The Three Flaws of Conventional Leadership

I frequently mention the term “conventional leadership.” What is it? It’s the dominant strategy used by leaders today just as it has been throughout history. It originally emerged when Adam and Eve rejected God’s leadership in the garden, and it became particularly evident when ancient Israel asked for a king. Conventional leadership has three major flaws:


Conventional leadership is SELF-SERVING

For the first few hundred year’s of Israel’s history, the nation’s leaders were known as judges. Moses was the first and Samuel was the last. When Israel demanded a more conventional leader, a king, God warned them what would happen. He said that a king would take their land, their crops, and their livestock for himself and conscript the people themselves as slaves. This is what conventional leaders tend to do, put themselves ahead of the people they lead. It continues to be regularly seen in the leadership of virtually every major field today.


Conventional leadership is UNBALANCED

When Israel was under the leadership of the judges, a single person was the visible leader, the directional leader, and the moral leader of the nation. When Israel asked for a king, the leadership roles were divided among three different people. The king became the visible leader. The prophet, God’s messenger, became the directional leader. The priest became the moral leader. When the king, the prophet, and the priest led together, this arrangement worked well. Unfortunately this was rare. Kings, as the visible leaders, had the most power. Most of the time they refused to follow the direction of the prophets and undermined the moral leadership of the priests by allowing places of worship to false gods. The result: Israel was often misguided in direction and, its religion, rather than providing moral guidance, devolved into empty ritualism. Much of leadership today suffers from a similar imbalance: an overemphasis on visible results and an under-emphasis on purposeful direction and meaningful values.


Conventional leadership is UNSUSTAINABLE

The early years of Israel’s monarchy were arguably the high point of the nation’s history in terms of global influence, military power, and wealth. However, the situation quickly deteriorated because of unsuccessful leadership transitions. The most dramatic involved the transition from Solomon, the wealthiest, wisest, most powerful king in Israel’s history, to Reheboam his son who permanently lost 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel immediately upon rising to the throne. While this was the worst transitional failure, it was not the only one. Rarely did good national leadership last more than a generation or two. Unsuccessful leadership transitions continue to be a common problem today.


While the flaws of conventional leadership may make leadership in general sound hopeless, there is an alternative. Jesus modeled a completely different kind of leadership that addressed each of the flaws of conventional leadership. I’ll describe it in another post.

Dave Alford Is passionate about developing leaders. As a pastor at Saddleback Church, he oversees the strategies for developing leaders through Saddleback’s intern program, online campus, men’s communities, women’s communities, single’s communities, and resource development for small groups. Dave also writes, coaches, and speaks about leadership. His background includes experience in business, pastoral ministry, and higher education. He has a Bachelors degree from UC Davis, an MBA from USC, and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. Dave and his wife, Molly, live in Irvine with their 3 children, Jimmy, Christy, and Matthew.

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