Bad leaders have several ways to lead people astray but there may be only one good way to prevent that from happening.
One way leaders lead us astray is when they appear “good” or “strong” but lack moral character and values to foster a moral vision of better place to take their followers. They only keep us circling our own mediocre ruts.
Another way bad leadership operates is to directly appeal to fears and hates in themselves or in us.
In essence both approaches fail to foster a moral compass that keeps leaders and followers headed a better direction.
Kuronen and Huhtinen’s (2016) fascinating study of our attraction to “beastly” leadership suggests ways this can happen in leadership selection.
Their critique of leadership scholarship is that it spreads an assumption that people want moral leaders. They suggest many people don’t want moral leaders but. They give two modern examples, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. They explain that people see leaders as accomplishing more if those leaders can remain flexible in the face of moral claims. Their assessment is that beastly desire–a leader’s raw desire for followers and a followers’ raw desire for unconventional leaders–makes us eager to move beyond morality in selecting and following leaders.
Their legitimate hypothesis especially seems to occur when selecting national and executive leaders. Often when leaders are closes to us we want morality back in the selection mix.
But I believe even with executive selection there is a pervasive need for some type of moral accounting. It is still lurking in most communities and in ways we evaluate a leader, even God.
With human leadership, this is where another deception of bad leadership shows itself. Eventually, even those who abandon moral ideals or appeal to hate and fear, have to come back fill justification, clean up their chosen leaders moral story (and thus their own selection of that leader), often rewriting their morality to include some moral values but often in a skewed way.
This universal temptation Jesus seemed to realize when it was noted: “But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.” (John 2:24, 25, NLT)
A reading of scripture shows avoiding true moral and spiritual accountability and the temptation to back-filling with self-justifications is the human approach will all share with ADAM, who started the process. It characterizes our rush to neglect the moral factor in human leadership selection. The desire for a king like Saul rather than a servant like Samuel (1 Sam 8), the infighting of the disciplines all show our natural default to this type of leadership process are just a few examples of this from scripture.
The most poignant evidence that this method is prevalent but costly is in the rejection of Jesus as a king/leader, and the selection of Barabbas, instead.
We pick up aspects of Jesus trial from all the gospels, but John 18: 37-40 positions it in the context of leadership.
“You are a king [leader] then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews….. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising” (NIV).
There is so much bad happening that night it is difficult to tease it all out. But the main bad is the process of selection and the distorted view of leadership.
First, bad choices grow at night–a night without sleep, a night of fear, a night of shadowy truth and rushed witnesses. Nothing was good at this trial for Jesus. He got a bad trial.
The abandonment of due process is everywhere and the lack of references to his goodness is most evident. Jesus’ point to his accusers was legitimate:
“Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).
“The Saviour contrasted His own manner of work with the methods of His accusers. For months they had hunted Him, striving to entrap Him and bring Him before a secret tribunal, where they might obtain by perjury what it was impossible to gain by fair means. Now they were carrying out their purpose. The midnight seizure by a mob, the mockery and abuse before He was condemned, or even accused, was their manner of work, not His. Their action was in violation of the law. Their own rules declared that every man should be treated as innocent until proved guilty. By their own rules the priests stood condemned.” (White, Desire of Ages, p. 699).
They–and we–often decide not in the light of Jesus’ love and character, but with a desire for accumulating power, getting personal gain and wanting control as our guiding moral values.
But what can save us from this fascination with self-justified leadership, with “stsrong” leaders who really have flimsy moral backbone and self moral motives? How can we avoid deceptive positioning of bad leaders?
Ultimately, it is seeing and reflecting upon the contrast. The fundamental contrast of Jesus to Barabbas, of God to Satan, seems to be the shock most need to discern servant leadership as better than beastly leadership.
They wanted Barabbas who was lawless, because they wanted to be lawless. They had become accustomed to leaders like that, Herod and nasty religious leaders on one hand or weak and fickle leaders like Pilot on the other hand. Pilot couldn’t even follow simple procedural processes nor his own words of authority.
Sadly, we find our own natural idolatrous natures at work in our selection of leaders. We want them to have the power we most covet. Because, if we did select servants to lead us, we would have to follow.
But, leaders who fail to “render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace” (Zechariah 8:16) will ultimately fail and be held accountable by God (Psalms 82).
Our only hope, is that we sober to through this dark evening and like the crusty old centurion, in a glance at real leadership, we lose a passion for power mongers and instead find a passion to serve others better.
“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39, NIV)
What made that night the darkest was not just the false trial, but the deep revelation that we want Barabbas or Roman or False Religious (Pharicaical) leadership rather than one guided by moral order, love and God’s spirit.
The truth about beastly leadership is that it shows the deep soul’s estrangement from God and Good.
“Christ suffered keenly under abuse and insult. At the hands of the beings whom He had created, and for whom He was making an infinite sacrifice, He received every indignity.” (White, p. 700). We didn’t want His character.
Like a lover who calls out another person’s name in the intimate act of love, so we have shown our hearts to be wandering away from Jesus’ ideal both in our own leadership and in our assessment of others.
Only the Cross and the trickling but pervasive love of the Spirit into our dark minds could shake the deep lust we have for Barabbas and beastly leadership.
Jesus tried to point a way out of this. He even tried to wake the High Priest from their deep delusion:
“Hereafter,” said Jesus, “shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” In these words Christ presented the reverse of the scene then taking place. He, the Lord of life and glory, would be seated at God’s right hand. He would be the judge of all the earth… Then every secret thing would be set in the light of God’s countenance, and judgment be passed upon every man according to his deeds.
The words of Christ startled the high priest. The thought that there was to be a resurrection of the dead, when all would stand at the bar of God, to be rewarded according to their works, was a thought of terror to Caiaphas. He did not wish to believe that in future he would receive sentence according to his works. ” (White, Desire of Ages, p. 707-708).
Christians have always had to re-decide that core leadership question: will it be Jesus, the sacrificial servant we want to be most like or Barabbas. Do we want God or prefer Satan.
Lord, we accept that in the darkness you will give us your light to see the better leadership for you spoke truth when you said: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46, NIV). Shine on us so the light we need to be flowers in dark spaces.