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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, success, and personal qualities. But how does an abusive leader effect their organization?
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 Effects of Abusive Leaders
Servant leaders genuinely desire to empower and develop their followers. Their ultimate goal is to convert followers into leaders.
The goal of the servant leader is to bring the best potential out of people. Often they will see more potential in people than those people see in themselves. They provide opportunities for them to develop, and personally help them to grow in their creative and critical thinking abilities. They encourage their followers to view the world from different perspectives which, as leader, they themselves may not have previously considered. They ask them to challenge the status quo and to question the traditional ways of solving problems by reevaluating the assumptions they use to understand and analyze a problem.
By expressing confidence in their followers’ abilities to accomplish organizational goals, and by encouraging them to think on their own and to question the established ways of doing things, they create people who can think independently and lead others effectively. With a servant leader, people feel confident and capable. They eventually take responsibility for their own decisions and actions, taking bolder initiatives and exploring new paths. Following the leader’s example, they establish their own set of internal standards, in line with the Scriptures, that guide their beliefs and behaviors. Finally, they begin to develop others around them as leaders.
The goal of abusive leaders, however, is to have obedient, dependent and compliant followers. They undermine followers’ motivation and ability to challenge existing views, to engage in their own development and growth, and to develop independent perspectives. Ultimately, the followers’ sense of personal identity and worth becomes inextricably connected to supporting the achievement of the leader’s vision. If the leader deviates into unethical conduct in achieving his vision, followers are unlikely to question his actions. Since the leader is the moral standard-bearer, followers can rationalize even the most destructive of actions.
The impact of leaders on followers is often more extreme during crises. Followers of a servant leader enter crises with a greater willingness to analyze the problem and offer solutions to the leader. Since they have been encouraged all along to take responsibility, during a crisis they are more confident and able to offer counsel to the leader. They provide the needed checks and balances concerning the leader’s decisions. Since people trust servant leaders, they will rally behind the leader’s decisions when there is no time to deliberate during crisis. In addition, crises are not used by servant leaders to blame followers for their inadequacies. Rather, they use crises to develop strength and a sense of purpose in their overall vision. Crises often reveal the leader’s fundamental intention to do what is right. Once the crisis has passed, servant leaders use it as a learning experience. They point to the need for followers to develop their own capabilities so that future crises can be avoided, dealt with more effectively, or handled by followers themselves when the leader is unavailable.
For the abusive leader, a crisis situation is often ripe for gaining or solidifying his power base. This power base can then be used politically to secure the leader’s personal agenda and to minimize dissent among followers. Insecure followers easily become dependent on the leader who provides a clear action plan during crisis. After the crisis subsides, followers increasingly rely on the leader for direction. They lose any confidence they once had to question the leader’s thinking and decisions. Thus, their dependence on the leader is increased even more.
|Servant Leader||Abusive Leader|
|Encourages coworkers to depend on God for themselves.||Creates an atmosphere where the coworkers are permanently dependent on him, thus giving him a sense of power and importance.|
|Promotes emotional dependence on himself.|
Consequently, others are intimidated by his
encourages ideas and participation.
|Limits individual freedoms, prefers|
to make all the decisions.
|Equips people to be|
|Does not train others to function|
effectively and independently.
joy and creativity.
|Builds an organization characterized|
by fear and conformity.
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.)