Did you know that fear and insecurity are the core issues for a paranoid leader? Driven by strong feelings of insecurity and a lack of confidence, these leaders are afraid of anything or anyone, whether real or “imagined”, that they perceive to be undermining their leadership.   They are hypersensitive to how people act and react. They fear “potential” rebellions and that “someone” will try to overthrow their authority and take their place.  They are highly suspicious, hostile and guarded in their relationships whether with colleagues and/or family members.

“Because they are deeply insecure in their own abilities, paranoid leaders are pathologically jealous of other gifted people”[1], so they lead by dominating others rather than empowering.  They easily create rigid structures and processes to “control” their organisations and/or churches and limit the autonomy of participants and emerging leaders.

Paranoid church leaders have a tendency to see the church board as their adversary rather than an asset consisting of gifted leaders that should be assisting in leading the congregation.  It’s true that many of us have either heard stories or experienced abusive behaviour by some church boards or board members, but in general, these are exceptions.

The symptoms of paranoid church leaders are pastors who refuse to let others preach, teach or lead by fear that “they will be better than him/her”.  They have a great difficulty in developing and maintaining close relationships because these require authenticity and a measure of self-disclosure.  Their fear is that others will use personal information to undermine their authority and leadership so they don’t take the risk in relationships and usually keep a distance between themselves and others.

The classical biblical example of a paranoid leader is King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 10, we read the amazing story of how God changed the heart of the timid young man and equipped him for success.  Saul was appointed by God, anointed by the prophet Samuel and supernaturally changed so that he could be an effective leader and king.  But somehow, his insecurities crept back into his heart.  When he was crowned king of Israel, some of the people doubted his ability to lead and they despised him (1 Sam 10:27).  Rather than trusting in the change God had done in his heart, he allowed fear, a poor self-image and feelings of being inadequate to fill his heart. After David’s defeat of Goliath and the Philistine army, Saul begins a rapid descent into the pit of obsessive paranoia.  He felt threatened by the nation’s affection for David and became jealous and suspicious.  Unable to overcome his irrational fears and suspicions for David, he eventually tried to kill him.  So, signs of a paranoid leader include suspicion, hostility, fearfulness and jealousy.  Afraid that someone will undermine their leadership, they become hypersensitive to their perception of the actions of others, interpret and attach subjective motives to peoples perceived intentions and create rigid structures to hold on to their position.

Do you know a paranoid leader?  Here are a few additional statements that may provide additional insight.

  • When I see two key leaders of my organisation discretely talking, I worry that they may be talking about me.
  • When an associate receives rave reviews for a project or some special assignment, I experience intense jealousy rather than joy in the success and recognition he or she is receiving.
  • I struggle when an associate, rather than me, is asked to take on a high-profile special assignment or project.
  • I insist on absolute loyalty from those who work for me and prohibit staff from criticizing me in any way.
  • I have probed people for what they know or for special information they may have relating to certain leaders in my organisation.

Next week I will describe the “co-dependent leader”.

[1] Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, Gary L McIntosh and Samuel D Rima, 2007, pg 123

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