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Why Leaders Need to Quit Playing Good Cop/Bad Cop Right Now

“Go ask your mother.”

“Your father is not going to like that!”

“You’ll need the boss’ approval.”

“If the leader of that department is OK with it, I’m OK with it.”

We do this all the time.

We pass the buck. We play good cop/bad cop.

Some of us are wired for mercy.

Some of us are wired for justice.

And because of that wiring, we usually become either the good cop or the bad cop for those we lead.

But good cop/bad cop is a bad philosophy for leaders. 

When we perpetuate a good cop/bad cop scenario, we create heroes and villains.

The philosophy doesn’t emerge from dysfunction. It emerges from that natural wiring, and at first it even seems balanced. 

We need mercy and justice. We need grace and truth. 

Since both exist, there seems to be an equalibrium in the organization. And for a time, there might be the illusion of such, but in reality, you’re enabling a dysfunction that will wear down the relational chemistry of your team.

The leader who plays the “good cop” role, while well-liked, will become less respected.

She can never be relied upon to speak truth. The team eventually catches on and realizes that in her desire to be the “good cop,” she’s never coaching you for improvement or constructively giving you feedback. She leaves that to the “bad cop.”

The leader who plays the “bad cop” wears the organization down. 

As the person who is always delivering the bad news, he is avoided. People dodge when they see him coming. They know that whatever he has to say, it’s not going to be good.

Good cop/bad cop leadership philosophy divides teams. It perpetuates unhealthy alliances and ultimately severs relationships.

As leaders, we cannot delegate the good or the bad. We must embrace both as our leadership responsibility. I must be equally willing to be merciful, yet just. I must be both truthful and gracious.

Every leader must embrace both sides. That’s healthy leadership.  

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A self-proclaimed “leadership junkie,” Jenni spends her days serving the local church. Most recently she served for nine years as the Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, where she led the staff and oversaw the ministry of its five campuses. Jenni is the founder of Cultivate Her. She loves great books, the perfect cup of tea, playing a game of tennis with her husband and hanging with her dog Mick.