of thewhole organization. His vision reflects his own
Promotes realistic visions. Promotes visions that are often
grandiose and unrealistic.
Works with coworkers toward long-range goals, with concern for their personal development. Demands immediate results,
even if it damages the coworker’s
future potential.
Focuses on a few. Focuses on many.
Leads changes very carefully and
cautiously for the sake of followers.
Arbitrarily changes at the whim
of his own need or desire.
Encourages loyalty to Jesus Christ. Mouths the need for loyalty to Christ; in reality, demands personal loyalty to himself.


The issue of alignment involves helping the people to understand and embrace the direction.

In setting agendas that represent the interests of the organization, servant leaders continuously seek out the viewpoints of their followers on critical issues. They want to have the right vision and they want everyone to own it. Thus, they listen to the ideas, needs, aspirations and wishes of followers and then, within the context of their own secure and well-developed system of beliefs, respond in an appropriate way. They invite two-way communication with others, while still promoting a sense of knowing what they are doing. In this way, servant leaders build a broad understanding and ownership of the vision and a strong commitment to it. People do not follow such leaders because they are ordered to do so, or because they calculate that such compliance is in their own self-interest, but they voluntarily identify with the organization and its vision, and willingly seek to fulfill its purpose.

In contrast, abusive leaders unilaterally establish the vision and then impose it on everyone, demanding compliance.

Servant Leader Abusive Leader
Emphasizes internalization of the vision by changing coworkers’ core attitudes, beliefs and values. Emphasizes compliance of behavior and identification with himself.
Concentrates on influence from within by encouraging, inspiring and motivating. Depends on external
controls from without,
using restrictions and rules.
Desires power with coworkers. Desires power over
Elicits genuine and inward ownership of the vision. Often elicits public
compliance without private

The presence of any of these abusive characteristics in your life or leadership should concern you as a leader. If you’ve identified some of these tendencies in yourself, ask for His forgiveness. Then, take a look through ways to avoid being an abusive leader here.

(This article contains extracts from Abusive Leadership: SpiritBuilt Leadership #6 by Malcolm Webber.)

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