Chapter Eight: Hazards of Leadership

Hazards of Leadership


            The indispensable element of servant leadership and servant greatness is service. We think of service in terms of meeting needs, helping the group achieve common goals, and enhancing the lives of the group. The group has come to find these goals desirable.  Although leaders may have a clear understanding of their role, they must also realize that there are pitfalls to leadership. 

            All leaders, including servant leaders, are confronted with hazards to their leadership.  Unfortunately, all too many leaders succumb to the pitfalls that they face. 
Our text, the Matthew story, makes known several hazards and sparks our thinking about others.  The Matthew story states:

   20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.
   21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in
Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your
   22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We are able."
   23 He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."
   24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.
   25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
   26 "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
   27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;
   28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

James and John clearly wanted to have positions of honor and power.  This motivation, if not kept subordinate to service objectives, can be a hazard for leaders.  Clearly, James and John were out of line and did not understand the cost of leadership.  The indignation of the other ten disciples suggests that they were jealous and envious.  No doubt they, too, wanted places of honor and power.  Many leaders fall prey to this hazard. 

The comments Jesus made reveal that the disciples needed to be instructed about the abuse of power.   A very real hazard is to misuse the power and authority that Christ has given to us.  Leaders may want to exercise raw power to gain their objectives.  Jesus spoke against this and pointed the disciples to service as the way to lead.
            In this chapter, we will consider two other hazards to leadership—compromise and manipulation.  Jesus does not deal directly with these hazards in this story, but leaders commonly are confronted with them. When leaders are guided primarily by the motive of power, they are strongly tempted to manipulate others and to compromise in the wrong way.  The prospective leader needs to be aware of these hazards.


            The goal of Christian leaders is to serve the people they lead. As they attempt to meet this goal, they will be faced with the issue of compromise.  People have different views on a wide range of subjects.  To the extent that those views affect the direction of the group’s activities, the need for compromise may arise.

            First, compromise can be either bad or good.  When we speak of compromise, we normally mean coming to an agreement by making mutual concessions.  Each side gives up something in order to come to agreement.  As long as each side is not giving up ethical principles, compromise can be good.  When wrong concessions are made, then it is bad.  Obviously, there is often a lot of disagreement about what should be given up and what should not. 
            Second, people in all walks of life face the issue of compromise. Let us consider, as examples, salesmen, politicians, and church leaders.  We readily recognize that salesmen and politicians might face compromise, but are not so quick to recognize this in the church.

            One, a maxim of sales work is “Find out what people want and help them get it.” Another way of saying this is, “Find out what the needs of the people are and devise some way to meet them.”   Much marketing theory is built on these premises. Normally, people will not purchase what they do not want or need. Thus, selling people what they want instead of what we want for them is usually a wise compromise!

            However, we should not thoughtlessly heed these exhortations. Many times people want what is not good for them and even those things which endanger them. Moreover, people frequently put “felt needs” above “real needs.” The Christian leader is obligated to act in the “best interest” of the people. To do otherwise would be to compromise his principles and integrity. When this happens we become “compromisers” in a negative sense.

            Two, political life is filled with compromise. Indeed, without compromise, few laws would make it through national legislative bodies.  Before votes are taken, much negotiation goes on behind the scenes. Strong drives are made to gather the votes for or against an issue.  Some compromise is essential, moral, and legitimate, but on some issues strong stands must be taken.

            John F. Kennedy's book, “Profiles in Courage,” is a tribute to men and women who did not compromise with regard to their convictions. They would not “sell out.” When politicians take a courageous stand, putting national interest above personal interest, we usually call them “statesmen.”  Many things have to be considered when a politician decides on what issues to compromise and on what issues to stand firm.  Above all, politicians, like all others, need to maintain high ethical standards. 

            Three, in the church similar situations arise. Many issues arise in board meetings which require discussion, consensus, give-and-take, sometimes concessions, and in a word compromise. Much of the time this is a normal, creative, and acceptable process.

            Unfortunately, church leaders, including lay leaders and ministers, are sometimes tempted to compromise in a negative sense. When church attendance is low, leaders may be tempted to forsake his basic principles in order to attract people.  People raising funds may be tempted to forsake their principles of integrity in other to gather the funds.  We happily recognize, however, that nearly all church leaders remain faithful and do not yield to these temptations. 

            Third, very often leaders are confronted with a dilemma.  Leaders who firmly stand for their convictions against the will of the people they lead are usually accused of being dictators. If they sense the will of the people and do it, they may be said to be weak and may be called compromisers.

            Between these poles, every elected leader lives, moves, and has his being. Ideally, every leader would stand fully and uncompromisingly for his essential, vital, and moral convictions. The leader would compromise only on non-essentials or matters that are not of moral importance. When the leader's convictions match the convictions of the people he serves, the leadership task is not as difficult.

            As leaders, we must know when to yield and when to stand. Normally, we must stand on issues that will benefit other individuals and the group as a whole and yield on issues that will benefit only yourself. Leadership that is selfish will not long endure. Moreover, we must aim more at helping people achieve their objectives than at control. Some control is necessary, but this control should enhance the group. As much as possible, we should allow freedom within broad guidelines.

            Because two people do not usually think alike on all issues, they are probably going to meet situations where compromise is necessary. Each leader must decide where to take a stand and where to yield. A leader who yields on everything, and changes with the wind, lacks moral force. On the other hand, a leader who will yield on nothing overvalues his opinion and will disrupt the harmony of the group.

            Fourth, negotiation is the process by which compromises are reached. Many years ago, along with a colleague, I attended a Henry Calero seminar in Holland on negotiation. Calero had video taped 2,000 negotiations as they happened and had made exhaustive studies of the process.  He taught that the emphasis of negotiation should be on “win-win” rather than “win-lose.”  If at all possible, everyone should come out of the negotiation a winner. Very often, this involves compromise.

            Calero said that the 19th century man stressed confrontation. This frequently led to war and the desire to fight to the finish.  Mainly because of nuclear power, man in the last part of the 20th century put more emphasis on compromise. When both sides have nuclear power, war is not a viable option. This means that nations have to enter into negotiations to avoid war and settle their problems.  Although the view of Calero was true to a degree, the “win-lose” approach was still around when nuclear war was not an issue. 

            Now, in the 21st century, we are faced with a new kind of war--terrorism.  To some degree we have returned to a “win-lose” approach. The reason is clear. The terrorists are willing to die as deliberate suicide victims and believe they have the upper hand in causing pain to their enemies.  They are not willing to compromise.   When survival is not possible through compromise, survival will have the highest priority.

            Fifth, as Christian leaders, what should our approach be?  Much depends on the issue which is being discussed.  There are times when reaching a compromise is the best approach, but there are times when we should not compromise.  Let's look at some of the options.

            One, Paul wrote in
Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  On some matters, where integrity and moral principle are not involved, we need not take a strong stand.  However, compromise may be necessary on non-essentials.  It reduces friction, helps us adapt to circumstances, and assists us in getting along with all people.  The nature of the issue at stake is of utmost importance.

            Two, Christian leaders must avoid the hazard of compromise in a wrong sense. Writing about compromise that is wrong, Sanders declares:

      Compromise is the partial waiving of principle for the sake of reaching agreement.  It is always a backward step when we consent to lower our standards, and all too often this is involved in arriving at a compromise.  It nearly always involves a scaling down of standards. 
      The epic contest of Moses with Pharaoh affords a classic example of the progressive temptation to compromise.  When Pharaoh discerned Moses’ inflexible purpose to take Israel out of Egypt to worship Jehovah, he used all his wiles to frustrate him. (1967, 120)

In spite of the repeated attempts by Pharoah to get Moses to compromise, Moses refused to give in to temptation.  He stayed true to his mission.  As a result, he led the children of Israel in their historic departure from Egypt and their crossing of the Red Sea. 

            It is not only leaders who are confronted with comprise; the entire body of Christ faces this temptation.  The trend often arises to so fully adapt to the culture and the environment that there is little difference between the way that Christians live and the living habits of the people at large.   In addition the message of the church may depart from the truth.  It is all right to adapt to culture unless true Biblical principles and truth are abandoned.  When they are abandoned, the church joins the world in its ways rather than following Christ.

            Three, Jesus is our highest example. When He taught, He spoke the truth without compromise. The scribes and chief priests knew this, but they tried to use it against him. When they questioned Jesus, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth” (
Luke 20:21).  They were trying to trick Him into answering the next question (Luke 20:22), “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Jesus avoided their trap by answering, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's” (Luke 20:25).   Even though the scribes and the chief priests were being deceptive, they spoke the truth about Jesus—He spoke and taught correctly.  He did not compromise in His teaching of the truth.


            Another hazard for leaders is manipulation.  Like compromise, the term manipulation can be used in both a good and a bad sense.   When used of human relationships, the connotation is usually negative.  The Christian leader must avoid manipulation in a negative sense. 

            First, the word manipulate, in a good sense, can mean “to treat or operate with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skilled manner.”  However, when this term is used in a figurative way, it often takes on negative connotations. In a negative sense manipulation means “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage” or “to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose.”  (Definitions by:

            When a leader is manipulating, he may appear to be serving the interests of the group but is actually serving his own interests.  When this is discovered, it is self-defeating.  Although the group may initially be for you, they will turn against you. When the group is uncertain, they will live with a certain uneasiness about you as a leader.  When people feel manipulated, they will resent the manipulator.

            Second, we can illustrate manipulation with some life situations. All of us, probably, have either been manipulated or have engaged in manipulation, and perhaps both, at points in our lives.  We are all guilty!  Thus, we do not enter this discussion unaware.

            One, a well-known book by Dale Carnegie is titled, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1936).   Whatever the contents of the book, the title sounds somewhat manipulative. You have the impression that we are to win friends in order to gain influence. To a degree we do not find fault with this because winning friends and gaining influence are a part of all social life.  Both we who are being won and we who win others know this and do not object. When taken too far, and wrong motives are hidden, then the winning for the sake of influence goes too far.  It becomes a hazard. 

            Two, there is an old baseball story that illustrates manipulation.  The idea could just as easily apply to soccer, cricket, or some other sport.  The story goes like this (
Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992):

In the heyday of the New York Yankees, manager Joe McCarthy once interviewed a coach being brought up to the majors from a Yankee farm team.
“How much do you know about psychology?” McCarthy asked.
The coach said he had studied it in college.
“So you think you're good,” said McCarthy.
The coach replied “I don't know how good I am but it's a subject I've studied.”
“All right,” McCarthy said, “I'll give you a test.”
McCarthy said that a few years before he'd had a problem and had gone to Frankie Crosetti, his shortstop.
“Frank,” McCarthy said, “I'm not satisfied with the way Lou Gehrig is playing first base. He's too lackadaisical. I want you to help me. From now on, charge every ground ball. When you get it, fire it as quickly and as hard as you can to first base. Knock Gehrig off the bag if you can. I don't care if you throw wild or not, but throw it fast and make it tough for him.”
Crosetti demurred and said, “Maybe Lou won't like the idea.”
“Who cares what Gehrig likes?”  McCarthy snapped. “Just do as I tell you.”
McCarthy then said to the coach, “Now that's the story. What conclusions do you draw from it?”
The coach considered the matter for a minute, then answered, “I guess you were trying to wake up Gehrig.”
“See?” McCarthy shrugged his shoulders in resignation. “You missed the point entirely. There wasn't a thing wrong with Gehrig.  Crosetti was the one who was sleeping. I want to wake up Crosetti.”

            McCarthy was using the term psychology in the popular sense of manipulation, not the academic sense of the discipline of psychology.  Obviously, he knew how to use manipulation in his coaching.  What he did was not necessarily bad. No ethical principle was at stake. 

            Third, Everett L. Shostrom wrote a book entitled, “Man, the Manipulator.”  He contrasts manipulative behavior with actualizing behavior (1967, 23-24).  According to him, manipulators are deceptive, are unaware of real values, emphasize control, and are cynical.  By way of contrast, actualizers are honest, fully aware of true values and the interests of others, emphasize freedom and spontaneity, and have a deep trust in themselves and others.

            Shostrom's book is filled with examples of manipulation. For example, he describes how parents sometimes manipulate their teen-age sons and daughters. One of these ways is to use illness. A parent may say, “If you don't stop that, I'll have a heart attack.” When this is not true, it is manipulation! Similarly, he describes how teen-agers manipulate their parents with illness. When asked to do something, a teen-ager may say, “Alright, but I'll probably get sick.”

            When writing about manipulation in business, Shostrom says, “A businessman who thinks of people only as customers or accounts or clients cannot help, to some degree, regarding these persons as things” (1967, 135).  In our culture (USA) almost all businesses speak about their desire to serve our needs. Their advertising is filled with this kind of language, but sometimes the rhetoric is far ahead of the reality. Just shop in their stores and you will discover this.  Paradoxically, when businesses do really care, they prosper because of it.

Both leaders and followers can be manipulative.  With regard to followers, some middle managers try to manipulate the top management.  They will be too eager to help or obey someone important.  We have all been around obsequious people, and they make us uncomfortable.  They not only make people around them uncomfortable, they make their leaders feel some discomfort as well. 

            If all this is true for business, it is even more true in the church. A church leader may regard the people as things who support the church rather than as individuals whose needs he serves. When this news is “out,” the attendance may decline.  As Christian leaders, we must know that the paradox of service applies to us as well. The more we genuinely serve, the stronger will be our leadership. We must stay close to Christ and let His love for the people guide our lives.  The same thing is true for the members of the congregation. 

            Fourth, many politicians are highly skilled in manipulation.  Titus writes: “The politician believes that worthwhile objectives can be realized through the exploitation of the less capable by means of the proper uses of assumptions, impelling motives, and political methods manipulated by the most skilful” (1950).  No doubt some politicians try to avoid manipulation, but it does seem that there is a special temptation in political life to exercise this approach.

            Do we have politics in the church? As with many words the term politics can have a good meaning as well as bad. Clearly, we do have political life in the church. When the term is used in its good sense, politics are essential in the conduct of business. For example, we have agendas, resolutions, discussions, and elections. However, we should avoid politics in the negative sense. Unfortunately, this kind of politics sometimes creeps in as well. Because of this, manipulation sometimes can be found in the business life of the church.

            Fifth, the real key to being of service is honesty. Let us not promise our colleagues more than we can deliver. We can, and should, develop a greater interest in others and their welfare. However, let us not profess a deep interest we do not have in order to gain something ourselves.

            Although some discussion can be stirred up over the normal polite exchanges of everyday life, these exchanges are not excluded by being honest. When we are asked, “How are you?” we can say, “Fine” without worrying about being dishonest.  There are many degrees of being fine.  If someone really wants to know how we are, we can go further in our reply. These exchanges vary somewhat from culture-to-culture. What is nearly universal is our desire to have an open and honest relationship with our friends in matters that really count.

            The Psalmist wrote these words about a person we might call a manipulator, “His speech was smoother than butter, But his heart was war; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords” (Psalm 55:21). Similarly,
Proverbs 29:5 says, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.” Underlying these forms of manipulation is a lack of honesty. Anything can be said to achieve one's purpose.

            Contrast this with Jesus. Christ both upheld guilelessness in others and lived without deceit in His own life. Speaking of Nathanael Jesus said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit” (
John 1:47).   In 1 Peter 2:22 the apostle declared Jesus to be the One “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”

            Guilelessness is a quality to be admired in all Christians and especially in leaders. In
Psalm 32:2 we read, “How blessed in the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!”  Peter cites Psalm 34:12-13 with these words, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10).  Clearly, the Christian leader should seek to be without guile in serving the people.


          The Christian leader is committed to Biblical standards.  This sets a high goal for him or her.  As a result, the leader must be constantly vigilant to hold up the Biblical teachings in leadership as well as in life.  Even the apostle Paul had to stay on guard to avoid the hazards to his ministry.  Using a sports analogy, he made this declaration (1 Corinthians 9:26-27):

   26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
   27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

            To serve the best interests of the people we lead are our goals.  Two of the hazards servant leaders face, including Christian leaders, are the wrong use of manipulation and compromise. The Christian leader must do everything possible to avoid these hazards.  Because of our humanity, we do not always live up to the ideal. We must, however, be guided by the ideal and call upon the Lord to help us. Jesus Christ is our highest example. As leaders let us seek to conform to His manner in leading! He will help us in all things.