I’ve been giving real consideration to what it means to lead. Being called to lead is probably one of the most difficult things one could be asked to do. In a leadership position, your decisions will never satisfy everyone. There will always be those who question what, why, where, and how a leader leads. It’s not a position to be envied, and it’s certainly not a position to be filled with those who seek to satisfy their own desire for power or privilege. Leadership should never be about us, it should be about doing what’s best for those we lead.
I believe what makes leading so difficult, is the understanding we are charged with doing the most possible good for the largest amount of people. A leader will always have those who need more attention, more coddling, more encouraging, more of everything. A leader can get bogged down with all of the demands of those who seek those things, but a real leader will have to manage those demands, against the needs of the many.
Many times leaders make decisions that simply don’t fit well with certain groups. It is not a place for the faint of heart. For those who have a natural tendency to be “people pleasers,” and desire to be liked, leadership can be extremely difficult. In the biopic Steve Jobs, there is a conversation between Steve and Andy Hertzfeld who was a member of the original Apple Macintosh development team. Andy asks Steve, “Why do you not want people to like you?” Steve responds, “It’s not that I don’t want people to like me, I’m indifferent to them liking me.” Steve was quirky, there’s no doubt about that. What I heard in that interaction though, was Steve defining the need to stand apart from criticisms and personal desires to make decisions that would best move a project forward.
In the church, those who are called on to lead have a duty to do what’s best for the whole, and to further the mission of the church, rather than to serve a personal agenda or leaning. It’s difficult, there’s no doubt about it. Separating our own thoughts and desires. It’s not easy.
There are ways people have used to make difficult decisions. There is a pragmatic approach. Logically decipher the cost-benefit of every decision. What is the return on investment? Will a decision make the most financial sense? There is what I would call the emotion-laden approach. How can a decision be made to make the most people happy and supportive? There is the lone leader approach where the leader makes the decision without any input from others about opinions, feelings, or alternative approaches. There is the collaborative decision-making approach that does call for lots of input, alternative ideas, and discussion of pros and cons.
There are dire times when an immediate decision has to be made and a leader will make that decision. Not in a capricious way, but being reminded of who they are leading, what their needs are, what their desires are, and how best to achieve those goals. But most of the time, there is room and time to discuss, to strategize, to compromise, to give due consideration to all points of view prior to coming to a decision.
When we look through the Bible, we may find some real help when it comes to knowing how to lead. Psalm 78:72 says, “With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” One commentator said, “David was taken from the sheepfolds. Like Moses (Ex. 3:1), he learned how to shepherd with literal sheep. The king is ideally a shepherd of his people (cf. 2 Sam. 5:2), caring for them, protecting them, and leading them in faithfulness to the covenant. David at his best did his work with an upright heart and skillful hand.” Not that David was perfect, far from it. He had his moral failings. His heart though was always for leading the people to what was best for them. In Proverbs 11:14 we read, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Leadership then is best achieved when there is much input, and then the best decisions can be made for the whole. In Philippians 2:3-4 we are told, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” This is one of those hard places in leadership. We may think we know what’s best, but is it? Does it serve the whole? Does it assist in the goal of the people? Or do we get caught up in thinking what’s best is because of what we ourselves are enamored with?
When we think of the best leaders, they are generally found among those with the least desire to lead from power and personal input. The best leaders are those who are the best followers. They lead from a sense of service and humility, not from a position of privilege. Jesus said in Matthew 20:26-28, “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Leadership is hard. Guiding people is hard. Leaning on one another, seeking wise counsel, and spending time in conversation with God, these are the principles on which good leadership is based.
O God, we pray for our leaders today. Those who lead us in our government, may you give them wisdom and a true sense of service. Those who lead us in our jobs, let them make good judgments and equitable decisions for all who are employed. Those who lead us in our church, may you give them a double portion of your wisdom, kindness, compassion, and grace, so that through collaboration and prayer, they will lead us in the paths you would have us go.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,