Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

We all know President Donald J Trump doesn’t cope with criticism very well.

After last weekend’s final episode of Saturday Night Live for 2018, featuring Alec Baldwin reprising his satirical impression of Trump, along with Robert De Niro as Robert Mueller, Ben Stiller as Michael Cohen and Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, the president couldn’t take it any longer.

He tweeted:

Did you get that?  The courts should test whether shows like Saturday Night Live are actually legal!!

In other words, the President of the United States of America is questioning whether free speech should extend to criticism of the President of the United States of America. Which kind of makes him sound like the President of Guatemala, 1982, instead of the Leader of the Free World.

Of course, this just opened him up to thousands of tweets counter-attacking him for being so sensitive.

One such tweet read,

“Remember when all those other presidents complained about their little feelsies getting hurtsies by Saturday Night Live? No.  Because none of them were thin skinned, little babies.”

I don’t want to lampoon Donald Trump here. But I do want us to think about “thin skinned little babies”, especially when they’re in leadership. In the literature they’re called “overreactive leaders.”

Professor Samuel Bacharach from Cornell University defines them this way:

“Overreactive leaders take every piece of information, every strand of data, and take action based on that information. They freak out over every little thing, and kill the momentum of their team. Overreactive leaders seem to be unable to prioritize or filter the fundamentally important information they receive from the anecdotal, anomalous data that floats around the organization. Think of someone who says in a meeting, ‘We’ve been getting a lot of complaints (read: two) about our new software upgrade.’ And on the strength of that weak data point, the overreactive leader calls the lead programmer, and demands that a new version be created immediately.”

That would be like a president watching a satirical skit on Saturday Night Live and demanding it be tested in court.

But it would also be like a lot of church leaders who overreact to every news story that appears critical of Christianity or religion in general. Whether it’s same-sex wedding cakes, or school programs aimed at normalizing gender dysphoria, or freedom of religion legislation, some leaders want to sound the warning that the sky is falling and all hell is about to break loose.

There seems to be a prevailing level of touchiness among some church leaders. They see all criticism as a signal of some deeper, growing persecution.

Samuel Bacharach says good leaders are able to accommodate surprises and address unforeseen challenges, but they do so in a non-anxious fashion: 

“The competent leader makes adjustments as an important but non-frantic pivot. The operative keyword is ‘non-frantic.’ The moment others feel that you are frantic and caught up in your own drama, like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling, they will see you as overreacting, and take very little of what you say seriously.”

Don’t be like Donald Trump wanting to refer a comedy show to the Supreme Court. Accept criticism. Rise above it. Learn from it. Don’t overreact. Be dignified.

People don’t think clearly or sensibly when they’re afraid, and leaders who foster anxiety and uncertainty have great difficulty prosecuting their vision for the future.

In fact, overreactive leadership isn’t leadership at all because it doesn’t project a confident sense of what the future could look like. It has us running around like Chicken Little.

In the late 1960s, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a precursor to Saturday Night Live. It regularly took satirical jabs at the presidency of Lyndon B Johnson. The anti-war, anti-establishment attitude of show had it constantly teetering on the brink of cancellation throughout its entire run. In fact, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour barely outlasted Johnson’s administration, being cancelled by CBS a few months into the Nixon presidency when the writers refused to ease off with the political satire.

On their final show, Dick Smothers read a letter they had received from former President Johnson, in which he wrote:

“It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

I’m not expecting President Trump to adopt this kind of attitude any time soon. But I can live in hope that church leaders could become less overreactive, more dignified, more able to accept the kernel of truth in every criticism, more able to laugh at themselves, and more willing to accept that price of leadership that LBJ was talking about.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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4 thoughts on “Overreactive Leadership has us running around like Chicken Little

  1. We don’t even have a hint of resentment or retaliation from Jesus after he comes back to life. If anyone had the right to prove themselves to those who mocked them it was Jesus… BUT HE DOESN’T! Christians overreact because they have been motivated by fear, not by a clear and stunning portrait of Jesus. If Pastors saw the majesty of Jesus they would have no self-justified need to overreact to media and culture thereby continually instilling fear throughout the institutional church. Good Word Mike!

    1. This comment was also a good word. I love how you talked about a clear and stunning portrait of Jesus as the great motivation.

      So good!

      Also Mike as always a wordsmith but also the way you put your ideas together, riveting to follow a strain of thought like you always do.

  2. gary b
    Dear Mr President
    The words of author Dallas Willard could afford you a chance of becoming something other than what you are now incapable of becoming. “Discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. ” Dallas Willard

    Sir, you are flying upside down in this world and the words of Jesus could direct you towards a way of discipline you desperately need. Matt. 6:22 “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. 23 If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!
    Live generously Mr President

  3. HI,
    I wanted to comment on the Bill Hybels situation

    I attend Willow Creek Community Church and have for about 25 years. I believe there are many unanswered questions and no proof presented yet to the congregation on the scandal of Bill Hybels. I haven’t spoken with the women but have a lot of unanswered questions like why did you continue to stay at the church?why didn’t your husbands step in to protect you? Bill very well could be guilty of all the accusations but I guess I am a women in the minority. Give us proof. Maybe that is yet to come when the investigation is complete.

    What I haven’t heard anyone speak about is did we the church pray for our pastor enough? I am sure he was a huge target for Satan. We all have sins in our live almost daily and I am sure the devil had a much larger target on Bill Hybels back. What I can emphatically say about Bill is I believe he loves God, has a heart for God, was a fantastic teacher to our church. Do I find it to all be hypocritical if it were true, no because we all our sinners. My son and husband were baptized at Willow and many people have come to faith through his ability to simply preach the Word of God and be able to reach people on a very simple level. If he is guilty of all charges, yes it has done a lot of harm to the church but God’s church will prevail. I am looking forward to the investigation completed and hopefully we can get some facts. I experience some unwanted gestures in the workplace myself so I am not without sympathy. I have a problem with the way the women handled this.

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