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Dealing with Jealousy in Leadership

I once heard somebody say that a leader never has two good days in a row. There’s probably a lot of truth to that statement. Like a roller coaster, leadership has a tendency to jerk your emotions from one extreme to another.

Perhaps the emotion that raises its ugly head as quick as any is jealousy. When the church down the street builds a new auditorium, it’s easy to wonder why you’re not growing as fast as they are. When a non-profit attracts larger donations, we’re quick to question what we’re doing wrong. Or when an online business seemingly pops up out of nowhere, we scratch our head and say, “My idea is ten times better than that idea. Why are they successful and I’m not?” In every situation, jealousy stirs in our hearts.

In Matthew 2, we read the story of King Herod. Known as “Herod the Great,” he was the King of Judea. Herod was known for his lavish construction efforts and his expansion of the second Temple in Jerusalem. More than anything, Herod is known as a brutal leader bent on killing the newborn King, Jesus. And from his life, we learn three important truths about jealousy and leadership.

1. Jealousy Distorts a Leader’s Focus 

When King Herod learned from the wise men about the birth of the Messiah, he was “deeply disturbed” (Matthew 2:1-3). Why? Because he viewed the newborn king as a threat to his kingdom.

This was a common occurrence for Herod. If he suspected a rival to his power, he had them put to death. He even feared the Maccabean family that he married into, so he had his wife, mother-in-law, and three of his sons killed. The Roman Emperor Augustus once said, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”

Jealousy prevented Herod from celebrating God’s perfect gift, because he never learned to appreciate what he already had. As a result, Herod viewed the gift of God as a threat from God. Herein lies an important lesson for leaders: Jealousy distorts our focus. It is so focused on what we don’t have (or what we might lose) that it forgets what God freely gave. That’s true of his son Jesus, and it’s true of the blessings and opportunities he has entrusted to us in our unique leadership situations.

2. Jealousy is a Two-Sided Coin 

Perhaps you can relate to jealousy when you think back to Christmastime as a kid. If you have brothers or sisters, perhaps one of you was assigned the task of passing out the gifts on Christmas morning. Once the gifts were distributed, before a single gift was opened, what did you do? You sized up the pile of your gifts compared to the pile of your brother’s gifts. And then, in a moment that should have been filled with joy, the seed of jealousy was born.

  • If your pile was smaller than your brother’s pile, you were secretly resentful.
  • If your pile was bigger than your brother’s pile, you were secretly rejoiceful. 

Jealousy is a two-sided coin. When I’m jealous, I resent what you have, and I rejoice in what you lose. Unfortunately, our “sizing up” attitudes followed us into adulthood.  

As adults, we look at our skinny cousin and we resent how they look in a bathing suit. To make ourselves feel better we say, “She’s such a show off.” When a friend buys a new car we say, “He shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on a car.” Or when a co-worker is promoted, to make ourselves feel better, we say, “She’s such a kiss up to the boss.”

Jealousy makes us resent what others have. But the other side of the coin is equally true. When our skinny cousin gains 20 pounds, we secretly rejoice that she doesn’t look as good as she once looked. When our friend wrecks his new car, we secretly rejoice that he “got what he deserved.” And when a co-worker gets in trouble with the boss, or even loses his job, we secretly rejoice that we might have a shot at a promotion.

The same is true in leadership. Jealousy makes us resentful of other leaders’ success and rejoiceful when they lose it. As messed up as that is, we know it’s true. Like Herod, if we’re not careful, the two sides of the jealousy coin will sabotage our leadership.

3. Jealousy is Personally Deceptive and Corporately Destructive 

In the end, Herod’s jealousy drove him to take drastic measures. He issued an order to murder every male child two years old or younger in Bethlehem. Based on the population of Bethlehem at the time, most theologians believe his order resulted in the death of 20-30 children. While the wise men’s response to the birth of Jesus was celebration and praise (Matthew 2:11), Herod’s response was murder. Jealousy is a heart condition, and its power is both deceptive and destructive.  James, the brother of Jesus, captured the destructive nature of jealousy.

“For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind” (James 3:16).

Who are you jealous of in leadership? What pastor’s success do you resent? What business leader do you secretly wish would go out of business? What nonprofit do you wish would experience the same rough patch you’re dealing with right now? Their success is not your problem, jealous is. It’s eroding your heart.

The words of Proverbs 14:30 should be a sobering reminder: “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.” Don’t let the cancer of jealousy rob contentment in your leadership.