The Orthodox Leader

Leadership Levels: The Problem of Illegitimate Leadership

“And when Simon [Magus] saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 8:18-19

In a couple of articles I wrote not too long ago, I took up the five levels of leadership posited by Maxwell in order to discuss them in our own situation. Having done that, I should point out that no definition of leadership was given. There are numerous such definitions, but perhaps the simplest is the equation, “Leadership is influence.” However, this raises the question of whether such leadership (influence) can be had illegitimately. Maxwell’s five levels don’t address it.

On the one hand, there is a common presumption that authentic leadership is legitimate. That is, Christian leadership influence is commonly assumed to be the result of the leader’s demonstrated success with motives that align with the Church/parish/jurisdiction and with methods that meet the Christian moral standard. That presumption works most of the time, but what about the possibility of the leader’s having private motives that do not align with the Church’s, or a willingness to use immoral methods to attain success? Private motives allow for the possibility of acts contrary to the common goal, and immoral methods taint even good results under the principle that the ends don’t justify the means.

If you doubt the possibility of contrary goals or immoral methods, just look at the OCA scandals of the past decade. There is no doubt that Kondratick was a leader. He gave the impression of genuine interest in the people he dealt with, freely handing out his mobile number, and even answering when it was used. Have an urgent need? He could see that it was met. Are things going to pieces? He could pick them up. Yet, according to the best evidence (see the SIC and SC reports), one can see Kondratick’s most significant motive, self-aggrandizement, coupled with a willingness to manipulate and compromise others as needed to pursue private aims. It was leadership in service to self. In an odd perversion of level 4 leadership (“People Development”), how many clergymen owed their own standing to him? In promoting their causes or covering up their scandals, he established himself as a leader on a foundation of uneasy loyalty and the keeping of secrets.

Illegitimate leadership in the Church inevitably leads to spiritual harm. When the illegitimacy and its means become known, they create disillusionment and cynicism among the faithful of God. This might not happen immediately, but such things are very difficult to hide forever. This element of secrecy is key.

Legitimate leaders have faults that are known, and they lead in spite of them. They do so through personal effort, spiritual development and, more importantly, by augmenting their own strengths and weaknesses with complementary ones from those around them. (Brilliant but disorganized pastors are often saved by attentive secretaries.)

In contrast, the illegitimate leader must be seen as having no, or relatively insignificant, weaknesses. Why? If they were known, they would be exploitable by others like him. Of necessity, a certain hagiographic depiction of the illegitimate leader develops, as a means of concealing the sins and weaknesses. A veil of secrecy is established, either through an inner circle of individuals who maintain the facade (and diverting the curious) or through taking ownership of critical tasks personally, with minimal information disclosed to others. Both methods are seen regularly in the individuals mentioned in the SC and SIC reports: the cash transactions (which prevented tracking of funds), stonewalling (“the Metropolitan blessed it,” the hiding of accounts, the refusal to provide essential information), convoluted financial controls, and self-interest that prevented would-be whistle-blowers from saying anything.

What is perhaps worse is that the illegitimacy that masquerades as competence or piety at the top washes downward. The illegitimate leader gains the (unwarranted) trust of others, and that trust extends to his lieutenants. “If the leader trusts him, I should trust him, too.” Trusted lieutenants extend their perception of trustworthiness to others in the same way, establishing a web of compromise and privilege. It can work in reverse, too, with illegitimate leaders in the lower ranks transferring their ill-gotten trust to leaders in positions of greater authority, supporting them and, too often, manipulating them for their own ends. Illegitimate leadership is thus corrosive to the whole, and such rot is quite difficult to eradicate.

I think we’re still battling this in various forms within the Orthodox Church in America, even with the scandals described in the SIC and SC reports fading from memory, and in at least a couple of other jurisdictions in North America. The real questions for us are:

  1. How do we spot illegitimate leadership? From a spiritual standpoint, how do we remain vigilant without becoming cynical or excessively suspicious?
  2. How do we stamp out illegitimate leadership when it occurs and halt its corrosive spread?
  3. How do we end, or prevent, a system a privilege that fosters illegitimacy?

What do you think?


2 comments (click to add your own)

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16 am

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