April, 2016: a USA megachurch Board terminated the employment of their Senior Minister. Among the grounds for dismissal were: “refusal of personal accountability; failure to be a fellow elder; manipulation and lying; domineering over those in his charge; and misuse of power/authority”. [i]
In the Christian community, we have expectations that the behaviour of leaders will be Christlike. Regrettably, it is impossible to be in any organisation for a length of time “without encountering inappropriate behaviour”.[ii] Followers are therefore bewildered when there is conflict between charisma and character, leader and follower. Our context is the local church that is experiencing the trauma of bully behavior.
Paul warned against appointing pugnacious leaders (1Ti 3:3; Tit 1:6). Overbearing behaviour by “bullies at the top” is not new (Diotrophes – 3 Jn 12). Sadly, “it is possible to climb to the top of the ministry pile, and yet be emotionally dysfunctional.[iii] Publically one might be charismatically gifted but one’s team management can chaos. A minister may be an authoritative preacher, but this does not mean that he is a leader who uses authority well. Churches with strong visionary leaders are most susceptible, because “dysfunctional behaviour often masquerades as directive leadership”.[iv]
Well before the 2015 Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse of Children, Jagelman identified cause and warned of consequence: “Knowing what emotionally damaged leaders can do, one can only wonder how long before the spiritually and emotionally abused members of churches begin to speak out in the same way as those who have been sexually abused”.[v]
This conflict presses for solutions to the enigma of gifted leaders whose behavior can be described as bullying. “Turning Your Bullies into Blessings” is drawn from selected case studies and pastoral interviews. The writer recognizes the many fine leaders he has worked with and who are in the overwhelming majority of churches. By way of balance we must acknowledge that bullying can sometimes be a two way street, where followers may exhibit similar behaviours. Thankfully, many appropriate uses of authority quietly occur in the everyday life and meetings of thousands of well-run churches. They just don’t make for spectacular headlines.
Defining bully behaviour
A bully is defined as “a blustering, quarrelsome overbearing person who habitually intimidates”.[vi] The person so treated is left feeling coerced, violated, disempowered or demeaned. In similarity to the silence surrounding other forms of abuse, the victims of bullying in a church context are often reluctant to articulate these feelings due to the “God-given” positional authority of the leader and their commendable but over-riding desire for unity.
The essence of bullying is that it transgresses accepted or understood boundaries: this can include a person’s emotional dignity, privacy, time, resources, etc. While power is “the ability to exert force to accomplish a purpose”,[vii] which any bully can do, authority is “the right, accepted by others, that a person may legitimately exercise that power”.[viii] Bully power “at the top may be exciting and dramatic, but causes significant harm to the follower… and mistrust in failed authority” (ibid, 83)..[ix] Put simply, bullies violate boundaries and thus misuse their power or position. What then causes it in leaders?
The psychologist Eric Berne postulated underlying personal issues as a cause to bullying behaviour.[x] Bullies play games, which are “behaviour patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions”.[xi] His protégé, Christian psychologist Stephen Karpman, developed the idea further: behaviours become habitual roles. These then affect relationships, marriages and organisations.[xii]
We learn good or bad use of authority in early stages of family, school and work (ibid, 47). These shape our emotional quotient or EQ. Growing up in dysfunctional or manipulative families prevents EQ forming properly, movingly described in “I’m Not My Fault”.[xiii]
Critically for leaders, failure to successfully complete a developmental stage reduces the ability to complete further stages. The person lacks the desirable social “virtues” that each stage should produce.[xiv] The result: an unhealthy personality, a poor sense of self, and a leader paradoxically with high IQ but low EQ. This exacerbates later misuse of authority. Redemptively, relearning these stages later may be difficult, but still possible.
Some object that secular psychology does not apply in an organisation of redeemed persons. However, the clinical findings of Christian doctors from Catholic and Protestant communities confirm yet another psychosocial cause: the lack of validation at critical stages.[xv] This plays a key role in producing inappropriate behaviour in a leader’s life. They labeled the syndrome Emotional Deprivation Disorder or EDD. Christians may validly identify it as deficient discipleship. The human need to be affirmed is so profound that if lacking, a leader constantly “performs” in order to be validated. The leader is then driven to compensate or satisfy personal deficiencies that blind the leader to the negative effects that they might be causing to others in their quest to resolve their own issues. Pastoral interviews by the author additionally reflected this unhappy scenario.
Imagine a team with a volatile mix of low EQ and high EDD: for example, put David’s emotional deficit with Joab’s manipulative use of power (2Sam 3:39). The results at that time were catastrophic for kingdom management, and still are. Similarly, our case studies suggested that this toxic mix surfaces at times of high organisational stress, such as during building programs or when life stages in the leader or the church challenged comfort levels. It showed most notably when insecure leaders felt their authority was challenged or in times of changeover of the Senior leader.
Granted that psychosocial issues are a prime source of bullying behaviour, what can be done? Our case findings yielded three solutions. First: empower the team to recognise and confront the behaviour. This (ideally) leads to the second solution: the bullying leader changes behaviour, and the team learns to be a proactive part of the solution. Unfortunately in a real world of entrenched behaviours, this may not be achievable. An organisation is unavoidably left with the third solution: remove the bully and adopt better replacement processes. We now expand on these.
Solution No 1: Empower the team to recognise and confront the behaviour
Negotiating the improper use of authority is enormously demanding on Boards, teams and Associates. We must therefore consider how teams may best process it. The first step is to recognise the chameleon behavior patterns of bullies. Here we introduce Karpman’s Drama Triangle.[xvi] His model explains why in moments of challenge, maladjusted leaders do not use authority well. They often default to the coping mechanisms learned in childhood. These roles are persecutor (P), rescuer (R) and victim (V), depicted using an upside-down equilateral triangle with the apex pointing down[xvii]. P is in the top left corner; R in the top right, the V at the bottom point. The arrows represent the bully changing between roles.
By playing flawed roles, bullies invite others to “gameplay” with them in their drama triangle. However, these are not fun games but toxic survival tactics. Karpman wisely warns others not to adopt any of the three roles – attacking, rescuing, or being a stoic victim. This only escalates the drama levels and invites habitual “street-smart” bullies to play a harder game with naïve but well intended novices
Karpman’s insights easily apply to bully behavior. If there is personal conflict within, it shows in the leader’s management style. Maladjusted leaders who have not learned EQ or good authority skills often resort to coercive or manipulative use of power. They quickly switch between any of the three roles. If this is not understood, the “shift velocity” when they change roles leaves others bewildered.
Furthermore, when bullies are confronted or feel threatened, they operate the three laws of chaos: they put others on the defensive; they deny everything; and make a survival “game” out of everything.[i] Traumatically for team, some bullies may have little regard for damage to the organisation. The bully’s main concern, usually learned in early family, is to be the “last-person-standing”. Certainly, the degree of this attitude may vary from person to person. Carter’s and Karpman’s insights may also help explain why a dysfunctional exiting leader often resists letting go of power.[ii]
In one of the author’s case studies, these behaviours created a chaotic and unpredictable environment. Karpman’s Drama Triangle helped in three ways. First, to the bewildered team, it helped them stand back, identify and understand dysfunctional authority patterns. Second, when their bullying Senior would not willingly leave, it helped their interim Senior to know how to confront the behaviours, and model more appropriate ways.[iii] Third, it helped emotionally-abused members of the church to process their trauma and respond redemptively. Karpman’s contribution helped turn a bully into a blessing.
However, it is not enough to merely recognise bully dynamics. Nor is the answer just to pray. For example, during that one church’s experience of the turbulent and protracted exit by a stubborn, bullying Senior pastor, their answer was not to be “more spiritual” and only pray. (As one historian commented: “Man! He acts when he should pray, and prays when he should act”).[iv] Nor was avoidance the answer. Team and Board must inevitably confront the lack of accountability and inappropriate use of authority as part of this first step.
Confronting the behaviour
Most Christian team players do not like confrontation.[v] Paul had to exhort timid Timothy to do it (2Ti 4:2). Bullies will continue to dominate if Boards do not do their part and team members do not express their feelings. This is why “behind every organisational collapse there is a Board of Directors asleep at the wheel”[vi] or to change the analogy, “no board can happily accommodate passengers”.[vii] Passengers describe team members who do not pull their weight in the unpleasant task of confrontation and correction. Teams or Boards must confidently confront unaccountability and inappropriate use of authority.
This sums up the first solution: empower the team to recognise and confront the behaviour. As previously stated, this ideally leads to the second (and most desirable) solution. Bullying leaders change behaviour and teams learn to be a proactive part of the solution.
Solution No 2: The bully changes behaviour
The hoped-for outcome is that leaders change abrasive styles of management. Four desirable results may occur. The first is that bully leaders will recognise why they bully. Perhaps for some it means seeing their blind spots or resolving personal issues. For others it may be recognising that they have learned wrong ways from early mentors. For example, one USA Senior resigned amid allegations of abusive behaviour.[viii] In hindsight, he concluded, “I started (senior) ministry too young… I should have submitted to a godly, older mentor.”[ix]
A second desirable change is that bullies, in light of new insights, will modify their leadership style – a tall order, but achievable. “When facing conflicts, understanding your default leadership style assists you develop other leadership styles for handling difficult people and situations”.[x] The third desirable change is leaders identify their capacity for complexity (their achievable level of leadership) and function within it.[xi] The case findings strongly supported this – leaders trying to operate beyond their capacity often resorted to inappropriate uses of authority.
This brings us to the final and fourth change in behaviour. If part of a leader’s bullying is due to poor health, then the obvious answer is to improve health. The case studies reinforced that a physically or mentally unhealthy leader has low tolerance reserves and over-reacts to situations. Positively, the case studies and interviews with proven pastoral leaders concluded that when misuse of authority is challenged, healthy leaders think more clearly and respond better.[xii] Realistically any or all of these aims may not be achievable in leaders with deeply entrenched behaviours. An organisation then faces the third and final solution: remove the bully.
Solution No 3: Remove the bully
Unfortunately, this last resort, a subject in itself, is filled with conflict and angst. Removing a bully is a tough call for a tender team. It may require a change in Boards or outside help from consultants or denomination. It’s damaging for team morale; often catastrophic for a church. The average church member may not appreciate the conflict behind the scenes that led to removal, because they only see the public charismatic gift.
In order to avoid a repeat, the Board in the ABC case study needed to improve their selection processes before calling a replacement. Due diligence examines the track record questions: not just “How well do they preach?” but “How well do they get on with a team?”[xiii]
It is apparent that the foregoing solutions – confront, change and remove – apply to churches already in conflict. A better and proactive approach would address root causes. Three long-term solutions suggest themselves.
Long-term solution 1: Better modeling
Without contradiction, rather than fixing a crisis, a better long-term approach is good modelling at the earliest possible stage. Trainees wishing to learn good exercise of authority need proven mentors. History shows the benefits of apprenticeships in any field. The church is no exception, whether they are called curates, novices, trainees or assistants.
Good modelling hopefully helps a potential leader deal with inner issues. It will certainly limit the fallout from poor modelling. Christ demonstrated it as the first and most important means of introducing good use of authority (Jn 13:1-3). Mentoring was Christ’s method, whether dealing with a blustering Peter or a John-and-James judging a whole town (Lk 9:54). “Mentoring the Twelve was the key solution to their inner obstacles”.[xiv] This solution critically depends on leaders of local churches.
Long-term solution 2: Systemic training
A chief obstacle to learning good use of authority is the lack of systemic training. To minimise bully behaviour, the local church, graduating institution or denomination, should ask, “Does the training path include praxis units, such as “Understanding authority”; “Bullying”; “Handling confrontation”; “Doing the difficult conversation”; “Building a team” or “Supervising”? Training must include learning to supervise others, as this requires trainees to work through the natural distaste for confrontation, and how to do it redemptively. Why? A leader going somewhere will inevitably engage with group members going nowhere, or those with agendas going elsewhere.
So it is not enough merely to learn strong leadership; it must be systemically tempered with people skills. Lastly and fundamentally, in order to learn good EQ leaders must develop the servant attitude shown by Christ.
Long-term solution 3: EQ through serving
Key to the whole issue of forming EQ in a leader is a servant-heart attitude. This is profoundly expressed by author Winkie Pratney: “You only have 2 choices in the Body of Christ: to have a servant heart or an independent spirit; and the beginning of every deception is an independent spirit”.[xv]
The case findings consistently echoed this theme. Bullying leaders often had no idea of how they come across to others.[xvi] Ironically, low EQ bully leaders see strong leading as serving but followers may see them as dominating and arrogant. Without exception, the team members in our six cases perceived the leader’s behaviour as bullying and misusing or abusing power or position. Long-term leaders must therefore cultivate EQ – putting oneself in another’s shoes. This is what Australian academic Ian Jagelman, in his 3D leadership model (q.v.), claims overarches all the other leadership skills.
Happily, if EQ is lacking, it may be deliberately cultivated by serving. This is fundamental to any leadership. It has always been the method to develop good NT leaders. Like Christ, they first learn to serve others. “Serving assumes the four basic components of EQ: self-awareness; self-management, social awareness, and relational management”.[xvii] When trainees serve others, they develop self-awareness of their capacities, likes, dislikes and motivational gifts. They learn how to self-manage – completing a task; stewarding time, setting priorities and achieving goals. Serving develops social awareness: relating to others with humility and respecting boundaries. Serving improves relational management: how it feels to be ordered or asked; bringing the best out of others by helping them achieve their goals and not merely using others as stepping stones.
On a positive note, what would a bully-free organisation look like with well-mentored leaders?
A bully-free organisation
Could the next era be bully-free? If so, five benefits could be celebrated. First, if leaders adapt their styles, churches would avoid performance problems. They will have “employees … more likely to go ‘beyond contract’ and go that extra mile”.[xviii] Second, authentic leaders would “facilitate… rather than manipulate… achieve positive influence and… fully develop their associates”.[xix] Third, leaders who use authority well, will not need to resort to bully power.[xx] Fourth, when leaders understand social skills, set clear boundaries, and have systems of authority and accountability, “they show the respect for human dignity that… releases tremendous energy for productive purposes”.[xxi] Fifth, situationally-sensitive leaders can “minimise costly failures due to placement of people in wrong leadership roles.[xxii]
These five outcomes – a happy workplace; a good team; increased trust from using authority well; more energy; better placements – are well worth the investment in training.
To recap, churches and teams can turn bullies into blessings if teams recognise and courageously confront behaviours; if they can help the bully to change. And even if they do have to remove the bully, a further blessing can be achieved by learning a better replacement process. Fundamental long term solutions are: good mentoring; systemic leader training, and developing servant-heart leadership and EQ. Perhaps history will kindly record this past decade of Australian Pentecostalism as an era where we wrestled with and learned from the darker side of strong visionary leadership while cultivating a servant heart.
Finally, our introduction promised to finish with a reflection on the most remarkable moment in the history of leadership. It was when Christ washed the feet of the Twelve (John 13:1-3). He knew his hour; Whom He was; where He was going; and when He should leave. He modelled authority by serving. He understood the danger of a deficient discipleship path. He knew the value of right mentoring. Consequently, well-trained Seniors and Boards may be like Christ in this remarkable moment. They too can know their hour; whom they are; where they are going; and when they should leave. They can therefore serve securely. The inspiring example of Christ may yet prove to be one of the most effective tools for inculcating appropriate use of authority and removing bullying.
Reflection: The Greatest Moment in Leadership History
The door was too narrow to let in 12 country boys at once. The big fisherman elbowed to be first. The youngest was shoved to the back. In shameless push they scrambled for the best positions.
The Man watched with sad eyes. He stood. Without a word, He picked up the coat from the seat on His right. The big fisherman had placed it there earlier in the day to reserve the seat. The Man put it on the seat furthest away, near the door they had just pushed through. He motioned its blushing owner to sit there, near the slave’s washbasin.
The Man sat. He beckoned to one with a purse hanging on his shoulder to sit on His left. To the youngest He motioned to sit on His right.
The others moved along to take the emptied places, pouting, “Moneybags – always up front. And Teacher’s pet. Why should they have the best positions?”
The Man walked over to the basin at the door. Three years. Was this the best they could manage?
He removed his homespun robe. He wrapped a slave-towel around His waist. Water sloshed into a battered basin. The God-Man bent low. Divine hands washed human feet. Tears washed shocked faces.
Satisfied, He retook His seat. The Christ-deed would be eternally etched into their hearts. Ten would lay down their lives for Him. Only the youngest that hadn’t pushed forward would reach old age. 60 years later, this moment will demand to be written.
It will forever shape the way we understand authority.
(John 13:3-17 – paraphrased by Paul Camac)
Author Bio: Paul Camac has been an AoG/ACC pastor for over 30 years. He has led a number of churches, been involved in church planting, and was an ACC Regional Leader. At the time of writing he is Associate Pastor at Church on the Rise, Caloundra, Qld. Paul is also a graduate of Alphacrucis College’s Master of Leadership program.
[i] Carter, Don. (2014). The Drama Triangle and the Three Laws of Chaos. http://www.internet-of-the-mind.com/drama-triangle.html [Accessed Feb 26, 2015].
[ii] Ibid; Karpman, S. (2014). A Game-Free Life. San Francisco: Drama Triangle Publishers. 27
[iii] Goulet, John. (2014). Breaking the Drama Triangle. http://www.johngouletmft.com [Accessed Feb 26,2015].
[iv] Morris, James. (1992). Pax Brittanica. London: The Folio Society.
[v] And indeed most bullies dislike confrontation! Of six case studies that helped form the concepts of this paper, there was only one exception: a bullying leader whose reply when confronted was an aggressive and strident “Bring it on!”
[vi] Chait, Richard P., & Ryan, William P., Taylor, Barbara E. (2005). Governance as Leadership – reframing the work of Non-Profit Boards. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
[vii] Fishel, David. (2015). The Book of the Board. Board Connect http://www.boardconnect.com.au/resources/publications/104-the-book-of-the-board-3rd-edition.html [Accessed Jun 18, 2015].
[viii] See his interview: http://www.charismanews.com/us/558980 [Accessed March 17, 2016].
[ix] Did his mentor provide a poor model for him? The dismissed bully Senior Minister in our opening illustration mentored the dismissed Senior mentioned above.
[x] Tourville, Stephen. R. (2007). Training pastors in Emotional Intelligence and Situational Leadership Skills. Doctoral Project for the AoG USA. Springfield: ProQuest. https://books.google.com.au/books. [Accessed Mar 9, 2015]. 48
[xi] This Jagelmanesque topic is beyond the scope of this conversation.
[xii] Lewis, John. (2015). Personal interview with the author. (Caloundra, Qld).
[xiii] See ‘Resource Papers” for a proven in-field document to help a nominating team is Choosing a New Senior (Camac, 2014).
[xiv] Smith, Fred. (1999). Mentoring that Matters. Leadership Journal. Winter 1999.
[xv] Pratney, Winkey. (2010). Youth Aflame: a Manual for Discipleship. Lindale, Texas: Ministry of Helps.
[xvi] Tourville, Stephen. R. (2007). Training Pastors in Emotional Intelligence and Situational Leadership Skills. Doctoral Project for the AoG USA. Springfield: ProQuest. https://books.google.com.au/books. [Accessed Mar 9, 2015].
[xvii] Tourville, Stephen. R. (2007). Training pastors in Emotional Intelligence and Situational Leadership Skills. Doctoral Project for the AoG USA. Springfield: ProQuest. https://books.google.com.au/books. [Accessed Mar 9, 2015]. 48
[xviii] Locke and Latham, in Schermerhorn, John R., Jr. (2004). Irish Journal of Management, July 1, 2004.
[xx] Macdonald, Ian, & Burke, Catherine, et al. (2006). Systems Leadership – creating positive organisations. Surrey, UK: Gower. 83
[xxi] Ibid. 84
[xxii] McKinney & Howard. (1998). Public Administration: Balancing Power and Accountability. Westport: Praeger. 290
[i] www.charismanews.com/us/56483-megachurch-pastor-removed-from-office [Accessed Apr 16, 2016.
[ii] Moreell, Ben (2015). Power Corrupts. Religion and Liberty Publications. The Acton
Institute. http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-2-number-6/power-corrupts [Accessed May 22, 2015].
[iii] Jagelman, Ian. (2013). Student Notes & Jagelman text books. Masters Unit LEA 502: Responsible Leadership. Alphacrucis Campus. Brisbane, 2013.
[iv] Mattera, Joseph. (2015A). Signs you are under the control of another person. [Accessed Mar 2, 2015]. http://josephmattera.org/signs-you-are-under-the-unhealthy-control-of-another-person-2/#more-6249
[v] Jagelman, Ian. (2010). The L Factor – identifying and Developing Christian Leaders. Lane Cove, NSW: The Jagelman Institute. 40
[vi] Oxford English Dictionary on line.
[vii] Joyner, Rick. (2007). Leadership: the Power of a Creative Life. Fort Mill: MorningStar. 11
[viii] Weber in Macdonald, Ian, & Burke, Catherine, et al. (2006). Systems Leadership – creating positive organisations. Surrey, UK: Gower. 82
[ix] Authority requires “the mutual acceptance of agreed limits in exerting one’s will”. The misuse of power is then seen as “the exertion of will while breaking one or more limits of authority” (Macdonald, 2006:83).
[x] Berne, Eric. (1964). Games People Play New York: Ballantine Books. [www.ericberne.com].
[xii] Karpman, S. (2014). A Game-Free Life. San Francisco: Drama Triangle Publishers. 27
[xiii] Haury, Don. (1995). I’m Not my Fault. New York: Avon.
[xiv] Ericson in McLeod, Saul. (2013). Erik Erikson’s 1959 Theory of Psychosocial Stages. http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html [Accessed Jun 18, 2015].
[xv] Barrs, Conrad, and Terruwe. Anna. (2010). Healing the Unaffirmed: Recognizing Emotional Deprivation Disorder. New York: Society of St Pauls. 15
[xvi] Karpman, S. (2014). A Game-Free Life. San Francisco: Drama Triangle Publishers. 18.
[xvii] “The victim is always at the bottom” (Karpman, in Goulet, John. (2014). Breaking the Drama Triangle. http://www.johngouletmft.com [Accessed Feb 26,2015].). Diagram used by personal permission of Dr. Karpman.