The Amiable Autocrat

Sam Rainer

October 25, 2009

I found myself last week in a friendly exchange with a ministry team leader about one line item in their budget. Then I realized I was micro-managing. Even though my intentions were good, and my tone pleasant, I was still acting like an autocrat.

Nice dictators exist, at least in the leadership sense. I refer to these types of leaders in the church as amiable autocrats. Friendly church dictators rule from their positional authority. They order everyone around because their title enables them to do so, and they do it with a smile.

Amiable autocrats are typically well-liked by the general congregation, but their teams are miserable. These church leaders genuinely like other people, but they do not want to help transform them. They enjoy bossing others, and they assume that their direct reports like it that way as well.

What does an amiable autocrat look like? Here are a few characteristics:

  • They have a total lack of self-awareness. They lead from their friendliness, and they think that their relationships are enough to warrant their commands.
  • They avoid conflict at all costs or anything else that may affect their friendly image.
  • They project their weaknesses on others. Have you ever been reviewed by a superior only to think that he reviewed himself and gave you his score? Amiable autocrats frustrate direct reports by seeing their own faults in others.
  • They are liked by outsiders, but they irritate insiders. People who report to friendly dictators typically do not despise their bosses. But these followers do feel trapped and irritated. For example, a congregation may have no clue about the leadership style of their pastor, and the direct reports cannot address the issue with the leader because he’s not self-aware enough to realize his problems.
  • They’ve stolen credit from others for so long that it’s a natural process for them. They don’t even know they’re doing it anymore.
  • They insist on relaying all the good news to the congregation; they also figure out ways to have others communicate bad news.
  • They are optimistic about the wrong things. Friendly dictators are rarely negative, but they praise the wrong metrics. They pick the wrong team leaders. They promote the wrong people. They get the congregation fired up about the wrong vision.
  • They micro-manage irrelevant details. Amiable autocrats waste hours of staff meetings discussing irrelevant topics and details. They’re more concerned with things like service order than with things like the discipleship process. They will dictate instructions on the minutia and neglect the bigger picture.

Reporting to an amiable autocrat is better than serving under a tyrant. But it is one of the most frustrating ministry positions. What other characteristics help describe an amiable autocrat? If you’ve served under someone like this, how did you handle it?

9 comments on “The Amiable Autocrat”

  1. Marvin says:

    Thanks. Nothing like taking a hard look at yourself at 7 in the morning.

  2. Ahkeem Morella says:

    Great post Sam. Frankly I would rather serve under a clear-cut dictator than an amiable autocrat. At least the dictator is not duplicitous.

  3. Jim Martin says:

    Sam, this is a very good post. You said it well. This is helpful as I reflect on how others experience being my co-workers.

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  6. Cassidy says:

    Thank you SO much for this wise, well-written post. I work for an amiable autocrat (senior pastor)–a female amiable autocrat. This is my first church job. You hit the nail on the head. I had no idea what I was dealing with before, but now I’m better understanding how to maintain a good relationship with our senior pastor.

    God Bless 🙂

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