Leadership Is Lonely series: Click | View Series
Leadership is lonely. Anyone who disagrees is likely not a leader.
By definition, a leader is out ahead of his or her team, seeing, experiencing, and learning things before everyone else. On one hand, this causes great excitement and enthusiasm because the opportunity to learn and pioneer is incredibly invigorating. On the other hand, however, the distance between a leader and his or her team is incredibly lonely, even to the point of becoming debilitating.
The more successful a leader becomes, the more extreme the joys and sorrows of leadership become. In extreme cases, the results are akin to being bipolar, with intense mood swings when stress and pressure turn the cracks in our character into fault lines.
For those who are leaders, the question is, what should we do when we find ourselves out ahead of our team? Recently, God has convicted me of sin in my own life and leadership. Specifically, he has graciously revealed to me ways in which I have patterns of sinful response to the feeling of loneliness that accompanies leadership. I am sharing this in hopes of helping other leaders and the people they lead.
For leaders and those who love them and can help them see their own sin, especially their spouse, the following self-assessment statements may prove helpful in diagnosing sinful responses to the loneliness of leadership:
- I feel that God has abandoned me to an impossible task and have begun to question his goodness.
- I become annoyed by my team because they do not understand me or the difficulties I face as their leader.
- I wish someone would just tell me what to do, give me permission to not do so much, and sort out the complexity of my life.
- I am annoyed by others because I believe they are stupid, lazy, slowing me down, and simply unwilling and/or unable to keep up with me and all the work I have to do.
- I question if anyone really loves me and secretly think that almost everyone is simply using me.
Does this sound familiar? Many leaders, in an effort to appear more spiritual than they are, think these things in their mind and feel them in their heart even if they don’t say them with their mouth. Is there hope? Yes, and we’ll explore that in the next blog post.
What should leaders do when they find themselves out ahead of their team, in over their head, and lonely, tired, frustrated, and bewildered?
I am coming out of a season covered by this exact cloud and, as a result of time in Scripture, prayer, and coaching from an older Christian business leader whom God has used on more than one occasion to speak wisdom into my life, I am finding the following steps to be invaluable to lonely leaders.
1. Accept that leadership is lonely.
There will never be a time when there is not distance between you and those you lead. We find that many of God’s leaders, including Jesus himself, spent much time in lonely places and living lonely lives. Even leaders surrounded by crowds need to accept that leadership is lonely because those crowds usually include fans and foes but few friends. Because leaders build community, oftentimes they find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to having true peers and true community.
2. Use silence and solitude to write down what you need.
Rather than being frustrated because no one understands you, knows your needs, looks out for you, or helps you, use your energy to write down exactly what you need. You are truly the only person who really knows what you need. Personally, I carry a Moleskine with me at all times and make note of things I need in order to be healthier and more productive. This can include anything from a good place to Sabbath, a decent vacation, and the right technology, to staff help, exercise, dietary changes, and so on. Too often leaders do not practice sufficient times of silence and solitude when such times can be invaluable to working on their life rather than staying at the office and continue working in it until they become angry, unhealthy, depressed, and burned out.
3. Pray for God to go before you act.
Most leaders are doers and pushers. This means our first instinct when an opportunity or an obstacle arises is to do more and push our team to do more. Instead, the first thing we should do is pray. The past few days I have decided to write down the list of things I need to do, people I need to meet with, and situations I need to involve myself in. Rather than picking up the phone, sending an email, or taking action, I have decided to wait twenty-four hours on any non-emergency issue and sincerely and specifically pray for God to go before me to move other people to meet the need or for God to take care of it himself. I have been able to check more than half of the items off my to do list by doing nothing but praying, as God has faithfully revealed himself to care more about my ministry than I do.
4. Emotionally wait for your team to catch up.
Don’t default to other-centered contempt and assume everyone else is stupid, lazy, unspiritual, unloving, selfish, and incompetent (though admittedly some may be). Don’t default to self-centered contempt and assume that you have failed as a leader because you are lonely and wallow in the bottomless pit of introspection and self-condemnation. Instead, prayerfully and patiently wait for your team to catch up. Give them time to see what you see, feel what you feel, and know what you know.
5. Teach your team.
Don’t verbally process your feelings out loud with your team, lash out in anger, or cry out in despair. Instead, use your times of silence and solitude to jot down your thoughts and needs as an act of journaling to God, get your heart lined up with God in prayer, and then lovingly pastor your team by teaching them to see what you see, feel what you feel, and know what you know so that together you can do what you need to do by being who you need to be.
6. As a last resort, use a sanctified shove.
Sometimes, when the previous five steps have been followed, there simply needs to be a sanctified shove to get people focused on their task and faithful to it.
I can assure you from much personal experience that doing this process in reverse does not work in any way or for anyone.