In 2004, Sydney Finkelstein of Dartmouth College published an article entitled “Why Smart Executives Fail.”  Eric Jackson from Forbes revisited the seven habits of spectacularly unsuccessful executives in a recent article.  Here are those bad habits, followed by some personal observations.

1. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders see themselves and their companies as dominating their environment. From someone who once preached a sermon series called “Dominate,” I can relate to this warning. With rose colored glasses, I looked at what we were doing as unique, amazing, and unlike any other church in town. My belief that churches of all styles and traditions were valuable was not backed up in my actions. I had a chip on my shoulder, and it wasn’t pretty.

2. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests.  Starting a church was more than my job – it was my hobby and my obsession. Focusing on leading at a high level led me to insulate myself from people who couldn’t help me to get to the next level. I didn’t have hobbies. I didn’t have friends. I was the church. And the church had my personality. In retrospect, healthy separation would have been a good thing. Hobbies, friendships and energy spent outside of the church would have been good for me.

3. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders think they have all the answers. Confidence quickly becomes cockiness, especially in church leadership. This is something I struggle with constantly, and stubbornness usually isn’t helpful. Yes, there are times when you must lead with commitment and make executive decisions, but refusing to learn from other viewpoints is not a commitment to vision, it’s a character flaw. For me, I ran with a tribe of leaders who did ministry the same way. The Kingdom is big but my world was small.

4. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them. Vision is super important in any church – young or old, but vision can become an idol. It can cause us to shut people out who don’t share our opinions or only associate with people of similar preferences. Please don’t misunderstand – clarifying and communicating a vision is important, but policing who is in and who is out should not be an obsession.

5. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image. Obsessing over image sounds a lot like focusing on the form but ignoring the substance. We all know brand perception and name recognition is important, but what we look like is not more important than what we stand for. Instead of working on your image and reputation, perhaps we would be better off building substance. In my personal life and ministry, I was overly concerned with my followers and fans. Social media became a device to carefully manage my (and the church’s) image.

6. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders underestimate obstacles. People that lead with vision are often so disconnected from the operational details that they lose touch with how things really work.  No matter how vision and goal oriented you are, if you don’t have the pulse of what it takes to make that vision happen, you aren’t going to lead well. We emulate the platform and schedule other leaders have, so we try to go there before it’s necessary and before we’re ready. As a leader, you must do more than steward the vision.

7. Finkleston says unsuccessful leaders stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past.  I love defining moments, but trying to recreate them can be deadly.  And before we start criticizing the traditional churches with pews and stained glass, stop to realize that you’re probably just as committed to your traditions. When you have to repurpose or reimagine something you initially created, you’ll understand just how hard this is.

So What’s Next?

You’re supposed to develop leaders in your church, but where do you even start?

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