The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful [fill in the blank]

Recently, a friend of mine–former professor in Christian higher education, currently in the witness protection program hiding from the Christian Taliban–passed on to me this article by Eric Jackson (expert in Strategic Management) and published in Forbes, “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives.”

My friend felt this article spoke to some of his experiences, and he asked me what I thought. Knowing his story, I see his point.

Below is the author’s list of seven habits with a brief snippet from the article. I am NOT suggesting that all Christian organizations are implicated (sheesh), but the habits Jackson describes from the business world and those of some Christian organizations–whether academic, ecclesiastical, or para-church–are  disappointingly analogous.

And let me add, these habits pertain not only to Christian leaders. Defensiveness, arrogance, and stubbornness can be played out in each of our lives on a personal level.

Habit # 1:  They [executives] see themselves and their companies as dominating their environment. “CEOs who fall prey to this belief suffer from the illusion of personal pre-eminence: Like certain film directors, they see themselves as the auteurs of their companies.  As far as they’re concerned, everyone else in the company is there to execute their personal vision for the company.”

Habit #2:  They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests. “Instead of treating companies as enterprises that they needed to nurture, failed leaders treated them as extensions of themselves.  And with that, a ‘private empire’ mentality took hold.”

Habit #3:  They think they have all the answers. “Leaders who are invariably crisp and decisive tend to settle issues so quickly they have no opportunity to grasp the ramifications. Worse, because these leaders need to feel they have all the answers, they aren’t open to learning new ones.”

Habit #4:  They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them. “[B]y eliminating all dissenting and contrasting viewpoints, destructive CEOs cut themselves off from their best chance of seeing and correcting problems as they arise. Sometimes CEOs who seek to stifle dissent only drive it underground. Once this happens, the entire organization falters.”

Habit #5: They are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image. “When CEOs are obsessed with their image, they have little time for operational details.”

Habit #6: They underestimate obstacles. “[W]hen CEOs become so enamored of their vision, they often overlook or underestimate the difficulty of actually getting there. And when it turns out that the obstacles they casually waved aside are more troublesome than they anticipated, these CEO have a habit of plunging full-steam into the abyss.”

Habit #7: They stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past. “In their desire to make the most of what they regard as their core strengths, they cling to a static business model.They insist on providing a product to a market that no longer exists, or they fail to consider innovations in areas other than those that made the company successful in the past.”

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  • Hmmm… Christian Taliban? Are these the American (predominantly midwestern) insecure, defensive and self-absorbed people who seek to destroy anyone/anything who thinks differently than they regarding what it means to be a true worshiper of God? Beware! Truth, facts and reality are secondary to their commitment to protect their narrow tradition, personal and professional public image, and most of all, their local money networks and self-perpetuating power structures. They are alive and well in the 21st century, embody many of these listed characteristics, and represent a profound and pathological contradiction to the principles and teaching of Jesus.

    • Dan

      It’s not limited to the Midwest. Just look at the current Mike Licona brouhaha in the American South.

  • Hite Baker

    I enjoyed this post. Thanks. These seven habits should seem to spring directly from Martin Luther’s description of broken mankind as “man turned in upon himself”, versus being “open” to God and God’s world and the gospel.

  • The reference to Christian Taliban reminded me of another author who has been able to handle them fairly well, without needing to go underground. He has a new review article in the TLS–well, relatively new–that I found to be an enjoyable and thought provoking read: The Pope’s Life of Jesus. Despite the title, the article is actually a review of three books about Jesus.

    • peteenns

      This is far less of a problem in the UK, Mark, from what I understand–and even from talking with NTW about it. I could be wrong, of course. There are problems all over. But this is more of an American thing, it seems.

  • First, these characteristics haunt all theological streams. It could be said that there are mainline and conservative Talibans. But second, I’ve seen these characteristics actually advocated in church planting seminars — at least for a period of time. Denominations wanted the choleric, charismatic leader. They would throw in Bible verses on humility as after-thoughts, but they were encouraging the formation of fiefdoms and re-enforcing egotism. The result was the cultivation of personality cults.

  • eric kunkel

    Bad mgt. is everywhere. Many organizations promote according to the Peter Principle or promote people with technical proficiency and no organizational or people skills. I agree this occurs in religious and other institutions. Such is politics and goes back to Aristotle, at least.

    Actually, we should be happy. Although we may have show trials and the like, there still is liberty here. And no Taliban.

    But like the Mark Noll essay might imply — on the American Church History angle (I know Pete Enns referred to it recently), there is this unique American penchant for witch hunting behavior that stems from our individualism and related factors.

    This cultural timeline’s existence may be part of the lack of this behavior (currently) across the pond. But we started here too late to burn our Bishops.

    America has a short history, which runs just about concurrent with the advent of modern Biblical Criticism. So it does not seem unusual to me that we would be less pensive and quick to react.

    I am glad there is no real Taliban. No doubt people have been hurt by reactionary leaders. And also we luckily missed the long struggles of the Huguenots, the 30 Years War and the English killing each other over Rome, etc: Although Ireland, in the North and South remains an interesting, ongoing study in Fundamentalisms, and group and leadership behavior.


  • It seems to me that when NTW became a bish, he trimmed his sails somewhat–said things for the public that he hadn’t previously been saying, or if he had been saying such things he was now saying them with a new edge. I took it that he was trying to reassure his critics, if that were possible, that he was a true Protestant and not a crypto-Catholic as they claimed. Those critics, I agree, were part of his American public and, in the event, were not about to be mollified. Obviously that was all a function of his success–it isn’t every theologian or bishop who has the sort of international public that he has. I prefer the tone of his writing since he has returned to academia, as in the article I linked: straightforward scholarly criticism, rather than sniping for the galleries–who will never be satisfied anyway.