Leadership Coups and Other Power Plays

Categories leadership

It is time for a conversation about the darkside of leadership.

For some reason, even when heinous leadership behavior occurs in Christian circles it is common to gloss over these behaviors with polite and spiritually baptized verbal gymnastics.

I want to lobby for a new day. I want to suggest that it is time we name inappropriate behavior for what it really is. I think it is time we recognize that there are “sins of leadership” which do long term damage to the very people leaders are called to serve. By becoming more honest in the way we describe our actions, we have the chance of becoming more aware and more accountable for them as well.

Just two categories of such behavior.

You know what a coup looks like during a hostile military takeover. In the church or other organization, it is a coup when one person or party which is not in power, manipulatively or clandestinely consolidates power and then forcibly ousts currently appointed leadership.

An example:
A church planter seeking to build a culture of shared leadership in his church, was caught by surprise when one of his elders had been working his relationships in order to develop a larger personal platform. Ultimately, this elder had gathered enough support to call for the “philosophically-driven” decision to eliminate paid ministry staff and in the process oust the founding pastor. What happened in phase two of his effort was that he maneuvered himself into the role of senior pastor. It was a coup.

Blackmail is the act of holding someone or a group of people hostage through either the threat of painful action or an expensive demand of some sort. The key threads to recognize are: 1.) there is always a threat; and 2.) that threat carries very painful consequences to it.


A ministry leader, unhappy with the direction of his church, networked a group of wealthy church members and presented an ultimatum complete with specific demands and details about what should be done to please them. The bottom line of this ultimatum? If the change we seek is not made, all of us will withold our financial support.

We need to look each other in the eye and call that kind of public threat what it is, blackmail. To threaten a group like that, to give an ultimatum, puts the entire congregation into a no-win situation. It forces people to choose sides and creates only painful options. It is an intimidation tactic. It is blackmail.

Power plays might be one way to get what we want, but this kind of political maneuvering leaves radioactive fallout that takes forever to dissipate. There are always other options for how people, decisions, processes, and leaders can be treated. But when people act this way, it’s time we call power plays like these what they really are. Furthermore, it is time that all of us pay careful attention to the way we wield influence of leadership.

1 thought on “Leadership Coups and Other Power Plays

  1. Great stuff, Gary. I agree. Let’s call inappropriate leadership what it is.

    So we spot it as blackmail, would you give some suggestions about what we might do about it as it happens? What approaches might lessen the “radioactive fallout”? Or are we doomed by no-win situations?


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