I have amended a previous version of this post as, on reflection, some of the comments (whether true or not) read like I was taking pleasure in the downfall or shortcomings of others. I hope the following is more gracious.
We were fortunate to have been able to hear the journalist Tom Bower speak recently. He has made his name from exposing some of the shadier doings of many big names in commerce, sport and politics.
Some of his anecdotes were quite illuminating. As a child I was aware of Tiny Rowland's company Lonrho in the news and that, as I recall, there were always question marks over it, but Tom's account of how Rowland came across his wealth to begin with was the stuff of Boy's Own (if there was an edition devoted to fraud and blackmail). I was also aware of Rowland and Al-Fayed's fighting over the control of Harrod's, but I hadn't heard the story about Al-Fayed getting a safe cracker to break into Tiny's safe deposit box in the Harrod's basement (and thereby uncovering the blackmail plot alluded to above). On the way home we were thinking about some of these things in relation to Christian leadership.
Tiny Rowland, for example, was quoted as finishing board meetings by saying "All those in favour say 'Aye'. All those against resign". It is all to easy to surround oneself with people of the same mind, or who are intimidated into silence. I found Bower's analysis of Tony Blair's cabinet fascinating. Sadly, for Blair (and the rest of us) his main opponent was Gordon Brown - but rather than forcing Blair to argue his case and thereby (possibly) ensure that the decision making process behind the Iraq War was transparent and accountable, Brown seemed to have preferred briefing against colleagues which did not provide adequate time for open argument and debate. The only other cabinet member who opposed Blair publicly on the war was Robin Cook, but he was a loner who didn't have the personality to create the friendships and alliances to create the necessary forum for genuine opposition.
Another of Bower's points is that these men tend to loom large over us during their lives, but quite incredibly leave little in the way of legacy, for example an account of Lonrho's demise from the FT is here. Branson in particular is very good at playing the "public benefit" card, but Bower portrays him as very mean, even with those who have helped him achieve his undoubted success and using smoke and mirrors to obscure this. Similarly Maxwell had huge public attention during his life, but other than a warning against surrounding oneself with "yes men" there is little left of his empire.
A common element, as drawn by Bower, amongst these men is an unrestrained love of power and self-promotion in which the public image becomes all important. There was a fabulous story of Conrad Black, whose downfall began with a meal in New York with a very wealthy financier. Black had to leave early to catch a flight back to the UK and so gave his apologies. In the taxi to the airport his wife said it had been the most humiliating moment of her life. The next day Black bought a private jet so he would never have to be seen to be tied to scheduled flights again - but his finances were nowhere near sufficient to support such ostentatious running costs, thereby triggering his need to have to massage the figures to make ends meet.
For a Christian leader these three traps are potentially fatal.
It is vital that we ensure there is a strength of opposition and an outlet which allows for gracious conflict so that we are accountable and ideas are challenged. I love the idea that at Apple there was often quite fierce argument over new products because it was vital that the best ideas won. It is far too easy for us to seek to fill positions around us with people who are already on our wavelength and like what we are proposing.
These megalomaniacs seem to act so as to hollow out existing institutions for their own ends, and after their passing leave an empty shell which crumbles into dust. In a Church setting it is imperative that we remain fully focussed on the Kingdom - because that is the only legacy which is worth leaving. If not then we run the risk of hollowing out the Church we are leading so that it can only function with us at the centre. As an individual it is only natural that we want to leave something of a legacy behind us, but it can't be about us - the legacy is (and can only be) the life of Jesus flourishing in others.
Image can be a real weakness. If, for example, we are not fully commited to the life of grace (which means living by grace when we "win" an argument) then we cannot risk allowing ourselves into the position where we might "lose", and so begins a spiral into a place where we can never allow ourselves to be wrong. Rather, the best leader must surely be able to recognise being on the wrong path, and publicly model apology and confession (if needed) and redemption by Jesus back onto the right one.