If you’ve ever led a family, a team, or anything else, you probably know that leading is often painful. Sure, it’s also a privilege to lead and there are many blessings that come with it, but it’s important to be honest that a lot of the time it involves pain.
What sort of pain are we talking about? Let me count the ways… there’s the pain of not meeting your own expectations or the expectations of other people, the pain of conflict between people in your team or with you, the pain of feeling judged or rejected or misunderstood, the pain of seeing your own team members in pain, the pain of never being able to please everybody…and them letting you know about it, the pain of sacrificing some leisure time for leadership responsibilities, the pain of responding gracefully when you’d rather respond less than graciously, the pain of constant responsibility, the pain of not feeling led yourself, the pain of failure, the pain of feeling like you spend more time dealing with drama than being productive, the pain of compromise and never feeling like you’re able to give enough of yourself or your time to excel in the role. You might have your own examples to add to that list.
A number of years ago, I heard a powerful (and hilarious) talk by Craig Groeschel (Pastor of Life.Church and founder of the YouVersion Bible App) when he was in Australia in 2009. His key message was that, “A leader’s constant companion is pain.” (click this link to see an edited version of it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNk2AnMYnM). None of us like pain and we try to avoid it, but to get anywhere in life or to grow, we need to move into the pain.
Craig noted that God wants to increase the pain threshold of leaders in 3 key areas:
- Facing unjustified criticism and rejection – the higher you go, the more you’ll experience the pain of criticism and attacks from people.
- Making difficult decisions – often, we need to make decisions that are right but will hurt the feelings of some people.
- The pain of God’s pruning – sometimes, we need to be pruned and healed of the junk on our inside before God can use us to do good things in the world.
A challenge to take away – “Choose the pain of obedience over the comfort of disobedience.”
- What pain are you experiencing as a leader right now? What is causing you the greatest pain?
- What pain, or painful decision, have you been trying to avoid, but you know you need to tackle to move forward?
- What is ONE thing you can do today or this week to step into the pain?
Have you ever met someone who has managed to get good things done in life, but they make everyone miserable in the process? Most achievements take a lot of hard work to get there. If you want to retain your sanity, retain your team and actually enjoy something of the adventure we call “life”, then plan to celebrate along the way.
Yes, there are times to get your head down and work hard, but we tend to forget that it’s just as important to stop working, remember the good things, celebrate the wins (however small), rest, and connect with people at a more relaxed and “human” level. If you ask older people what they wish they’d done differently in life, often they’ll say something like, “I wish I’d stopped and enjoyed it all a bit more”.
If you’ve ever read the Bible right through, you’ll see that God got busy creating and then rested and enjoyed it. God made us to have regular rest times and enjoy life too. God even commanded people to have regular celebrations and feasts – God is a party God! Jesus was even criticised for celebrating and enjoying life too much!
We’re human be-ings, not machines. Think about that for a minute. How great is that?! How well do you “be” and celebrate? What can you do to help your team stop, remember and celebrate?
Have you ever gotten in the car and just started driving, not really knowing how you were going to get to your destination? Sometimes we can fudge our way along and make that work, but usually only when we know where we started from and have at least a vague idea of where we’re going.
If you or your team want to get anywhere in life, produce anything of value, and avoid wasting time just spinning around in circles in the dark (sure, it sounds kinda fun to start with, but the shine wears off when you smack into something and get seriously hurt!), then you’ll need to get clarity around a couple of things:
- Where are we at now? Be honest and specific about this.
- Where are we going, or what are we aiming for? As I said last week, if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit nothing.
Once you have clarity around those things, figuring out how to get where you’re going is much easier. Not necessarily easy, but easier.
If you’ve ever looked at a map, there’s usually more than one route to get to where you’re going. For some people, that choice might be paralysing. What if I make the wrong choice and it doesn’t go well??? Word to the wise – there is no perfect way of getting to your destination. Even the routes that may look easier at the start can throw all sorts of roadworks, bumps and incidents your way (e.g. things like your system crashing and losing your blog post when it’s nearly done!). Just keep your eye on the goal, pick a route, plot some possible steps and get moving…or at least take ONE step. As you know, it’s much easier to redirect and change course when something is already moving and has momentum.
What if the destination is not even on the map and you can’t see how to get there? Again, take ONE step. Keep an eye on the goal and take one more step, and another, and another.
As Martin Luther King once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
- Where are you now?
- Where do you want to go?
- What is ONE STEP you can take to get there?
When I was at Secondary school in the late 80s/early 90s, we (especially girls) were taught that you could be it all and have it all. I had big hair, big shoulder pads, I was physically strong, and the “you can have it all” mantra was very appealing.
In my 30s, I learnt that mantra was a crock. You can’t have it all or do it all – you have to choose. There’s simply not the time and energy in life to do everything, and often priorities compete with one another. I have to decide what’s most important to me and focus on that.
It’s the same in leading an organisation or program or group. Your organisation can’t do everything or be all things to all people. You have to focus. As the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit nothing.”
Here are some basic questions to help think that through:
- What are we on about as an organisation/group?
- What is the one thing we absolutely must do?
- How do we want the future to look for our group/organisation, and the people we serve? Really try to imagine this.
- What do we need to start doing to work towards that future?
- What do we need to stop doing so that we can focus on the most important things for us?
Thinking about a body metaphor is helpful – it’s a lively reminder that we’re one part of something much bigger and interconnected. We need to focus on doing our specific part well.
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body (the church). We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
(From the Bible – Romans 12:4)
One of the annoying but beautiful things about little kids is that they constantly ask, “Why?”. It’s a great question to ask when you’re trying to make sense of your world! As we get older and busier, we become more likely to slip into routine ways of doing things without even really thinking about it.
Do you want to focus and reinvigorate your team or yourself? Start asking “Why?” questions. WHY are we doing this program? WHY do we do it this way? WHY does it matter that I turn up and am committed? Why, why, why?
When we know the WHY behind what we do (and not just “because we’ve always done it that way”), we’re more likely to commit to it, be excited about it, and use our time and resources in the most effective way.