Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

October 2019
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Leadership Letters

How To Achieve Your Goals At the Expense of Your Followers

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Are You an Abusive Leader? Part 2

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.

We’ve covered abuse in the area of vision, but what about how we measure our success?

Note that you do not need to possess all the characteristics that follow to be a truly abusive leader. The presence of any of these characteristics in your life or leadership should concern you as a leader.


The issue of the achievement of the vision involves helping the people begin to move and then keeping them moving in the right direction, so that the organization’s purposes are fulfilled.

Servant leaders see the potential in their followers who they perceive as co-workers and treat with respect. They are sensitive and responsive to their followers’ needs and aspirations and share both information and opportunities with them. In this way, they achieve higher levels of ability, motivation and commitment.

Abusive leaders, however, are not so concerned with their followers. Self-focused, they are insensitive and unresponsive to the needs, hopes and desires of others. Often they are arrogant and harsh.

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul shows that a healthy leader values the relationship between believers far above any need to assert or prove his own authority. The leader must not use the depersonalizing “tongue-lashing,” which method of correction relies on fear and authority and is often used when feelings of anger and insecurity are involved.

Servant leaders express confidence in followers’ abilities to achieve the vision, and when it is met, they recognize the contributions of others and share the credit for success.

Abusive leaders have a low opinion of others and take all the credit for any organizational successes that are achieved.

Servant Leader Abusive Leader
Has a good relationship with co-workers, showing respect for the individual. Relates to co-workers from an “I’m
superior – you’re inferior” attitude.
Wisely and selflessly uses organizational resources for the benefit of all. Manipulates organizational resources for personal gain. Denies followers their share of opportunities and rewards.
Values individual workers, encourages and praises them, rather than condemns them for every mistake. Has a low opinion of co-workers and is very critical of others’ mistakes.
Facilitates through empowerment. Controls through unilateral decisions.
Celebrates learning. Points to errors.
Lifts and supports. Pushes and drives.
Listens. Lectures.
Dialogues with people. Talks at people.
Stimulates creativity using purpose to inspire commitment. Triggers insecurity using fear to achieve compliance.
Encourages input and feedback. Wants no constructive criticism, seeing it as a challenge.
Gives co-workers credit for the results. Takes credit for all accomplishments.
Promotes respect and honor toward those who have left the organization even if there were significant problems. (One of the marks of a healthy church is that you can leave it without being branded as a “traitor” and without feeling that you’re going to lose your salvation or at least your part in God’s purposes.) Openly attacks and makes examples of those who have “betrayed” him or left the organization in “disloyalty.” Will use verses like 1 John 2:19 when referring to his betrayers and detractors.
Empowers others for the organization’s and their own benefit. Avoids work by “dumping” tasks and responsibilities on others.
Desires organizational effectiveness but not at the expense of the people. Pushes people to burnout while reaping the rewards of their efforts.

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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