What Happens When Leaders Abuse Their People?

Every organization has a leader. Every organization, whether secular or spiritual, has an individual who gives guidance, sets vision and tempo, and looks out for the best interests of their people. I believe there are two main types of leadership: given and assumed. Given leadership means that an individual was is hired to lead. In this sense, power and authority to lead are given. Assumed leadership means that in the absence of a clear leader, or in light of a poor leader, steps forward to lead out of concern for the well-being of the organization.

With leadership comes entrusted authority. With leadership comes entrusted power. With leadership comes grave responsibility. The leader of any organization must resist the temptation to allow the authority and power entrusted to them to corrupt. They must constantly guard against what British historian Lord Acton believed when he said, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” From time to time, a strange thing occurs when an individual is given an opportunity to lead. Instead of respecting the organization and the people of that organization, they begin to abuse their people and hold that entrusted power over the heads of the people. Why would a leader allow themselves to become an abuser? I would say pride, arrogance, and self-promotion lead to such narcissistic behavior. This is tragic. What happens when leaders abuse their people?

1. When leaders abuse their people, credibility is weakened.

John Maxwell once said, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” Leaders must give the people a reason to follow. The organization has to see a reason to give their loyalty and trust to their leader. Credibility is built when leaders demonstrate, through word and deed that the people of the organization matter most. However, when leaders worry more about themselves and push personal agendas, the organization doesn’t have reason to trust and follow. Abusive leaders never get the “buy in”.

2. When leaders abuse their people, participation is discouraged.

A common trait with leaders who abuse their people is that they would rather “be right” than “do right”. When a leader wants to have the last word, have everything done their way, and criticize and belittle any opinions not their own, people within the organization begin to feel unappreciated and unwanted. If the abuse goes on long enough, those within the organization stop trying and stop participating and ask themselves, “why bother?” When any leader demands the final word and operates under the “my way or the highway” rule, they are silently saying, “you are not needed, nor wanted”. At this point, the only cure is a different leader.

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