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Caring organisations attract their share of psychopathic bosses
by Graeme J. Davidson,
21 July 2007

..Even if senior church leaders aren’t abusive in their leadership style, they usually act as secular bosses do – by utilitarian and, sometimes, Machiavellian principles.

....When I worked on contract several years ago, a colleague showed me a draft document on which the senior manager had scrawled “Crap” and similar derogatory comments. She felt so belittled I suggested, “Why not discuss this bullying and abusive management style with the CEO?”
....“No way,” she retorted. “This manager was promoted by the CEO. They’re mates. They’ll see me as a whinging troublemaker and I’ll be pushed sideways.” Others voiced similar concerns and either had a sycophantic relationship with the manager or kept their heads down while sending their CVs to other organisations in a frantic effort to escape. They saw legal redress as risky – and costly – and were convinced it would jeopardise future job prospects. Going to the press was out of the question. Despite legal protection for whistleblowers, most workers sign a gag clause forbidding public confessions.
....Though they have many wonderful leaders, caring organisations – social agencies, hospitals, schools, churches – seem to attract more than their share of bullying and psychopathic leaders. In case you’ve never suffered one, psychopathic bosses appear affable and able. That’s their persona. In fact, they lack empathy or conscience and manipulate others through bullying, deceit and lying for selfish ends.
.... They enjoy power and prestige, are arrogant, unreliable and impatient, throw temper tantrums and are quick to take the credit for what others have done and then point the finger when things turn to custard. Because they suck up to those they report to and threaten those who challenge them, it’s hard to get rid of them.
....Staff working in the caring professions usually put up with this abuse for the sake of those they care for. And the abusive boss takes advantage of this devotion – until their victims flee in desperation. Former staff members of one Christian school with a very high staff turnover, including over 40 percent of full-time staff one year, continue to meet like war veterans, drawn by the bonds forged through their common ordeal.
....There’s been plenty of publicity about clergy abuse. Yet, clergy and other church workers are themselves vulnerable to abuse. By the very nature of their calling, they promise to be obedient, humble, make sacrifices, suffer, be joyful, trust their superiors and forgive those who abuse them. They’re there to fight for the rights of others, not to fight for their own rights. In the past, clergy who’ve taken their case to court found they had no employee rights. They were deemed to work for God, not the Church. It’s all very feudal and unjust.
....And as for creating a fuss or going to the press, exposing the Church’s underbelly could undermine faith and is therefore an act of treachery, like a Judas in league with the Devil as far as many in church hierarchies are concerned.
....Of course, the spin we usually get is that the person who complains is the one with the problem, not the hierarchy, who see themselves as the guardians of faith and the way things should be. One bishop I knew of overseas was publicly criticised by some of his clergy for accepting as personal gifts a luxury car and membership in an elite club that refused membership to women, blacks and Jews. Even so, many within the hierarchy attacked those who complained, arguing the bishop deserved these things as befitting his status.
....The result is a lot of stress, burnout, feelings of neglect and of being ignored and sidelined by the hierarchy. Since it’s hard for clergy to find alternative work, some feel trapped between bad senior leaders and the people they serve. Many who’re unhappy seek transfers. Others become sycophantic and co-dependent on their senior leader for advancement, which means incompetent people rise in the organisation.
....Even if senior church leaders aren’t abusive in their leadership style, they usually act as secular bosses do – by utilitarian and, sometimes, Machiavellian principles. They certainly don’t like mavericks who challenge their authority – making it easy to see how Jesus became a problem to the religious leaders of his time.
....That leaves me wondering how the Church can possibly preach leadership ethics to other organisations when its own standards are no better, and perhaps worse, than most.




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