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14 Traits Found in Toxic Leaders

Thom Rainer is the former president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources and the author of numerous books. He has served in multiple capacities and spoken to hundreds. He led a church and denominational firm from 1990 - 2005, and that firm provided insights to over 500 churches.

I discovered his list of 14 Traits in Toxic Leaders. This is an excellent resource for those who are trying to discern if you are working for or being led by a toxic leader.

After this blog, you will find a PDF of those 14 Traits and a link to a podcast where he discusses those traits. Below is the list and a few of my notes from listening to the podcast. However, this podcast is a MUST-HEAR FOR YOURSELF!

Thom Rainer describes the fourteen traits of a toxic leader:

  1. They rarely demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (See Galatians 5:22-23)

  2. They seek a minimalist structure of accountability; they feel they answer to no one and do their best to have minimal accountability; they lead in an autocratic (top-down) fashion. They are micromanagers; they want their hands in every situation.

  3. They expect behavior from others they don't expect of themselves. They have "Do as I say, not as I do" as their motto.

  4. They see almost everyone else as inferior to themselves. They criticize other leaders while building themselves up.

  5. They show favoritism. They give a few people preferential treatment while they marginalize the rest. They give info to some, and others don't get information.

  6. They say one thing to some people but different things to others. They will say whatever it takes, including lying, to get what they want.

  7. They seek to dismiss or marginalize people before they attempt to develop them. People are a means to an end: they quickly reject people if they don't serve the leader's purpose. They see people as projects to accomplish their own goals.

  8. They are manipulative. They masterfully pull people's strings to get them to do what they want. Their most common tactic is to use partial truth.

  9. They lack transparency. Everything is kept a secret, so they can't be held accountable.

  10. They have frequent anger outbursts. This happens when they don't get their way.

  11. They do not allow for pushback or disagreement. Those who dare to disagree become victims of the leader's anger and are quickly pushed aside.

  12. They surround themselves with sycophants; people who are people pleasers, those who are a part of their inner circle, which may include close friends and family, and they have a host of "yes" people or weaker leaders who will do whatever they ask.

  13. They communicate poorly. Some are good communicators in a public forum or the pulpit but communicate poorly to those who work for them because the clearer they communicate, the more they reveal who they are because it reveals their autocratic leadership style.

  14. They are self-absorbed. They would listen to all these traits but not see them themselves. They are so self-absorbed they don't see themselves, so no correction is done.

If you find yourself working for a toxic leader or the leader of your church, then confronting them will not do any good. If no one can confront them, leaving is the best course of action if you work for them.

If you see yourself as a toxic leader based on these traits, the first step is repentance to God and many people that you have led poorly and offended. Sometimes you need to do that in a public setting.

14 Traits Found in Toxic Leaders
Download PDF • 488KB

Click Here To Listen to 14 Traits Found in Toxic Leaders Podcast by Pastors Today.

Don't forget to check out the Resources page

Also, check out The Soul Salon, which will be reopening in September.


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