We leaders often enjoy the affirmation and adulation of others as we express our ideas, provide direction, and set future courses. And we sometimes enjoy it so much that we only want people to agree with us and affirm us, even if we are wrong.
It’s called echo chamber leadership. Properly defined, it’s an environment in which leaders encourage and encounter only beliefs or opinions that match their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas and pushback are not considered.
For certain, it’s very dangerous. And Christian leaders are not invulnerable to it, far from it. Indeed the evangelical celebrity culture exacerbates the problem.
What are some key issues that help us leaders not fall into the echo chamber leadership trap? Here are six considerations:
1. It is the leader’s responsibility to avoid the echo chamber. We can’t lay the blame on the shoulders of those who may be under our leadership. Leaders may have firing or some other type of punitive authority over them. Leaders must take the necessary steps, not the leader’s followers.
2. Sycophants are extremely dangerous. They take the echo chamber to its extreme to let leaders know how wonderful they are. They gush over them, fawn over them, and seek to please them unendingly. Leaders can really enjoy such adulation and attention. They can make the leader seem the paragon of perfection. Such pride is a forerunner to a fall.
3. Leaders must seek out people who care enough about them to speak truth to them. A few years ago, Brad Waggoner, the number two leader at LifeWay, said some things to me that really ticked me off. I let him know I was not happy. His response: “I care more about you than the consequences of telling you. Go on and fire me.” Such friends are priceless, especially if they work for you. By the way Brad was right and I was wrong.
4. Social media and blogs can drive leadership to the echo chamber. Because any critic, naysayer, or nutcase can have a voice in the digital world, leaders can be tempted to withdraw to the seeming comfort and affirmation of the echo chamber. But the echo chamber is actually more dangerous than exposure to the critics and the crazies.
5. The leader’s response to contrary opinions and criticisms will send a message to the watching world. I was in the room when someone suggested a contrary opinion to the leader. He blew up like an implosion with 1,000 sticks of dynamite. We got the message. Don’t say a word unless we agree with him and can affirm him.
6. Moral failure is common among leaders who dwell in echo chambers. These leaders are convinced they are God’s gifts to humanity. They are the smartest person in the room. After all, everyone has told them so. They cannot fail. They will not be tempted. Then they are tempted and they fall. And they usually fall hard.
Nathan is one of my heroes of Scripture. He had the courage to speak truth and confront King David (2 Samuel 12). The consequences could have been dire and deadly. But Nathan loved David too much not to speak truth to him.
I am thankful for those who have Nathan-like courage. And, at least in this case, I am thankful for leaders who respond like David.
The echo chamber is a siren song. It leads to failure, destruction, and even death.
None of us leaders are exempt. Stay strong in the Lord.