Only the Lonely
I once heard, from a now-somewhat-disgraced pastor that leadership was a very lonely business. He went on, at length, about the friends he had lost. The trouble leadership had cost him. He was, in fact, known for burning through people. His assistants, his ministry partners, his own personal friends. But, remember, it was “leadership.” It turned out, as many people realized, he was just a jerk. A gifted jerk, sure, but a jerk was the primary factor in who he was. He was overbearing, he was boorish.
I have heard business leaders say similar things. It’s lonely, this whole business thing. It’s lonely because we have to make hard decisions. People don’t like those decisions.
In fact, I once heard a leader at a business give a whole talk on, essentially, why it was others’ fault that they didn’t like you. They even had categories of these people to help you understand why it was their fault. It ranged from them being younger than you, to being older than you, to being more dramatic than you. But not once, not in the two hour class, did this leader ever say that the cause for others’ hurts might be you.
And it was so informative to me. It was dark, and difficult, but I realized that the loneliness of many leaders, in business and ministry, isn’t due to them having to make hard decisions. The loneliness comes from those leaders isolating themselves by being unwilling to accept or share the blame for when things go wrong.
Hear me: there are times when a leader made the right call, and nobody liked it. Also? Sometimes people just don’t like you. That’s a very real possibility. But there is also just the plain, obvious conclusion that can be reached, too.
When you lead, you are using and wielding influence. Influence is built by position or by relationship. If you have not built relationship, then that influence is like performing surgery with a rusty spoon. If you have built relationship, that influence is like a pediatric needle-prick. Too many times I have seen leaders refuse to build relationships out of shear cowardice. Is that okay to say? Can I be real here on my own personal blog?
I had a leader once say to me, “If I build relationship with this person, what happens if I have to fire them? They are from my home town. They will poison other relationships against me.” And my answer was, more or less, that if they didn’t build relationships, then they would have to fire that person eventually. (Narrator: they fired them less than a month later.) They could only lead them, so far, on the positional authority that they had been granted. Leadership requires risking ourselves, our relationships, in order to help others. If we are unwilling to step into others’ lives, we risk the greater thing of alienating them to protect ourselves.
From presidents to low-level supervisors, a fearful refusal to build relationship will absolutely not protect you, just your position. And if your position is all that matters? Well, your loneliness might be the smallest of your problems.