Week 46: Signs of an Autocratic Spirit

Upon reading the last two blogs about “needing to be needed,” one reader became concerned they might be such a person without knowing it. They asked for more symptoms or signs. Since needing to be needed as a leader can be an autocratic trait, let’s address some other traits.

First, we live in a world that intersects with a spiritual world. Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in heavenly realms by which authorities on earth are influenced. We must discern the spirits manipulating leaders to act “autocratically” over the people they’re called to serve. Satan and his minions are aggressive, pushy, and controlling—always attempting to dethrone God and enthrone self. They’ll do everything possible to ally themselves with the sinful nature and mold the “works” of the flesh into a leadership style.

As leaders, we’ll always contend with our sinful, carnal soul. The “works” of the flesh are in a perpetual state of war against the Spirit of God within us.[1] We must maintain our guard and never presume “we’ve got this.” Some of the “works” of the flesh are listed as idolatry (covetousness), witchcraft (manipulation), discord (undermining unity), jealousy, fits of rage (uncontrolled temper), selfish ambition (a need to be first), factions (a party spirit), and envy.[2]

Carnal acts of the flesh are at the core of autocratic leadership styles manifested in a variety of ways. Paul warns us that those who live like this won’t inherit the kingdom of God.[3] Why not? Because it’s not God’s kingdom they’re building; it’s their own kingdom, using God’s name to do it. In this kingdom of Mansoul,[4] God’s will isn’t manifested on earth as it is in heaven. It’s merely a veneer of religion, with Christ as the mascot.

Works of the flesh in an autocratic leader is contrary to the fruit of the spirit.[5] A non-autocratic leader is loving, joyful, peaceful (or calm), patient (not easily annoyed by people), morally good, faithful (reliable or constant), gentle and self-controlled. Against such traits there is no judgment, no accusation, no criticism.[6] Instead, it creates an atmosphere among people who demonstrate the same virtues. You see no discord, no jealousy or envy, no factions, no party spirit, and a loyalty that’s never demanded but inspired by a leader who promotes others.

In a congregation or organization like that, led by a leader like that—the kingdom of God is inherited. His will in heaven manifests itself among members of the church (or organization) imitating the example of their leader. In such a leader’s life, Satan finds no ally, no foothold, no handle to grab hold of and manipulate. This leader has put to death, any claim or right to possess anything but the privilege and honor to love and serve God’s people.

Here are some of the telltale signs of an autocratic spirit. I’ll begin with this phrase:

You might be an autocrat if you…

  • Shame and guilt people into—submission to your authority, giving or tithing, volunteering to serve, being in every church service.
  • Publicly berate people for being late to church.
  • Tell people what they should eat and drink, or not eat and drink, watch or not watch, listen to or not listen to, wear or not wear, believe or not believe—according to your standards.
  • Use sarcasm to manipulate people toward a desired goal, followed with, “Just kidding.”
  • Cut down other preachers or teachers from the pulpit and condemn them by name.
  • Call out, point out, or publicly humiliate someone who gets up to leave the room while you’re speaking.
  • Insist on or expect respect to be shown to you by means of acknowledging your title, your role, your authority, or through gifts and celebrations given for your anniversary, birthday or pastor’s appreciation day.
  • Are unyielding in dogmatic pet doctrines, sacred cows, or personal preferences that are non-essential and unsubstantiated in scripture, other than by obscure passages out of context.
  • Write people off or mark them publicly when they’ve chosen to leave the church (or company) without your permission or blessing.
  • Insist or imply (from the pulpit) that members are in rebellion to God (i.e., not submitted to authority) if they’re not in compliance or agreement with church policies and/or doctrine.
  • Allow no freedom for questions, debate, or discussion about non-essential differences without the consequence of being ostracized by the leaders and members of the church.
  • Constantly make people aware of your disappointment in them or their performance either subtly or openly.
  • Attempt to motivate people by fear rather than inspiration.
  • Micro-manage your staff and volunteers. That is, you require small, detailed, administrative decisions in your team or departments to be run by you, first.
  • Are jealous of the praise given to others with similar strengths, gifts or talents as yours.
  • Surround yourself with “yes” men and women instead of independent thinkers.
  • Use flattery on others you want to use or gain something from to further your agenda.
  • Pit people against others (overtly or covertly) who aren’t on board with your goals.
  • Force people to take sides with you through threat or fear of losing their positions and relationship to you.

Unity, faithfulness, giving, volunteering, loyalty, oversight, submission to authority, doctrinal unity, respecting authority, honoring your leaders, observing required policies, firing or removing insubordinate staff or volunteer workers, etc. are legitimate things. Biblical principles and common sense support these areas that affect the working relationship between leaders and followers, employers and employees.

The difference, however, lies in how the leader goes about getting these things done. Whether it’s a healthy outcome or not is determined by the motivation and spirit behind the leader. The inflexible, autocratic leader unwisely demands, insists, intimidates and shames people into achieving these principles and goals.

The flexible, non-autocratic leader wisely inspires people through empowerment, promotion, unconditional love and care, genuine affirmation, and educational benefits to improve the performance of the team. Creating a healthy team, in a happy environment comes down to which spirit and motivation is driving the leader. The carnal works of the flesh aligned with demonic influence, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. How do you align in this, and with which spirit do you align?


[1] Galatians 5:17

[2] Galatians 5:19-21a

[3] Galatians 5:21b

[4] A town in John Bunyan’s classic: Pilgrim’s Progress.

[5] Galatians 5:17

[6] Galatians 5:22-23

Posted on March 6, 2017 in Leadership

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