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The Ten Temptations Of A Leader

Position Over Purpose: The Need For Significance

I fall prey to this temptation when the greatest day of my life is the day I become President, not the day my organization made great progress forward.

I am the victim of this temptation when it is more important for me to be President than it is for my organization to change to meet the needs of a changing world.

The drive has been to get ahead, to succeed, so, now that I’m here, I’ve succeeded and I need to do everything I can to stay here.

We see this when

  • younger people are not given opportunities to have a voice in the organization
  • younger leaders are not allowed to move into leadership
  • older leaders fail to prepare successors
  • when leaders seek to move their organizations forward while looking backward

This is not only a CEO problem.

We frequently see it in directors who have arrived at their pinnacle in life— POWER—and don’t intend to give it up.


  • cut off all developing leadership
  • build a coalition of supporters
  • control every decision

They have confused their purpose with their power and the seek position over purpose, which means:

Their status is more important than their results.

This grows right from a major character flaw: the need to be SOMEBODY!

If you are driven by a need to be somebody, you may well fall prey to the temptation of POSITION OVER PURPOSE.

You can’t wash the feet of others because you can’t let them wash your feet.

You can never be a slave leader to others unless you first become a slave to God by finding your significance in Him, not what you do.

People Over Purpose

This is the temptation to be popular rather than to lead. In this temptation, the CEO has such a deep need for approval that he cannot hold others accountable. Such a leader has a follower who is ineffective—whose ineffectiveness deeply disturbs the leader, and whose ineffectiveness deeply hinders the business—yet the leader does nothing. Because to do something—to hold that follower accountable—will cost the leader approval.

This temptation grows directly out of a major character flaw: the need for approval.

You will never be able to resist the temptation to put people over purpose until you have overcome the need for approval.

Now, in fairness, I know there’s another reason this can happen, and that’s because we sometimes have to take the person we can get rather than the quality we want. Frequently we are shut up to the person who can raise funds, whether he is gifted and experienced for the task or not. Or we’re the victims of an entitlement culture that says I should have a position in the home office when I return to because I am faithful and loyal. Or, we’re the victims of supporting entities that will believe any self-protecting lie they’re told. Or we’re the victim of interfering board members who mistake effective governance for personal power and love to play the CEO game.

In every one of these cases as a slave leader, you are called to wash feet. And you can never become a slave leader to others unless you became a slave to God by holding your followers accountable as He holds you accountable.

Otherwise, you will continue to put PEOPLE OVER PURPOSE.

Peace Over Purpose

This is the temptation to put peace ahead of purpose by never allowing any conflict on your leadership team. Differences of opinion are neither welcomed nor tolerated in team meetings. Every agenda is tightly controlled so the only things on it are what you want on it.

If any disagreement threatens to break forth, you quickly step into cut if off and bring harmony to the meeting, so you never allow the issues to be discussed.

Sometimes that is wise—but not all the time, and that is fear.

This temptation, like the rest, reflects a deep character flaw: the need for harmony.

It may grow out of your childhood. It may grow out of your previous experience. It may grow out of a distorted view of biblical unity, but it is a destructive temptation.

Wherever it comes from, it brings disaster with it as it attempts to sweep all kinds of disagreements under the carpet—until the pile gets so high and the stink gets so bad that—if you succumb to this temptation—you’re the only one who can deny it.

You can never become a slave leader to others unless you become a slave to God by doing what Jesus did—allow your followers to express their differences in open and even heated ways. Only then will you know they truly think—and discover their deepest needs.

Otherwise, you will continue to put PEACE OVER PURPOSE.

Perfection Over Purpose

Another word for this temptation is paralysis—the need to know everything before I do anything.

I won’t make a move for fear it’s the wrong move—and by the time I know it’s the right move, it’s too late to make a move.

Such a leader misses opportunities and frustrates followers—especially leader followers who have a good sense of the right move. Like all the rest of the temptations, this one grows out of a character flaw: the need to be right.

This is the need for certainty, even the need for control. It can grow from great motives—

  • to glorify God
  • to pursue excellence
  • to do the right thing

But frequently it’s the fear of being wrong, and that fear creates paralysis.

You can never become a slave leader to others unless you become a slave to God by trusting Him to make the best decision with the information you have.

Otherwise, you will continue to put PERFECTION OVER PURPOSE

Protection Over Purpose

This temptation overtakes us as leaders when our self-protection is more important than our purpose. In these times, we refuse to trust our followers and act with vulnerability toward them. We won’t trust them with our career—so they won’t trust us with theirs. The result is that we end up with a team of close-handed leaders who profess some form of love for one another, but don’t mean it.

We don’t follow the Jesus model of leadership when He took Peter, James, and John and asked them to pray with Him. We don’t follow the Paul model of leadership when he spoke of fear and trembling or his weakness or His insufficiency or his loneliness.

This temptation appeals to a character flaw: the need to be safe.

You can never become a slave leader to others unless you become a slave to God be becoming vulnerable to your followers even as Jesus did to His.

Otherwise, you will put PROTECTION OVER PURPOSE.

Expectations Over Purpose

When I speak of perspective over purpose, I am referring to the perspective or the mind-set that I see in many leaders of regret or resentment or resistance to leadership.

  • “This is not what I signed up for!”
  • “This is not what I want to be doing!”
  • “This is not what I pictured myself doing when I started out!”

So many pictured themselves—

  • walking to the African drumbeat
  • or the Latin samba
  • or the Asian gong—

and not desk bound and flying all the time.

And they don’t like what they have to do. You can hear it when things go wrong.

“I didn’t want this job anyway!”

That’s not the point. The point is God wants you to have the job. If He didn’t, why did you take it in the first place? One of the most vital dimensions of leadership is learning to say yes to God when you want to say no.

As with the rest, this temptation appeals to a character flaw as well: the flaw of rebellion.

Or is it the flaw of discontentment?

Or is it the flaw of pride?

This apparent humility is really resistance to God’s will—the very will to which we committed ourselves so many years ago. This very will we call others to commit themselves to every time we speak.

And we can never become a slave leader to others unless we become a slave leader to God by doing what Jesus did—drink the cup God has for us. So as slave leaders Jesus tells us we must wash the feet of our followers—but this means we must also allow our followers to wash our feet.

And there are six temptations we must consider in having our feet washed:

  • position over purpose—significance
  • people over purpose—approval
  • peace over purpose—harmony
  • perfection over purpose—to be right
  • protection over purpose—safety
  • expectations over purpose—image
  • plans over purpose—succeed
  • capacity over purpose—self-confidence
  • prosperity over purpose—physical security
  • power over purpose—identity

We think of temptation as a solicitation to a specific act of disobedience, but temptation is actually a solicitation to trust something other than God to meet my deepest needs.

Temptation is the call to replace God with self in some way in order to meet some deep need apart from God.

Disobedient actions arise from the decision to meet my needs independently of God.

This is why disobedience is never a matter of behavior, but always a matter of trust.

This is why surface answers to leadership issues never resolve the issues we face. This is why most of our responses to obey tend to be legalistic self-reliance that draws from the resources of the flesh, i.e., a trust in self rather than a trust in God.

Every time we fall into one of the temptations, we end up short-circuiting our purpose, sinning against God, harming others, and deceiving ourselves into thinking we are doing well.

We are not doing well—we are doing damage.

Related Topics: Leadership

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