Dec 042014 7 Responses

Dangerous Leadership: When Power Intersects a Lack of Appreciation

One of the most dangerous intersections in life is when we are in a position of power and we feel under-appreciated.

Power is often misunderstood by those who have never had it. With power often comes responsibility, and responsibility often demands sacrifice. Every good leader I know makes serious sacrifices to achieve the goals before them. It’s true for teachers, politicians, police officers, coaches, pastors, military personnel, non-profit executive directors, nurses, and every other profession or position which is serving others. Sacrifice is a key element of leadership. (See: Who Wants to Be a Leader?)

We sacrifice:

  • time
  • money
  • privacy
  • personal goals and ambitions
  • control

These sacrifices are made because we care more about what is right than about what are our rights. Yet sacrifice is always draining. It comes with a cost and it is often easy to feel drained, especially when we are pursing a major goal.

This sets us up for one of the most dangerous intersections in life. Whenever we are in a position of power and the demands of that position have made us weary, we face a tremendous threat if we feel under-appreciated.

When a lack of appreciation intersects with power, abuse is likely. (See: Learning to Take a Punch)

Feeling under-appreciated quickly leads to a sense of entitlement. We assume no one understands how much we are sacrificing. We think we are giving more than everyone else. We believe we deserve special treatment.

This is how a multi-million dollar executive begins to steal $50 gift cards.

It’s how a happily married man has an illicit affair with a secretary.

It’s how a faithful employee embezzles funds.

It’s how a nursing home aide loses his sense of gentleness with a resident.

It’s how a politician justifies taking kickbacks.

It’s how a police officer crosses a line with force.

When we feel under-appreciated, we believe certain boundaries should no longer apply to us. Because we give more than others, care more than others, sacrifice more than others, we believe we are entitled to break some rules without any consequences. (See: What No One Ever Tells You About Being a Leader)

Remember the scene in the classic movie A Few Good Men? Lieutenant Kafee, played by Tom Cruise, has Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, on the stand and following the famous line, “You can’t handle the truth” Col. Jessup says, “I have neither the time no the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.” That is the intersection of power and lack of appreciation. The result is entitlement and entitlement is always dangerous.

The irony of the entitlement, which a person in power feels, is that it is often a response to a sense of entitlement they perceive in others. They think others feel entitled to the sacrifice and service the leader is providing which is creating a climate of lack of appreciation. Believing they give everything and get nothing while others get everything and give nothing, a leader is tempted to do things they do not have a right to do.

They justify improper and immoral behavior as an insignificant event in comparison to their greater service. They downplay the consequences of an individual decision while inflating the value of their personal sacrifice. And the results are disastrous.

I see it in every major profession, especially the pastorate. And it must stop. (See: Jesus, Leadership, and the Courage to Serve)

Leaders must recognize the temptation of this intersection and avoid it at all cost.

  • We must be motivated more by the mission than the appreciation of others.
  • We must recognize appreciation when it is actually given and not excuse it away or deny it.
  • We must have others who hold us accountable to high standards.
  • We must care for our own hearts so that we do not become discouraged.
  • We must have like-minded people in our lives to love us, listen to us, and speak the truth to us.
  • We must never excuse inappropriate behavior or attempt to justify it because of how hard we work or how much we give.
  • We must submit to a loving, truth-centered community which cares for us enough to show us both grace and truth.

Few things are as dangerous as powerful people who feel under-appreciated. For when they live at this intersection they begin to use their power for themselves rather than the mission. They abuse the very people they are called to protect. They injure the very people they are called to love. And they hinder the very mission they are called to advance. (See: Sometimes You’ve Got to Mow the Driveway)

Recognize the intersection and do everything in your power to avoid it.

 

7 Responses to Dangerous Leadership: When Power Intersects a Lack of Appreciation
  1. Vela Reply

    Yes, you are right. Unrecognised psychological needs within us can make us behave in ways that are bad while believing that it is okay. I guess a daily dose of introspection – a kind of peering into our subconscious – is necessary for everyone. Thanks Kevin for a great post.

  2. adam Blalock Reply

    Thanks Kevin … Relevant and practical. Regarding the temptation to lead (or live) for approval of others this quote came to mind “If my life is fruitless, it doesn’t matter who praises me, and if my life is fruitful, it doesn’t matter who criticizes me.”John Bunyan, the author of “Pilgrims Progress

  3. adam blalock Reply

    … and for me personally, your #1 “motivated more by mission than approval …” Is difficult to impossible without God’s help

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