….or maybe not.
Talking to most pastors, leadership conversation usually centers on the quality of what one does. It’s about HOW one leads, HOW one gets people or an organization to do what it’s supposed to, or how we put it in my line of work, what they’re called to do.
But I believe leadership is about YOU – the leader. It is fundamentally about WHY you lead and WHO you are. That is what is known as character, or integrity. The best leaders are able to answer the “why” and “who” questions, and aren’t afraid to honestly reflect and wrestle with them. I ask myself: “What can I learn?” versus “Was I successful or a failure?” I know the first question is an exercise on reflecting on one’s character. The second, I’m not sure what it’s about fully, but the temptation to be dishonest with one’s self and shift blame is present. Considering the last almost 3 years of pastoral ministry, I thought I’d pass on some of my learning to you leaders out there for something to chew on. So without further ado…..
1. There are usually 2 sides to every issue….or 3. Or 5. When people bring their “issues” to me, I remind myself that it’s simply their perspective. You know the old adage, “there’s your side, my side, and the truth.” While it’s important to always here someone’s story and perspective, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should accept it as objective, absolute truth…..because there’s always another side to the story. In today’s world, it’s acceptable to overreact to every issue, and we’re learning the outcomes are divisive and tragic. I’ve learned not accepting the first, second, or even the eighth side I hear slows me down and allows me to be a non-anxious presence, rather than an anxiety-producing one.
2. Don’t let people steal your joy. I am one of those rare pastors who doesn’t derive my sole joy in life from my job. (Note sarcasm) Each of us has something that brings us sustained, unlimited joy in our lives. It’s that thing that keeps us going. No one but you and I are responsible for making room for it, however; it’s ours, and if we’re not careful, we can let people and distractions steal it from us and we become a shell of who we really are. Worse yet, we become unhealthy and unfit to lead. Sure, there is a degree of sacrifice that comes with being a pastor, but you’re not called to be a martyr. Don’t let people steal your joy.
3. Lead out of acceptance, not affirmation. I used to be one of those people who sought affirmation of others to define my self-worth. However, affirmation often is hitched to the wagon of success. What happens when that wagon departs and you’re left holding failure? I’ve learned that people’s praise is often fleeting…tied to their expectations, their level of satisfaction, and their definition of success. Acceptance is taking things at face value. It’s knowing who you are, your limits and capabilities, what you can offer and what you cannot. It’s also knowing – and accepting – the same in those you lead. Acceptance is not holding on to things too tightly, because they’re not really yours to begin with. Acceptance is understanding leaders aren’t in total control, which leads me to a couple supporting ideas:
- Accept failure as simply consequence of decisions/actions vice an indictment on you, and learn from it.
- There are limits to what’s within your control; but be ok taking control of what is within the sphere of your role.
- As a leader, you often get what you earn, good or bad.
Finally, acceptance has led me to understand that only standard I need to evaluate myself by is God’s. The minute I cannot be true to who God has created and called me to be, is to be in denial of what’s truth. Acceptance is accepting that good news as…truth.
4. Whether you succeed or fail, know why. Any fool can get lucky and hit the jackpot. Conversely, fools also tend to pass blame when failure comes. In either case, it’s leadership by shotgun approach and totally random. Good leaders at their core are intentional about learning – they take the time to know why something succeeded or failed. When success comes, they can replicate it. When failure results, they can learn and change. Leaders who know why things succeed or fail (or take the time to discover it) provide stability and wisdom to the people and places they lead.
5. It is important to have a fundamental belief in the people you lead and the community’s mission/vision. Perhaps a softer way to say this is “you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.” But it’s deeper than that. People and the church deserve your best. If cynicism sets in to the point where you don’t believe in people or the community’s ability to give their best or to fulfill what God has called them to, then it’s time for you to leave. That doesn’t mean you’re a jerk nor that there’s something wrong with your people. It’s just a sign that perhaps it’s time for you both to part ways before apathy – or worse – sets in.
6. Compromising doesn’t mean compromising who you are and who you’re called to be. Know your “why.” This has two parts. Let me start with the first one: compromise. There is a big problem in congregations, and that is the idol of “nice.” People hold up this idol and compromise becomes the sacrifice at the altar of “nice.” What it means is that the leader always should “be nice” and thus be a compromiser. What this compromising ends up being is that the leader and their decisions are subject to the expectations, satisfaction, and definition of success of others. Over time leaders compromise what they are about and the ministry they feel called to do.
That leads me to the second part of this. I think compromise runs rampant when leaders forget their “why.” One’s “why” is as simple as what makes you get out of bed in the morning. It’s the motivation behind what you do, your call, your reason for existing. Whether it’s comfort, apathy, fear, or a host of other things, the result is we tend to forget our “why.” That’s when we start compromising – ourselves and our vocation.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. What other things do you think are important when it comes to thinking about leading with character or integrity? What does it mean to you to lead with one’s character and integrity intact?