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I don’t think it’s cool. I’ve been an overbearing leader. I’ve lorded it over others. And I’ve been lorded over by others. I’ve served leaders who were without question tyrants.
But they were adored. Why? Because I think culturally it’s cool to be a strong, authoritative leader, especially if you have a charismatic personality or an eccentric lifestyle.
If you can convince people you are serving a greater good, then you aren’t really the tyrant. The vision is! You simply persuade people that the vision we are all serving demands our allegiance, loyalty and service. That way, when you are cruel to other people, they understand and accept that you are simply trying to help them voluntarily sacrifice for the greater good.
Steve Jobs was a notorious tyrant. But I’m working on my Mac and have my iPhone with me right now while listening to my iPod in the background. Some believe that we wouldn’t have successes like Apple without tyrants like Jobs. We tolerate the tyrant to enjoy the tradeoff.
Hey! In business, I can see how being an authoritative leader is perhaps necessary and effective. But the product better be worth it; pay me and pay me well; and there is a line that if you cross it I’m out of here!
But this same attitude has slipped into the church. Well, not slipped but paraded. I know the Christian tyrants I’ve served believed with all sincerity that they were loving people while abusing them because we were all serving the greater good. To them it wasn’t abuse but strong leadership meeting weak-willed employees who lacked vision and discipline. Some of these leaders were just plain aggressive with obviously forceful tendencies. But most were passive aggressive with soft voices and slippery ways. I’ve received phone calls and emails from lots of Christian leaders lately, and for many of them the condescension in their words is unmistakable but familiar. For such leaders, their favorite verses come from the Old Testament, or where Jesus clears out the Temple, or when Christ returns with a bloody sword to vanquish his critics.
But it goes both ways, as this saying of Jesus indicates. We recognize tyrants as our leaders. They fit our expectations of what a leader is. We are enamored by charismatic leaders. Some of us even enjoy it when they show us special attention, even if it is mean, because this will help us grow and manifest the vision. We might even call their authoritative leadership an “anointing” and project on them the same attributes we ascribe to God who can just with the wave of his hand let us live or send us to our deaths.
I claim that the story of Jesus teaches that he served people because he didn’t have an agenda he expected people to serve under him. He encouraged people to love and serve. That in itself is the goal, purpose, and meaning of life. That alone is vision enough.
(Disclaimer: The character in the cartoon is no one in particular, but Everyman, the generic look of the new leader.)