Overcoming Leadership’s Dark Side: Power, Sex & Money

Leaders fall. And when Christian leaders fall, depending on how high their orbit, people can become disillusioned and forget that many do lead with integrity. When we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine I took an Ethics seminary course taught by Dennis Hollinger, President of Gordon-Conwell. I will never forget the day he lectured on power, sex and money through the lens of creation, the fall and redemption. As I listened to leaders from Ukraine and Russia grapple with how to handle these areas in their cultures, I was moved with compassion. They sincerely wanted to lead and equip leaders to walk in integrity through the cultural mine fields where they served. When a person steps into leadership, they are faced with unprecedented temptations and can fall when these areas are not rightly ordered before God. The heart is a factory of idols and none are more dangerous than this seductive trio.

But this topic took on fresh meaning when I listened to an NPR program on psychology’s Dark Triad last week. The topic brought to mind images of Luke Skywalker being seduced by the dark side. “Come to the dark side, we have cookies and they are not gluten free.” But joking aside, this is vital to address. The Dark Triad is not about power, sex and money, but rather personality traits that can help people get ahead on the surface while dangers brew in their character and relationships. If you saw Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort played by Leonardo Dicaprio is the poster child. While looking good in the short term, their long-term performance is poor and people cannot trust this person when they turn their backs on them.

What is the Dark Triad?

Narcissism – the tendency to seek admiration and special treatment, to get ahead no matter the cost, and to be recognized as special or superior

Machiavellianism – the tendency to manipulate others

Psychopathy – the tendency to be callous, insensitive, and anti-social. Characterized by high levels of impulsivity and thrill seeking along with low levels of empathy.

Yes, this is a thing in psychology. Psychologists are currently learning about the problems these individuals create for others and themselves, especially in the workplace.  A culture that caters to celebrity leadership instead of servant leadership can unknowingly foster these tendencies. I tend to like metrics when they help demystify something. The following metrics are not only aimed at identifying a problem, but will help build character, competency and healthy relationships. First, look at Jonason and Webster’s Dirty Dozen scale if you want a quick way to spot the Dark Triad individual. Rate each item on a 7-point scale as you think it applies to this person. Of course, you can also rate yourself on these qualities to see how you measure up:

  1. I tend to manipulate others to get my way.
  2. I tend to lack remorse.
  3. I tend to want others to admire me.
  4. I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.
  5. I have used deceit or lied to get my way.
  6. I tend to be callous or insensitive.
  7. I have used flattery to get my way.
  8. I tend to seek prestige or status.
  9. I tend to be cynical.
  10. I tend to exploit others toward my own end.
  11. I tend to expect special favors from others.
  12. I want others to pay attention to me.

The total score can range from 12 to 84, but you can also break down the scales into the three traits as follows:  Machiavellianism= 1, 5, 7, 10; Psychopathy= 2, 4, 6, 9; Narcissism= 3, 8, 11, 12.

While identifying traits to avoid, we also need to be proactive about building character into our lives as we help others to do the same. In his book Integrity, Henry Cloud identifies aspects of character that will help people reap lasting rewards, build healthy relationships and leave a good wake behind them.

  1. The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust)
  2. The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality)
  3. The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission)
  4. The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them)
  5. The ability to be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase)
  6. The ability to be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself)

Finally, I will add the most important metric: how we relate to God. When Isaiah encountered God in the temple, he was faced with the overwhelming reality that God is holy and the entire earth is full of His glory. (Isaiah 6:1-8) We know his encounter transformed him because Isaiah’s response was “Woe is me!” To paraphrase, he realized “I am lost and I am in the same boat as the people around me.” Running headlong into the awesome devastation of God’s glory, Isaiah was ruined. There was no room for his own glory, his own angle. God was the Superstar, the Superhero, the One he wanted to live for and tell others about.

May we respond in kind and be forever ruined by God’s glory. Then self-interest will not tarnish our ministry and leadership. Power, sex and money will be under the lordship of Jesus Christ. While accountable, authentic relationships can help a leader walk in integrity, that alone is not a sufficient deterrent.

To escape temptations and the darker angels of our nature, as Christian leaders we need to encounter the living God, the lover of our souls, who tunes our hearts to a greater purpose after we are “undone”.  Nothing else is potent enough to subdue the seductions. From this standpoint, we can build character and lovingly lead others with integrity, vision and strategy.

When we reach a turning point of Gospel self-awareness – seeing ourselves in the light of God’s glory – we will forsake our agendas. After Isaiah’s guilt was taken away, he heard the voice of the Lord calling, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” He replied, “Here am I! Send me!”


One Comment Add yours

  1. Nadia says:

    This is excellently articulated Myra! I would have to say that keen discernment is also needed to spot Dark Triad in somebody, as a leader who exhibits this trait can possess a very strong charisma. That charm masquerades the personality, hence, he or she can manipulate. King Nebuchadnezzar is another example in the Bible who is just like that. — Hope you’re doing well!

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