Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leadership 101: Leaders Disappoint

Good leaders make tough decisions

If you are over anyone, in any kind of leadership position, then you will be faced with making hard decisions that could be unsettling for others. Parents are constantly faced with making life changing choices for their families that their kids may not like. Leaders in businesses have to decide what the best profitable venture is for their companies that their employees may disagree with, and ministry leaders often make daunting decisions on the direction of the church that some members don’t care for. But decisions have to be made and the reality is that decisions invite disagreement.

This was true recently when I was explaining some uncomfortable changes within our ministry to other leaders of our church. My lead pastor encouraged me by saying, “Leadership is disappointing people at a pace they can tolerate.” Wow, that explained it all.

It is impossible to please everyone

The first time I realized that I can’t please everyone was nine years ago. I was an intern with a growing para-church ministry and I was assigned to lead a small group of students. Over time, our group tripled in size. With a larger group, came good problems like running out of room for all the students, and bad problems like less participation because of the higher number of students. Because of the growth we were having, I came up with a plan of multiplying the groups. We needed smaller groups to disciple these students. We took months to cast vision and prepare everyone for the new structure. It was a hard change and there were a few students that were really upset. We had countless meetings with these students and parents. They insisted that we were making the wrong choices and it was going to destroy the ministry. Throughout this, I was having some real doubts if we were making the right decisions. I went to my supervisor and asked him what I should do. Out of his wisdom, he never answered that question but said one thing, “You are a leader that makes decisions. It is impossible to make a decision that benefits one hundred percent of your followers.” I decided to push through and complete our goal of multiplying our group. Thankfully, it worked. Our groups not only continued to grow, we multiplied other groups. The best thing was that students started responding to God.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “To lead is to make decisions. To make decisions is to alienate some.” This is true with every type of leadership. You can’t help disappointing someone in the circle you influence sometime in your life.

Bad leaders make no decisions

Sometimes, leaders who have been through a bad experience or have little experience in decision making gravitate towards the popular vote. They may live in fear of others opinions and are overly cautious of making decisions. This type of leader will wait for the last possible moment to choose the “right” decision. Often times, they will let others make decisions for them because they are overwhelmed by fear. On the extreme, some leaders desperately try not to “rock the boat” by making the unpopular decision. They often focus their attention on the group of people who are giving negative feedback for the thumbs up approval. This unknowingly hog-ties their hands to making quick and accurate decisions.

Once, a mentor told me that at any given time in your leadership, there will always be five percent of your followers that will like you and agree with you no matter what you do. Then on the other side, there will always be five percent that will dislike you and disagree with you no matter what you do. The middle ninety percent of the people doesn’t care less what you do until it affects them. A leader’s goal is to sway the ninety percent of the people to think like the five percent that agree with you and rarely focus on the five percent that dislike you.

Courage in the midst of extreme decisions

Decisions invite disagreement and I have found that the tougher the decision, the harder the criticisms or negativity will be. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to lead people. Don’t ever fall into the trap of shutting out criticism or shutting down negative comments even if it cuts you right to the heart. People can be insensitive to your hard work or demoralizing, rude and immature in they way they give you feedback. Every disagreement presents the opportunity to sharpen your vision and possibly tweak the decisions you’ve made.

And if all else fails, learn to laugh it off and move on to the next decision that awaits…

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