Leadership Titles You Never Want To Hear

small__5032232632Have you paid attention to the world news lately? In one sense, it all seems sadly quite normal. There are wars, famines, abuse, repression, etc. Behind everyone of those maladies lies a leader. And these leaders are gaining titles in the media that no one would want. Yet, there may be elements within some of these titles that others could apply to us. What do some of these titles look like lived out? How could you and I be giving expression to some of these titles?

Despot  This is defined as “a ruler who has total power and often uses that power in cruel and unfair ways.” This title is often bestowed through heredity. In the ancient world this was the ruling prince or king, a title and level of influence that was handed down generation to generation. This is typically not using vested power for good, but to keep people in line and suppressed.

This style of leadership creates a culture of fear.

Oligarch  This is defined as “a person who belongs to a small group of people who govern or control a nation, a people, or an organization.” This term seems to often be applied to a ruling elite, who, because of their wealth, are able to exert undue influence over others. But it doesn’t have to be defined by wealth. It could simply exist within any small clan in the midst of an organization who choose to leverage their vested resources to control others. This is a few over the many. The resource rich over the resource needy.

This style of leadership creates a culture of begging and beholding

Autocrat  This title defines “a person who rules with total authority and often in a cruel or brutal way.” Unlike the oligarch, who at least shares influence with others, the autocrat hoards all power and authority unto himself. This is “power play” leadership. It is ensuring that all those around you understand that you have the power to make or break them.

This style of leadership creates a culture of subservience

Tyrant  This is defined as “an absolute ruler, unrestrained by law or constitution.” While the despot and the autocrat may feign boundaries around their leadership through law or policies, the tyrant sees no such need. There is no need for rules, procedures, or policies. The tyrant makes them up as he or she goes along. It is the apex of situational leadership gone bad. It is unrestrained leadership. And all leadership must be rightly restrained by something.

This style of leadership creates a culture of repression and brutality

I have known organizational leaders to bear some of these titles. I have known pastors to bear some of these titles. I have heard others talk about teachers, coaches, administrators, for profit leaders, and non-profit leaders–be labeled with some of these titles. I don’t know of any leader who has self proclaimed one of these monikers. These titles are earned. These are the labels that followers give to their leaders.

You notice that all four of these titles have at their core issues of power and authority. All leadership comes with some power and authority. That is not the problem. The problem lies in the source of power and how it is used.

None of these styles leads to empowerment, innovation, new paradigms or more leaders.

They are styles that are designed to keep the powerful in power.

Could it be said of you in any way? Could it be said of me?

There is another way.

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26-28

What are your thoughts? What title would you like to bear?

(photo credit)

2 replies
  1. Rich Dixon
    Rich Dixon says:

    The real danger comes from folks who are skilled at disguising their quest for power and control. They’re good communicators and use the right words to make it appear they’re empowering others, when they’re really all about coercion and manipulation. Best examples: politicians and (too many) church leaders.


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