Lessons on Leadership from a Cult Survivor (Guest Post)

Lessons on Leadership from a Cult Survivor (Guest Post)

Today’s guest post comes from Dan Erickson.  He blogs at www.danerickson.net.  I think every leader will connect with the things he writes about below, regardless of our background.  Check out the guest post, leave a comment, and head on over to Dan’s blog and show him some love!  (If you would like to write a guest post, click here.)

When I was a boy my dad was a preacher.  He had a love for God, but he felt as though his congregation was missing something. So he left the church and we moved out West to become part of what he told me was a “special group of people.”  Well, you might have guessed by the title of this post that it was a cult.  That’s right, at the tender age of 10, I wound up a child victim of an extreme cult.

Looking back, I realized that I learned some things about leadership by watching the cult leader.  I learned a few things that good leaders should never do.  The leader of the group I was exposed to as a child was selfish, overbearing, and lacked empathy.  He did not lead by example or out of an understanding heart, but rather he led from a position of false authority and he had a threatening quality about him.  Here are five things I learned that good leaders should never do:

  1. Good leaders should never act in anger.  Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated with our team members, but a good leader will hold his or her anger.  Anger does not help the team but spreads like wildfire.  When a leader gets angry, the followers act out of fear.  Fear does not foster productivity or creativity.  It stifles the spirit.
  1. Good leaders don’t always insist that they are right.  Sometimes others know more than you.  In the cult, the leader always had the final say.  He claimed he was right even when there was a better way to complete a task.  He never gave his followers any freedom.  Recently, I spoke with some of the leader’s former “top men.”  They told me that they were nothing but puppets.
  1. Good leaders don’t threaten their followers.  In the cult we were often told we would be beaten if we did not comply.  We were also told that the leader had ties to the mob and he could take anyone out if they tried to escape.  These methods were effective only at keeping people in check, but not as a way to help people grow as individuals.  Good leaders want their team members to grow and succeed, even if it means they surpass.
  1. Good leaders should not be uncaring.  I believe that one of the best qualities of a leader is empathy.  Not only did the leader of the cult of my youth lack empathy, he was uncaring.  When I was hurt in a work accident he did not allow me to go to the doctor.  He simply told me to rest for a day and get back to work.  When I couldn’t keep up with the older boys and men he scolded me.  I was a 90-pound kid.  He had no empathy.
  1. Good leaders don’t manipulate or deceive.  As an adult I can look back at my childhood experience and see that the leader of the group lied to his followers repeatedly.  He used the Bible as a tool but he also changed the stories to fit his cause.  He manipulated both the Word of God and those he preached to.

I’m sure there are many other things you might add to this list of what good leaders should not do.  I know I could.

Thankfully, I was able to get out of that cult by the time I turned 16.  I have since worked with many good leaders.  But sometimes we can learn a lot by studying the wrong behaviors.  Cult leaders are a classic example.

Question: What other qualities or behaviors should good leaders never show?  Post your answers below.

Dan Erickson was a child victim of a cult.  He escaped the cult at age 16.  He wrote a book about his experience.  A Train Called Forgiveness is a semi-fictionalized version of his story.  Dan is currently a single dad and a college instructor.  He is a follower of Christ.  You can learn more about Dan and his writing, including poetry and songs at http://www.danerickson.net.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons on Leadership from a Cult Survivor (Guest Post)

  1. It’s amazing the lessons we can learn in life- even through bad experiences.
    I’m glad you were able to learn about what NOT to do from that experience. Thanks for sharing it Dan.

    1. Great point TCAvey! I think a lot of my experiences with leadership came from bad examples…especially in the early days. Thanks for posting!!

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