We close this series on biblical solutions to destructive leadership on the Christian college campus with two final practices: Be JFK and Leave Quietly.
See parts one, two, three, and four here.)
Practice #6: Be JFK
Respond only to positive communication; ignore negative statements.
Years ago, I adopted President John F. Kennedy’s willful ignorance of a certain communication style from Russian adversaries. I use the method even with allies who are upset and write something unhelpful, knowing the heat of emotion hurts even friends at times.
In searching for a solution to a troubling issue, I practice responding only to positive communication containing no vitriol or sarcasm. I use the JFK method with messages containing unjustified rebuke, needless sarcasm, and undue harsh rhetoric—I act as though the messages never arrived and do not exist.
One takeaway from the Cuban missile crisis has the potential to defuse many of our problematic reactions to our adversaries. At the height of the crisis, Kennedy received a cable denoting a conciliar tone. Kennedy believed it was the influence of the Soviet Union’s premiere, Nikita Khrushchev. Before Kennedy responded to the cable, he received a new cable demonstrating a severe tone. Kennedy believed this cable to be from the Politburo, the hardcore cluster of generals controlling the Soviet military.
In a calculated gamble, Kennedy ignored the hardline Politburo cable and responded to Khrushchev as if the Politburo cable never arrived. The gamble ultimately played a powerfully constructive part in diffusing the crisis.
Two things happen almost immediately when you ignore negative statements and respond only to helpful communication. A third, the great bonus, may occur as well.
First, the level of rancor subsides and the damage to both parties is less severe because the war of words does not continue to escalate.A war of words is like two guys moving up one rung of a ladder every time the conflict escalates.
As combatants move up the ladder, the ladder becomes increasingly unstable, and each person finds himself in a growing precariousness. The higher the climb due to the escalation, the more damaging the fall.
Keeping the conflict level as low as possible means each man survives with fewer injuries.
Second, ignoring caustic messages from adversaries encourages more businesslike communication, stating fact, feeling, and desired outcomes without innuendo and sarcasm.
If two opponents can speak truth to each other without the escalation of emotions, many times solutions are at hand. Remove the negatives and common ground is more visible. Perhaps one person is still in error, but neither party has lasting damage.
The great bonus in JFKing someone is that when opposing parties are not damaged, people have a chance at a more friendly style of relationship.
Without emotions clouding the issue, essential facts might begin to emerge with clarity. Feelings are not abandoned; however, heightened emotions with their attending innuendo and sarcasm are avoided.
Practice #7: Leave Quietly
When you have tried every road to overcome evil with good behavior, and all avenues lead to a dead end, it may be time to leave. Most of us leave too early; however, a few of us stay much too long. No matter the circumstance —no matter the circumstance—when you leave, leave quietly.
I could not get past a certain problem. I had been employed for only a few months when I realized four people had a stranglehold on eight major areas. For example, when I asked about the budget, the bookkeeper said, “We print a financial statement; if there is something you need to know in the meantime, I’ll let you know.”
This was repeated in various ways for all the major areas. I became frustrated.
I met with the leadership. I prayed. I sought counsel from other colleagues. I tried to work with the four people. I tried to work around the four people. I admit, I tried to work behind the four people. No attempt succeeded.
Multiple times I walked an empty building asking God to change the four hearts, move them from that location, or take them home so embarrassment to the Kingdom would cease.
I held if King David could pray imprecatory prayers, so could I:
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
~ Psalm 69:23–25
To this day I am not sorry I prayed that way; although I get raised eyebrows when I recount the story to friends or parishioners. I can see your eyebrows at this moment.
After months of pleading with God and endless conversations with my wife about our future, we quietly left. No scorched earth. No temper tantrum. No departing martyr’s speech. The truth was that nearly everyone knew why we were leaving. They experienced the stranglehold themselves.
Let me pause again and provide another spiritual certainty. A scorched earth policy as you leave is a sign of immaturity. Contaminating the land in your rearview mirror is self-centeredness. Leaving a wake of confusion in your departure is a sign of selfish, sinful behavior.
If you must leave, leave quietly.
To conclude this five-part series overcoming destructive leadership behavior on the Christian college campus:
Overcome destructive behavior by righteous works.
Confront sin privately.
Decline warrior status.
Decline political status.
Practice catch and release.
Close the dump.
(Adapted from INCOMING! How to Survive Destructive Behavior of Your Local Christian Leaders, by Dr. Bruce Cannon. [email protected])