Watch Out for the ‘Unsafe’ Leaders

Orginally published on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 at 5:03 AM
by Alan Nelson

Are you a "safe" leader? In a recent edition of BusinessWeek's SmallBiz Magazine (Fall 2006), Timothy G. Habbershon addressed the question of CEO "safety." He stressed the importance of business leaders in understanding their impact on others.

Habbershon is the founding director of the Institute for Family Enterprising within the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship of Babson College. Many small businesses are family oriented (as are many small churches). Since the local church is a bit of a hybrid between a business and a family, the guidelines suggested might be good for us pastors to consider.

Here are Habbershon’s 10 signs of an “unsafe” leader. Such a person:

1. Bases almost all decisions on position and power.
2. Reacts with anger and aggression.
3. Looks for someone to blame.
4. Personalizes failure and puts other people down.
5. Rarely asks others for their views or advice.
6. Thinks he or she is always right.
7. Sees everything in black or white terms.
8. Ignores suggestions and input.
9. Is erratic and unpredictable.
10. Is driven by self-interest.

You could take this a step further by asking several around you to rate you on a 1-5 scale on these 10 traits: 1 being not at all, 2 rarely, 3 some, 4 yes, 5 most definitely. Obviously, you need to do this anonymously to be “safe.” Your colleagues will be less likely to be candid if you know who rated you. Another use for this information can be to start a staff or board discussion to see how you can cultivate a safe culture in your church.

Churches, like businesses and small governments, can become dictatorial domains where autocratic rulers run things based on fear and anxiety. A congregation can “succeed” with unsafe leaders, but those around these people suffer and the ultimate potential will not reached.

Read the Habbershon article.


Alan Nelson is the executive editor of Rev! Magazine (www.rev.org), the author of a dozen books, and has been a pastor for 20 years. You can reach him at . You can subscribe to the Rev! Weekly Leadership Update here.


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  1 Person Has Commented:

  • Posted by

    I’m a little unpredictable. But I was shocked. I might be a safe leader. It doesn’t come naturally, though. I read tons of stuff on leadership every year (MMI is one of my favorite sources) and I really have to work at listening. I think I might be a little more driven by self-interest sometimes than I know I am… so I need to watch that.

    Thanks. GREAT article. I think we might use this excercise.

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