The Frustrating Paradox of Serving with an Amiable Autocrat

It’s possible to be a pleasant tyrant.

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 enjoy telling them what to do even more. 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 complete lack of self-awareness. They lead from their friendliness, and they think 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 she reviewed herself and gave you her 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 far better than serving under an abusive tyrant. Frankly, the charisma of a friendly dictator can often grow churches. But serving with such a leader is a frustrating paradox of seeing good ministry happen while at the same time not being able to speak into any improvements for the future.

Posted on September 15, 2021

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • So how does a church staff member deal with an amiable autocrat?

  • Kevin L Williams Sr says on

    I’m a Minister Elect in a startup church but my heart belongs to a church that has flat lined!!? I have ran from my calling for to many years!!?? I am determined to be obedient to the call!!!!!

  • Great and timely post!
    I believe a lot of good people are lost from ministries because of this, especially the stealing credit part, and they think leaving is their only option.

    I would love to hear more about what you think is the best way to work with such a person?


    • Sam Rainer says on

      Thanks Jason! I’ll have to give a follow-up post some thought.

      • Sam,
        GREAT post! We are living this reality right now in our church body!
        I am a fan of identifying problems and asking great questions.
        Even more a fan of – What now?
        This is the current reality, it is a fact, so how do I effectively deal with the Amiable Autocrat?