The Cowardly Leader Checklist

In his classic book Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders lists courage along with humility, sincerity, and integrity as essential qualities for leaders. He writes, “Leadership always faces natural human inertia and opposition. But courage follows through with a task until it is done.”

The antithesis of courageous leadership, of course, is cowardly leadership, where leaders lack the moral integrity and conviction to do what is right for the right reasons. Here are five common expressions of found on a cowardly leader checklist:

Conviction is missing.

Cowardly leaders are open-handed and non-convictional about the most important things. Instead of possessing a conviction beneath the surface that guides their decisions and provides motivation, they are tossed about by the waves of opinion. 

Clarity is absent.

Cowardly leaders struggle to give clear direction because clear direction means there is a course of action. And a singular course of action means there could be failure, and there could be upset people, and there could be a lot of things that go wrong. So cowardly leaders find it safer to be unclear.

Confrontation is bundled.

Instead of confronting as issues arise, cowardly leaders bundle confrontation and store it up for a later delivery. Sometimes the delivery never occurs, but if it does, the person being confronted is typically caught off-guard. He or she has never been given an opportunity to correct and has missed opportunities to develop because confrontation was bundled. Instead of refusing to let the sun go down on anger, cowardly leaders keep long records of wrongs.

Credibility is borrowed.

Cowardly leaders feel the need to over-quote their supervisors when making a case. Instead of standing on the strength of their logic, the wisdom of the direction, or their own credibility, they merely borrow someone else’s—usually the overall leader of the organization. Typically this sounds like: “_________ says we should do this.” “Talk to _________. I am just the messenger.”

The mysterious “they” is over-utilized.

Cowardly leaders utilize the mysterious and nebulous “they”—the nameless group of people who say what the leader wants to say but lacks the courage to actually say it. So the cowardly leader merely quotes “they.” 

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

John Mulholland (@xjm716) — 06/10/15 1:20 pm

Solid article. I was once handed a list of 6 things I had done wrong over the previous 45 days. While some of them had indeed been things that had been discussed (usually in a 30-second conversation- nothing to indicate that they were real "problems") the vast majority of them were trumped up nonsense. When I asked this person why he never walked down to my office, less than 20 feet away form his, to discuss them, he told that he was unable to manage me. Pathetic. He then handed it to me to sign. None of the elders had signed it, and when I asked about that, he had one of them who was present in the building sign it. Interestingly, he never even signed his own name in the space provided. I asked for a copy signed by ALL of the elders multiple times afterward, and never received it. I later from one of them that he had not sought approval prior to giving it to me, despite typing their names on the document as though he had.

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