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Every Leader is Toxic

For years, I heard the maxim: “Hire to your weaknesses.”

A more important truism, however, might be: “Hire to minimize your toxicity.”

I used to idealize gifted leaders who were “successful,” projecting on them a weight they could not bear.

Getting close up to them always revealed their “dark” side, their limitations and their toxicity. I found out they too were sinners, deeply impacted by the Fall just like me.

What can we do then? None of us wants to unleash our toxicity into the organizations and communities we lead.

Here are three suggestions:

1. Grow in Self-Awareness.

Ponder. Reflect. Invite feedback. Slow down to listen and ask questions.  

My 22-year-old recently commented on the way I took for granted the time of a young New Life staff person who was waiting to meet with me. After defending myself for a few minutes, the Holy Spirit quietly whispered, “Shut up and listen.”  

I did. There was a painful slice of truth in her words.

2. Identify One or Two Trusted People.

Pray for one or two mature people who love you enough to persevere patiently through your defense system. It is particularly powerful, whenever possible, to have a person in the work system with you.

Why? They see you under stress and can offer immediate feedback.

In many cases, however, you will need to seek out an outside mentor, counselor or spiritual director.

3. Walk the Tight Rope.

It is easy to fall into self-hate and crippling discouragement if you take a serious look at your toxicity. I know this well.

Remember that God has placed beautiful seeds and wonderful gifts within you. That is why He has you in the privileged position of leadership and influence. He has alway used broken people in supernatural ways through history. That is no different today.

What might you add to this list?