Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations – Part 4

Leadership Certification Checkpoints

and System Trustworthiness Checklist

I’ve been having conversations with researchers and writers about spiritual abuse since the mid-2000 decade. Since at least early in the 2010 decade, we’ve increasingly talked about creating some kind of evaluation or certification process that identifies (1) issues of power abuse by leaders and (2) toxic practices in organizations. We see this as necessary because so many training programs and “meta-organizations” – like church denominations, professional networks, and informal associations – don’t always have mechanisms in place for such processes. Resources to fill that need seem a natural byproduct of the Do Good Plus Do No Harm curriculum I’ve been developing. Some of these tools will come into play in it, while others will have to wait for time and teamwork to get them produced.

One very helpful concept for these resources comes out of the recovery movement of the 1980s and ’90s is the threefold stages of prevention, interception, and intervention in dealing with personal problems and addiction issues. I frequently apply this as an analogy to malignant leaders and to toxic organizational systems.

Intervention is the appropriate level of response when individuals are in serious trouble with behavior patterns that are harmful to themselves or others. They may be so bound up in that behavior that they don’t see the damage they’re doing, or they’ve refused to make changes. So, people who care about them stage “an intervention” to confront them with the reality of their destructive impact, which hopefully will motivate them to seek the treatment they need.

Interception is used when individuals show they are “at risk” of severe problems, but the patterns are not yet so ingrained that reversing direction will take the extreme efforts that it would if they needed an intervention instead.

Prevention involves teaching, care, and oversight early on, so, hopefully, healthy behaviors and habits dominate and destructive personal problems don’t get started or don’t take root.

Here is my first attempt to combine that recovery framework with specific aspects of leadership training and serving – and, if necessary, removal and restitution. I believe this is necessary because of the evidence all around us that theoretical training on what constitutes a “healthy” system is not taking root. We need help us reorient to the reality that it takes vigilance to stop abusive people and practices from permanently rooting into our organizational systems.

Leadership Certification Process ~ Assessment Checkpoints

My hunch has been that there are at least a dozen points where an organization should be evaluated for hosting or harboring malignant leaders, and keeping in place others who support them. With that comes reflection on the organization’s culpability (whether by passive or active promotion) and what steps it should take to make things right.

Note: I’ve geared the language in this list for faith-based organizations. I believe similar checkpoints and processes apply to other kinds of businesses and organizations.


1. Discipling – assessment and evaluation while teaching, training, and mentoring for leadership positions.

2. Internship rounds with close supervision and mentoring.

3. Ordination – certification or testing of theoretical knowledge in theology, ministry, and organizational management for non-profit or for-benefit alternatives.

4. Leadership candidate assessment – or evaluation of demonstrated behavioral and character qualifications.

5. Placement – matching potential locations of need/interest with candidates who have resources/interest.

6. Commendations – evaluating the reliability of assessments of outside individuals (especially well-known people) and entities (like publishers, conferences) whose acceptance and endorsement of the leader/candidate presents a recommendation of the person (and, implicitly, his/her character).


7. Serving – especially exercising oversight during probationary/early period.

8. Oversight and accountability systems – in other words, evaluating whether the oversight already in place is just theoretical, or is actual. For instance, is there a passive board in place, or do supposed overseers benefit financially from their involvement?

9. Identifying disqualifying character/behaviors – conduct periodic and ongoing assessments, based on the organization’s standards of what they can’t have and must have in their leaders.


10. Removal of leader for cause (character, behavior, etc.), potentially offering an open-ended and carefully overseen period of “recovery,” but with no promise of reinstatement.

11. Restitution to victims, to be made by the leader and others who directly perpetrated damaged, and/or by the organization(s) involved.

12. Restoration (potentially – and with no guarantees) for repentant-reformed-recovered perpetrator, but only after significant progress over sufficient time to demonstrate transformation and character to support a return to a role of a level of oversight over others.

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System Components Checklists – Six “S” Traits of Trustworthy Teamwork Spaces

Along the way in developing my curriculum on Do Good Plus Do No Harm, I’ve arrived at a set of six interlocking core issues that I believe we need to consider in designing and launching a start-up organization – or in evaluating a “legacy” institution and discerning what to do about it. These issues start moving us from our conceptual paradigm right into the concrete practicalities of trustworthy organizational systems.

The curriculum will feature definitions and expanded descriptions of each trait for “trustworthiness,” along with specific indicators to evaluate how well the organization does and where it needs to undergo transformation (or, if it is too toxic, just shut down). They are:

  • PowerSafe meeting ground for working together. There is respect for diversity, people are treated as colleagues – not slaves, and teamwork relies on people’s differences as a way toward corporate strength.
  • PeopleSuitable mission for the participants and recipients who are actually involved. The strategies, activities, and projects are strength-based and specific to the people and places involved, not generic roles that anyone could fill anywhere.
  • ResourcesScales of projects that match the context and make sense. Projects undertaken don’t overtax the current pool of participants – or place an unsustainable burden on people in the future to attempt completing the project or keep it going.
  • CulturesSensitive message to communicate across cultural borders and boundaries. This is about listening carefully and being considerate with engaging in cross-cultural conversations, in order to find or create common ground for the common good.
  • TrajectoriesSurvivable methods in light of unavoidable changes, both inside and outside of the organization. To keep moving forward into a future that includes us, we cannot stay static, or merely orbit around the ways we’ve always done things. In a world of constant change, that means automatic irrelevance and, at best, maintaining the machinery of movement when we’ve truly lost our way.
  • LegaciesSustainable momentum for the organization to last beyond two generations. An “institution” is sometimes defined as an organization lasting more than two generations. The difficultly is in how to pass on a legacy with flexibility so future participants are not bound by mission statements or methodologies that are impossible to make work in their era.

I think this is the minimum set of elements that we must grapple with, in evaluating whether our organization proves itself healthy enough for people to be involved with it. As I stated earlier, I believe these are interlocking issues. In over seven years of research writing focused on malignant leadership and toxic systems, my sense of things is that if there appears to problems in any of these six everyday dimensions of function, there are likely problems at a similar level in all six of them.

Also, in combining this list with the one on leaders, my hunch is that, the higher the level of malignant leadership and system toxicity, the more likely the potential for legal and regulatory issues that put the organization at risk for investigation, findings of culpability, and financial liability. Examples: Inurement (illegal financial benefit to organizational insiders) and other conflicts of interest, failure in mandatory reporting of known/suspected child abuse, hostile work environment, and defamation and/or harassment of former members.

I am convinced that an integrative paradigm naturally leads to holistic strategic plans that consider all six of these elements simultaneously – as well as considering non-abusive goals that benefit the quadruple bottom line of community, ecology, economy, and spirituality. This is in large part why I have invested myself in completing this curriculum.

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Series Links: Building Blocks in a Certification System for Healthy Leaders and Holistic Organizations

Part 1 – Introducing “Do Good Plus Do No Harm”

Part 2 – Top 20 Problems I’ve Encountered in Organizations

Part 3 – Top 10 Dimensions Our Systems Need to Equip Participants and Counteract Abuse of Power

Part 4 – Leadership Certification Checkpoints and System Trustworthiness Checklist