The Dark and Light Side of Leadership


Leaders are flawed people who can do harm as well as good. We all have examples in our lives — maybe even from our own leadership — of leaders bringing both enormous benefit by what they do, as well as great embarrassment or even damage when they’ve lead poorly.

All leaders must have power and trust. If those aren’t present, one cannot lead; take away either, and a leader becomes a leader in name only.

The problem, of course, is that power can do bad things to good people. And trust means some things are left unknown on purpose, which can lead to cover-ups. Power can be misused for oneself; trust can mask ineptitude or even wrongdoing.

I was recently reading in the Bible where the apostle Peter gives leaders advice. He states his concerns in three negative/positive couplets. He says what not to do. Then he tells them what to do. In other words, he shares the dark side of leadership, then the light side.

Here’s what he wrote. He tells them they should serve as leaders, “…not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (2 Peter 5:2–3).

Here’s how I summarize his three-fold counsel:
1. Don’t lead out of obligation — lead because you want to
2. Don’t lead to get something — lead to give yourself away
3. Don’t lead by pushing — lead by attracting

He’s revealing three leadership shadows to avoid, then sharing some leadership gold to embody:

  • The first leadership shadow he points out is too much of a sense of obligation. The way I’ve seen that manifest is sometimes leaders have an inordinate sense of their importance and indispensability. “I’m the only one who can do this!” they declare. Such a statement can be a brag—they are heroes who are indispensable; or they’re whining—they are victims who ought to be pitied. To those who brag, remember that cemeteries are full of indispensable people. To those who whine, remember that nobody has a gun to your head.
  • According to Peter’s second point, leaders can be too focused on ways to use their position for personal enrichment. By mentioning monetary gain, Peter is not saying compensation is wrong, because Jesus taught, “a worker is worthy of his wages.” Rather, Peter is warning about a focus on becoming wealthy to the exclusion of serving and enriching others. Personal benefits must always be secondary.
  • Finally, Peter notes how the power granted by leadership can lure us to exploitation and ego-trips. We can want to move people around like chess-pieces, doing our will. But they are people, not pawns. We should be considering how to make ourselves better examples to them, not making examples of them to show how powerful we are.

Every one of those leadership shadows has something in common. They all are some form of, “It’s all about me.” And all of that leadership gold is really just one thing said in different ways. It is some form of, “It’s all about others.”

It’s really simple: Where in your leadership are you making it about you? That’s your shadow at work. Get it out in front of you so you meet whatever legitimate needs you have some other way than through leading. Consider how you can make what you do about others. Go back to what they need; how you can be the one to out-give; and how you can be an example to attract people to sacrifice like you.

By Judson Poling

Judson met Greg Huston (The Crucible Project’s founder) in 2002 and staffed his first initial weekend the following spring. Judson is a founding board member of The Crucible Project and co-developer of The Crucible Project’s four second-level weekends. He also served on staff of Willow Creek Community Church for 29 years. Judson is now a best-selling author and President of Cambia Resources, LLC, doing consulting, coaching and freelance writing.

Photo credit: David 365 via Creative Commons.