What to Do With an Antagonistic “Leader”

by Andy Wood on November 18, 2014

in Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase, Since You Asked, Waiting


There’s no question that Anthony is a leader in the making.  His dad raised him to think for himself and test everything, and fully expects Anthony to outdo him.  And Anthony has accepted the invitation, so to speak.  He’s a visionary, a solution seeker, and has a bias for action, not just talk.

That said, Anthony is young and inexperienced.  At least that’s what he’s told whenever he offers up an idea to Gary the Gatekeeper, Anthony’s boss and longtime mentor.  Anthony does have some experience, and is about to complete his degree in college.  But Gary the Gatekeeper still discredits anything Anthony offers by way of vision for the future.

“When I want to take action,” Anthony says, “I have to go to him and wait a month or more before he even looks at it.  And so I can’t get anything done!”  He adds, “Whenever I offer constructive criticism, Gary acts as though he’s under attack.”  Anthony concludes, “What can you do with a leader who won’t let you grow up?”

It’s a fair question.  How do you respond to a “leader” who spends more time blocking you than leading you?  I should start by saying that such a person is not a leader in the truest sense of the word.  The root nature of mature leadership doesn’t seek just to generate blind, thoughtless followers, but to enflame and empower a new generation of leaders.  And at some point that requires some letting go.

But what happens when the leader has his own growing up to do?  How should Anthony, or any other emerging leader, respond to an insecure control freak who is in a position of power or authority?

Start with Four Qualifying Questions

Before taking irreversible drastic action, let me offer a few questions to think though. How you respond to these will help set an effective course of action.

1.  Is time the only thing missing? I totally get what it’s like to live with the frustration of being told to wait, wait, wait.  Wait on the Lord. Wait on your opportunity.  Wait on the right time.  Wait for the right circumstances.  However, in many cases, the only thing missing from the equation in the final analysis is time. That’s why David repeatedly howled in Psalms, “How long, O Lord?”  If the only thing missing is time, shut up and give God time.

2.  Are you completely prepared to “drink the cup” of leadership or independence? Your boss obviously thinks you aren’t, and your boss, despite his insecurities, may be right.  For emerging leaders who are ready to spread their wings, nothing looks more appealing.  Until you get there, that is.  Everything has its drudgery, and if you aren’t prepared for the pressure and challenge of being large and in charge, then pick today’s nuisance over tomorrow’s.  At least today’s is something you’re familiar with.

3.  Are you absolutely certain that you have done everything in your power (or God’s) to give the present situation a chance to work or improve? Again, this seems like a question with an obvious answer, but often those who say they’ve tried everything really haven’t – they’ve just tried everything that came naturally or looked easy.

4.  Are you prepared to leave the current organization? In Anthony’s situation it isn’t likely that Gary the Gatekeeper is going anywhere anytime soon. And even if Gary did leave, what people often discover is that the problem isn’t Gary himself, but the organization that allows for the gatekeepers of this world to exist in the first place.  I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve known who chafed and howled at their situation, but didn’t want to leave the business, church or nonprofit, for a variety of reasons.  If you don’t plan to leave, and Gary the Gatekeeper and his ilk don’t plan to leave, then prepare yourself for more waiting and probably more frustration.

Still Here?  A Few More Suggestions

Okay if you’ve navigated through those four questions and are still dealing with the frustration and are ready for some sort of change, here are some suggestions based on the Bible’s instruction to another emerging leader:

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe…. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:12, 14-16 NASU).

1.  Focus on your example.

Leadership is about being an example others can follow, and Paul mentions five specific areas:  speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.  The biggest mistake you can make is to focus on your frustrations and desires for different circumstances.  Focus on being the kind of person who can lead the kind of people or organization you want to lead.

2.  Exercise your gifts.

You are uniquely designed and empowered by God to serve in certain ways that are as unique to you as a snowflake.  Antagonistic leaders may be frustrating, but if they allow you to use your gifts, use them.  If they block you from the areas in which you are called and gifted to serve, however, then you will need to seek the Lord about opportunities to exercise those gifts in other areas.

3.  Prioritize your growth over your circumstances.

Here’s the part you don’t want to hear.  Paul tells Timothy to take great pains in doing what he does to show those around him that he is growing. Impatient emerging leaders want to change their environment.  That will come eventually.  But no outward change is as important as the inner growth and transformation necessary to move you forward in leadership.

4.  Persevere until the new opportunity arises.

Another thing you may not want to hear.  But as long as you are where you are, keep doing what you do with excellence and commitment.  You take care of faithfulness, and let God take care of where you get to exercise that faithfulness.


Now… when the new opportunity does arise (and it will), repeat these four things again and again, starting with the graciousness with which you are an example in saying good-bye to Gary the Gatekeeper.  He’ll probably take the credit for your success, but that’s OK.  Just keep exercising your gifts with perseverance and growth.   Don’t burn any bridges behind you.  Let God take care of insecure non-leaders (and He will).

Your day is coming.  When it does, may it dawn on your faithful service and ready perseverance.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Martha Orlando November 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Such wonderful advice for all those persons who wish to lead! Thanks, Andy!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Lord, Make Firm My Steps

Julie December 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm

This is so amazing. I’m not in the situation where I’m being held back by a “Gary”… but the points made, especially the last four, are a very impactful reminder of my blessings and responsibilities as a leader.

Thank you!

Jaret June 20, 2016 at 5:13 am

Thanks for the kind mention! I hope people will have a lot of fun with the solution and get some peace of mind in the ‘ leadership’ category.

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