Recognizing Our Fatal Flaws in Leadership

We must examine ourselves. (Unsplash/Alina Miroshnichenko)

In a digital article for Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote that "Most Leaders Know Their Strengths—but Are Oblivious to Their Weaknesses." The authors report that many business leaders will self-report that they know their strengths and weaknesses. But when others in the organization are asked to rate them in specific areas (360-degree feedback surveys), they will often score low in areas that are a total surprise.

With data from tens of thousands of assessments, the authors argue that everyone has weaknesses, and that minor weaknesses often do not significantly harm performance. But fatal flaws are different. Zenger and Folkman define fatal flaws as weaknesses that are so extreme that they can have dramatic, negative effects on the leader and/or organization. Approximately 30 percent of all business leaders have at least one fatal flaw.

According to the article, business leaders do not have to be good at everything. But they do have to have some competency in all critical skill areas. If a leader scores in the bottom one-tenth in any key skill, they will fall in the lowest fifth in their overall assessment—regardless of higher scores in other areas.

Zenger and Folkman believe that business leaders are better at assessing their strengths than their weaknesses. They hypothesize that a leader's strengths tend to be revealed as direct outcomes of specific behaviors. Weaknesses, and most especially fatal flaws, tend to be sins of omission (such as not building strong relationships or not taking responsibility). Fatal flaws as a result of sins of commission are more rare.

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The authors recommend finding people that will truthfully give the leader feedback. If that fails, outside help is recommended. Leadership coaching, 360-degree feedback surveys or therapy are options.

Ministry leaders should follow the Lord; having been charged and empowered, they seek His direction through His written Word and the Holy Spirit. But good stewardship also requires developing leadership skills. A ministry leader has the responsibility to hone his strengths and giftings for the betterment of the kingdom. Personal weaknesses should be addressed. Unrecognized weaknesses will be uncorrected, and can morph into fatal flaws that threaten the leader and ministry.

The Bible gives clear direction for Christian leadership. The five-fold offices are given for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of service and to build up the body of Christ. Scripture corrects, trains in righteousness and equips for every good work.

"He gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, and for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, into a complete man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13).

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

As a Christian leader, are you fulfilling your divine mandate to equip the saints for service and build up the body of Christ? The Word says that Scripture is the key. Are you teaching the Word? Are your charges gaining an understanding and testimony of the power of the Word? Is the Word impacting the lives of your congregants?  

The Lord said kingdom leadership is different than worldly leadership. In the kingdom, if we want to lead, we need to become as a servant. Becoming a servant voluntarily is an act of love and act of humility.

"But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you, let him serve you, and whoever would be first among you, let him be your slave, even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many'" (Matt. 20:25-28).

As a Christian leader, are you loving? Are you humble? Do others view you as loving and humble? Is your primary desire to serve God by serving others? Do we have the heart of a servant?  

The Bible tells us to pay close attention to ourselves, to our teaching, and to persevere. Our teaching should be in accord with the Word. But our teaching should also be an overflow of our relationship with the Lord and the Holy Spirit. We are expected to model what we preach and demonstrate its power through our lives. We are expected to obey the word and live a holy life.

"Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:16).

Ministry leaders should not only examine themselves, a process should be place to get feedback from others. Transparency and humility are great defenses against fatal flaws which could end a ministry. Everyone should be accountable to someone. Accountability could come in the form accountability partners, elders, mentors or others.

Ministry finances, programs, and vision should be transparent. If a ministry leader is fully transparent, weaknesses are less likely to morph into fatal flaws. Light is the solution to darkness. Light is also the process to keep fatal flaws at bay. It is significant that the first recorded words of God were "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3).

"For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that it may be revealed that his deeds have been done in God" (John 3:20-21).

Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.

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