Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part Three



Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part Three

Episode Five: Charting a Way to Good Leadership 3

How do we guard against the pitfalls of abusive leadership?

KATE: The other day, when I was watching The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey from 2012, a line spoke to me, reminded me, and gave me hope in seeing Gandalf’s moral strategy in recruiting Bilbo Baggins: “I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid, and he gives me courage.”

The ordinary folk, like you and me, who find the courage to speak up for themselves, others, their communities and the voiceless when things appear to be going astray, or the darkness takes a foothold. For me, this is creating and sustaining well-equipped listening spaces for people’s stories to be told, heard, and validated. If anything is disclosed, the appropriate course of action and protocol follow. A key aspect of any form of abuse is the secrecy, fear and loneliness of the victim in the situation. Much healing can be experienced through the story being heard in a safe environment, being believed, and the sense of injustice understood and action taken.

Self-awareness and accountability (Psalm 139: 23-24) are key for keeping in check the shadow side of our human nature and sharing our vulnerabilities with a trusted other. 

ROY: As the writer of Proverbs says, “Pay attention to your own heart”. Self-awareness is critical. Understanding what drives, influences and motivates us. Naming our passions and “monsters”. Being aware of the good, bad and ugly of our personalities, knowing our shadow side. We all possess some mixed motives.

I’ve had to learn not to be intimidated by those with so-called powerful ministries, whose charisma can be both inspiring and guilt-inducing. The reality is that their persuasive methodology can be very disempowering. I like to see the best in everybody but that can sometimes blind me to others’ faults. I used to fear those who wielded authority. I am now sickened whenever I see or sense a misuse or abuse of power.

Alongside self-awareness I have valued the gift of a soul friend: someone who can hold a mirror up before me and gift me with their own insights into my heart and mind, helping me to focus on my motivations and desires. 

Accountability is fundamental to safeguarding both me and those who I seek to serve and lead. It’s a protective mechanism for everybody provided it operates more than a simple paper exercise. It is like having a confessor, someone you can be truly honest with about what’s going on in the interior of your life. 

Cultivating healthy practices that form and transform both heart and mind is important in the development of a healthy character. Practising the spiritual disciplines help in the formation of life and leadership: values like humility, generosity, service, submission, silence and solitude. Being grounded, down-to-earth and shunning every form of superiority and status seeking. Being the same person with whoever you’re with and wherever you are. Willingly taking the lowest seat in order to bust any conscious or unconscious notion of being special and needing to occupy the highest seat. Just being down to earth and enjoying the gift of ordinary life is a real antidote to trappings of power.

Having an appreciation of boundaries and an understanding of the dynamics of power and how they operate within any social context is also really important. Being rooted in relationship with God and in good relationship with others and having an appropriate sense of self-worth has to be the foundation upon which our security is found. If we look for affirmation in other peoples’ approval, in achievements, even in signs of what some would see as a fruitful ministry we are skating on thin ice. If our security is built around our own publicity or the reputation others have formed of us then we are walking a dangerous path. We must endeavour to live what we believe, to be characterised by authenticity and integrity. These have to be things that we aspire and sometimes perspire to achieve. 

As someone who has embraced a Rule of life that speaks of availability and vulnerability, allied to my own brokenness and frailties, I have come to both appreciate and recognise my dependency upon God. That sounds like a really spiritual thing to say but a proper focus on God helps me to see myself in the light of who God is which in turn dismantles the false perspectives and poisons that come through the misuse of power. 

I consider myself to be a gentle and generous person, but I am mindful that people find me to be a strong and persuasive leader. I know that I can motivate and I’m aware that there is a fine divide between motivation and manipulation. I know that I can be persuasive in communication. I speak from the heart and that’s why what I say is often filled with passion. So, putting a check on my motivations, constantly asking ‘Why am I doing this?’ or wondering why I am responding in certain ways is essential and continually asking God to “create within me a clean heart and to put a right spirit within me” 


If you’re concerned about a person or situation in a church context and need information or support, the leading experts on church abuse are

Whatever your concern – recent or non-recent, if it relates to safeguarding or even if you’re not sure –  Mon you can call Thirtyone Eight – Fri, 9am – 5pm, on 0303 003 1111.

In an emergency, especially if someone is in immediate danger of harm, you should always call 999 straight away and ask for the police.

Image Credit: Dall-E

Picture of About the Author

About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

More Posts by Simon Hall