The Black-and-White Thinking Leader

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities.  If you think back through all the leaders you’ve been under, whether in church or in employment, or even instructing you as teachers, you’ll find that there are strengths and weaknesses with all of them.  Some leaders or teachers you liked.  Some you would like to forget.  Some are more personable and caring, while others were more concerned with production and processes.  Which type of leader did you respect the most?  Enjoy the most? Or was most effective as a leader?

Black-and-white thinking leaders are typically those who value processes and production over the individual concerns of the people.  That’s not to say people are not valued, but they are more valued because of what they do, not who they are as a person.  People are valued in that they are the workers who produce work and meet standards, though personal feelings and concerns may be ignored or dismissed.  Those who produce more are valued greater and respected more than those who produce less or do not produce at all.  If the concrete items of production, attendance, or other standard is subpar, they are seen as “doing the wrong thing,” failing, or they may be dismissed altogether.

I can recall that my 4th grade teacher greatly valued hard work, responsibility and follow-through.  Although I did my homework regularly, I sometimes forgot it at home.  As I did this a few times, she would be annoyed and took to calling me “Forgetful Fred” with a frown and a shake of the head showing her disappointment.  She obviously valued completed and turned in work over any hurt feelings.  Yet my 6th grade teacher was the opposite (a Relational Leader).  She would choose to give encouragement and showed that she valued the person more than she did the production.  The production, of course, was not ignored, but her concern was more for the person.  Any lack of production meant there was something wrong with the person, and she set out to encourage the person and get to know them better.  The result was often better production.  She was my favorite teacher (Thank you, Mrs. Crumb!).  To put it succinctly, black-and-white thinking leaders often value the production over the person, while relational thinking leaders typically value the person over the production.

Black-and-white thinking leaders have several strengths.  One of the purposes of leading an organization or church is to accomplish the mission, or produce what is guided by the vision.  Since the black-and-white thinker focuses on the tangible, that is, what is produced, they are often driven to achieve success and to measure it accordingly.  If you produce items, success is measured by the item count and sales.  If the goal is to grow a larger church, success is measured in numbers and giving (though many would rightfully say growth of a church is measured in spiritual maturity, we can’t ignore the numbers either).  If the goal is to teach students, the measurement is getting the best grades.  It is healthy to have deadlines and goals to reach, and to have someone lead the charge in order to achieve these goals.  Black-and-white thinking leaders are typically effective at achieving goals, though they may step on people’s toes and feelings in the process.

Black-and-white thinking leaders are also concerned with the processes.  Processes must be accomplished the right way (as opposed to the wrong way).  If it’s not done the right way, it is wrong and therefore must be considered wrong, unbiblical, or unethical.  For example, while counseling those in conflict within the church, I have seen situations where the Matthew 18 process of conflict resolution (first go to the individual, second, if unresolved bring a friend, then if still unresolved, tell it to the church) was not followed to the letter.  Maybe a step was skipped, or bringing a friend was really telling the pastor or a spouse, which may not “count” in some people’s eyes, etc.  Anyways it gets messy and it is not always as easy as following the Matthew 18 steps.  But because the letter of the word was not followed to a “T”, concerns were not being addressed, feelings hurt, and the black-and-white thinking leader is upset because the process was not correct.  To some black-and-white thinking pastors, the issue became about the process and the actual issue that was brought up is secondary.  Sometimes, the first issue is never resolved because the black-and-white thinking pastor is so stuck on doing things the right way that they are not able or willing to address the wronged.

Within an organization, the black-and-white thinking leader overseeing processes will see the written processes as being the right way and any deviation from them need to be corrected.  Organizations love these types of leaders because they will help reduce lawsuits or workplace accidents, thus helping the organization to save money and reduce accidents.  However, if the focus is simply on the process being right, there may not be room to create new and better processes (“Old way is the way it should be done!”) and if not handled well, friction between the black-and-white thinking leader and another employee may become frigid.

In summary, black-and-white thinking leaders, pastors, and teachers are certainly needed in order to meet goals, achieve success, and get things done well.  Many have been successful in businesses, as teachers, and in churches as well.  However the more black-and-white thinking one may be, the less relational they are, which means that many employees, students, or church members may have been hurt while under the tutelage of the leader.  The most successful and well-liked black-and-white thinking leaders are those that have demonstrated the relational skills of compassion, empathy, mercy and grace.




The Black & White Thinking Christian is my newest resource for helping black-and-white thinkers grow in life, relationships, and in Christ. If you are a black-and-white thinker, or have one in your life, this is a great resource for personal growth and understanding. Order today at



For more on Black & White Thinking Series, click below:

Black & White Thinkers vs Relational Thinkers (an Introduction)

Black & White vs Relational Thinkers: An Introduction (Part 2)

The Black & White Thinking Christian

When Black & White Thinking is Ruled by Pride

Emotions and the Black & White Thinker

Black & White Thinking – A Mental Illness?

Black & White Thinking Through a Biblical Lens

Grace & the Black & White Thinker

Black & White Thinking in Anger

Black & White Thinking in Depression

Black & White Thinking in Anxiety

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Help! I’m Married to a Black & White Thinker

Insecurity and Black & White Thinkers

Black & White Thinking in Relationships: Differences in Men & Women