Leadership by rant

Ever had a leader blow up at you? Ever been the one doing the blow-up?


Apparently, it’s far more common than we might think. Check out this useful article about “leadership by rant.


Or listen to a teacher asking her adult students, all immigrants, what they experience in their menial, minimum-wage jobs. They described employers screaming at them, berating them for small matters and calling them ugly names in public workplace settings.


My first reaction: Why do they put up with it? Then I remembered situations where I was one-down and nervous about losing my job. One leader announced she was out to “destroy me. Another threatened me with a pistol. One shouted at me for buying some office supplies.


It’s about power. One has the power and presumes he or she can behave any way they want. The others have less power, or no power, and assume they must take the abuse.


The truly secure leader, of course, doesnt need to shout. Making noise is a defensive action by someone whos afraid. The secure leader will listen, be firm but not abusive, and respect the other even in the processing of giving negative feedback.


Leadership by rant is also lazy. It’s like the parent who shouts at a child but can’t be bothered to move to the child.


Abusive leadership eventually backfires. Employees stop listening, especially to extravagant threats that are 100% noise. They stop taking direction because they no longer respect the leader. They do whatever minimum will avoid tongue-lashings, but aren’t inspired to try harder or to be innovative.


Abusive leadership exposes the organization to legal liability, especially when the power relationship crosses gender lines or when the threat is physical.



Organizations run by bullies will find it difficult to hire new workers, even for menial positions. In church work, the word spreads that a certain church is a “preacher-eater. I know a nanny who made it her business to give prospective hires graphic descriptions of her former employer’s bullying behavior.


Because leaders generally have the power and higher pay, it is their responsibility to act in a mature, respectful and temperate manner. If they feel themselves “losing their cool, it is their duty to step away and to calm down.


The situation can seem complex in churches, but the same basic principles apply.


On the one hand, the pastor seems to have the power: wearing special attire, standing up front on Sunday, commanding attention, speaking at people, earning a large portion of the church’s budget.


On the other hand, mainline Protestant polities work overtime to limit the power of the minister. Not only do leadership councils assert their authority, but certain members (longtime, wealthy, in-crowd) don’t hesitate to bully the pastor and staff into submission. From whispering campaigns to open confrontations, they try to maneuver them into the one-down position.


Ranting occurs when these tactics stop working. The need to have power and the need to be right yield a toxic brew, which can make church meetings a nightmare.


All religious systems have conflict. Unhealthy systems allow conflict to become toxic and loud. Healthy churches enforce norms of civility and mutual respect.


Tom Ehrich

TOM EHRICH, an Episcopal priest and president of Morning Walk Media, has just launched a new web magazine, Fresh Day