Upside Down Leadership


Leadership is broken because leaders are unbroken

“Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter.  She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent—and flew straight into the ground.  She was unaware that she was flying upside down.”1

Nothing describes much of current leadership more completely than this. Assuming that what they have been told about leadership is true and thinking they are about to take off into the stratosphere of success, many leaders pull back on the throttle—and crash and burn in sudden and unexpected failure.  What happened?

They confused the functional with the foundational in leadership and turned to the idols of success and significance in their hearts.  Like Solomon, they turned their hearts away from trust in the true God to reliance on their own wisdom to establish their power and protect themselves.

In his day Solomon faced both opportunities and danger.  Militant leaders who could easily join forces and overcome him surrounded Solomon.  He needed to protect himself from those more powerful than he, so he made a brilliant move:  he created marriage alliances with all the near-by kings by taking their daughters as his wives. By doing this Solomon shows us that his heart was governed by the power factor.  We see Solomon's need for power when we realize that each of his wives was a princess, so every time he married he not only got a wife—he got a father-in-law with an army.

What a clever move!  It was the wisdom of Solomon in action as he built covenants with the rulers around him so if any attacked him, all attacked them.  This was far more effective than NATO.  Solomon had fail-safe power, except that God, his true source of power, was displeased because Solomon became swayed by his wives’ idols.  You see, along with a new wife and a new father-in-law, Solomon also got a new idol each time he married, and these idols, taking advantage of the principle of except, became the rulers of his life.  For Solomon, his early exception—worshipping idols—became the lifelong rulers of his life.  So late in life, when Solomon powered up in order to accelerate to new highs with his son as his successor, he discovered his fatal error:  he crashed and burned because his functional need for power had replaced his foundational need for trust.  He was flying upside down.

And you?  Are you flying upside down?  Better be sure the power factor does not control your heart.  Upside down leadership can only go one way:  CRASH!

(from "Upside Down Leadership" on

1.  Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, (Harper San Francisco, 1998), p. 3


Bill Lawrence

Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.