Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why We Pick Terrible Leaders

It's a peculiar thing, being Presbyterian.  We have the longest and most agonizingly stretched out process for replacing our pastors, one that involves endless meetings and conversations, one that runs on for...on average...two to three years.

And yet, for all of that convoluted multistage complexity, we still often end up with folks who just don't work out.  We choose folks who just don't work.

Why?  Why do communities choose leaders that are not in their best interest?  Here are three reasons:

1) Anxiety. Communities that are anxious pick crappy leaders.  If they're fraught with internal tension, filled with fear about their future?  They'll pick the confident bullies, who push and shove and and dominate them.  They'll pick charlatans, who promise the world and sparkle and shine and make sure every spotlight rests on them.  They'll yield to the lure of the predator, who senses their vulnerability, and eagerly helps themselves to resources and flesh.

2) False Self Image.  A community that does not understand itself...that has no grasp of its history, that has no sense of its story...will choose destructive leaders.  This comes when a group either willfully or passively believes the lies it tells about its history.  "We're a welcoming place," they say, but they turn their backs on outsiders.  "We love our neighbors," they say, but their fellowship is defined by gossip, powerplays, and infighting.  Churches that fail to understand their identity will pick pastors for the church that they are not, and then wonder why things always come apart.

That's also a danger in "aspirational" leadership selection, when a congregation thinks it's ready for a change, but actually is not.  They bring in a bright eyed, bushy tailed "outsider," one who can guide them through a change process that they conceptually want but actually and existentially do not.  Woe, woe betide that hapless soul.

3) Absence of Shared Vision.  I know, the Supreme Leader is supposed to be the one "casting the vision."  And if you're creating a new community, that's all well and good.  But a healthy extant community already knows who they are, and from that ground they know where they want to go.  It's instinctual, learned, part of the pattern of the tribe.  They have a healthy sense of their identity, without which growth and progress is not possible.  They see, because they know, where that identity might lead them.

Where that is lacking, again, that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed dreamer is brought in.   Woe, woe betide them.

Of course, fortunately, this list only applies to churches.

Not nations.  No siree bob.  Nope.

Gosh, we'd be in trouble if that were true.