Seven Leadership Challenges I Wish Someone Warned Me About
When I began studying leadership many years ago, the initial books that I read painted an inspiring picture. The more I read, the more it felt like leadership was going to be exciting and fun. And some days leadership is. Some days you thank God that He has put you in a position to influence others toward His vision.
But there are some days that leadership is terrible. Some days the challenges overwhelm you. Some days the obstacles leave you discouraged and ready to quit.
No one told me about these challenges early in my leadership. Or, if they did tell me, I didn’t listen (it’s probably this option). Since then, I’ve found 7 leadership challenges that I wish someone had warned me about.
Leaders make hard decisions that some people will not like.
You will have to make some hard decisions as a leader. Ideally, your decision will be made based on your vision. But sometimes you have to make decisions for other reasons. Sometimes you have to make a decision between two less-than-ideal choices.
But making the hard decision is not the hardest challenge. The challenge is dealing with the people who are upset by the decision. Many people will be frustrated. Some people will decide that they don’t like you, not just your decision. You need thick skin while keeping a tender heart for God and people.
Leaders have to implement decisions that they did not make
Every leader is not only in authority but also under authority (Matt. 8:8–10).
Your leadership could be subject to the Board, to the Elders, or to your boss. Even those who have no line of authority over them are still subject to God and to the laws of the land. You will be under the authority of someone.
Sometimes the authorities above you make decisions that you are responsible to implement. You may not agree with the decision. But you are responsible to carry out the decision and live with the ramifications. You need humility to submit to those in authority.
Leaders get blamed for more than they are responsible for
Leaders often get blamed for decisions they did not make or for consequences that were outside of their control. If something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to blame the person in charge. Additionally, people will often assume that you have negative motives for the choices you make.
Early in my career, I received a directive from a supervisor that I had to implement. It was a very unpopular choice and one that I disagreed with. But I was responsible to implement the decision. Although I could explain the background to my staff team, I could not share the confidential information with any of the non-staff participants.
When my team implemented the decision, the ministry participants grew furious. And I received significant blame for a decision that I didn’t like. People said nasty things about me. Others requested meetings to chew me out.
As a leader, you will get blamed for more than you are responsible for. Prepare your heart for some unfair blame. Your image must be rooted in Christ, not in your leadership.
Leaders are often privy to information that they cannot share with others
The higher you go in leadership, the more information you are privy to receive. And the more confidential you must remain.
There will be times that you make a decision based on all of the information that you have. But you will not be able to share that information with your followers. You may be blamed for making an ill-informed decision when, in fact, you know more information than they do. It takes confidence to stand by your decisions without breaking confidentiality.
Leaders have to use power without abusing power
You are given authority to make decisions, to influence others, and to have a profound impact on others’ lives. You have power. And you are responsible to walk the fine line of using your power without abusing your power.
If you don’t use the power that you’ve been given, you fail to steward what God entrusted to you. Others will usurp your authority or manipulate you.
But if you abuse your power, you make others’ lives miserable. This is one of the biggest challenges that you will have as a leader. You need discernment to hear God on when to use authority without abusing it.
If you’re interested in a great resource on how to wield power as a Christian, check out the forthcoming The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel.
Leaders don’t feel free to have bad days
Some days leaders have to lead even when they don’t feel like it. You have to play a role even when you want to crawl in bed and call it quits for the day.
Unless your team is open and authentic, you will be expected to have only good days. Even if you express to your team that you’re having a bad day, they still expect you to show up. They feed off of your energy. A bad day for you creates a bad day for your team.
But you live in a fallen world, so you will have bad days. You need the perseverance to lead in spite of bad days (or weeks or months) and the authenticity to share with your team how you are doing.
Leaders carry their own burdens and the burdens of others
As a leader, you carry a lot of burdens. But you also carry the burdens of those who you lead. You love them. You want what is best for them. When they go through a family crisis, you carry it along with them. When they feel overwhelmed by life, they talk to you about it. You carry their burdens. This is a good thing (Gal. 6:2). But it can be exhausting. You need to support your team while casting all your burdens — and their burdens — on God (1 Pet. 5:7).
Leadership is challenging. That’s one reason why you need intentional growth as a With God Leader. Whether you lead in the marketplace or ministry or home, you can’t lead well in your own strength. You need the power and guidance of God to lead you first.
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Question: Which of these challenges do you find most daunting? How does God’s withness help you?