Friday, June 02, 2006

Leadership the Hard Way

I've learned a ton about leadership this year. It's been a very successful year in many respects, but I've definitely had my share of failures. The year has taught me vital lessons about what it means to lead. Ultimately I've found that leadership is very hard work, and is not for the faint of heart.

This year I've had to fire an employee, confront several people who suffer from various mental disorders and deal with my own personal demons along the way.
Leadership lesson #1: It's a mixed bag. There are so many wonderful people whom I have the pleasure of knowing as a result of my priviledged position as a pastor. There are also many relationships that are challenging, and some that are downright unpleasant. Leadership is a door with hinges that swing in two directions toward two separate rooms. One room is warm and wondrous. The other is cold and cruel. Both rooms, however, lie under the same leadership roof.

Another aspect of leadership that I've encountered is the principle of overactivity.
Leadership lesson #2:
People will gladly bite off more than they can chew. Most folks are terrible at knowing their limits. Unfortunately our current leadership culture takes advantage of people's good sense, and we make them feel guilty if they're not doing enough, and guilty if they're doing too much. As a result we have a huge throng of people who have either dropped the leadership ball altogether or are pants-on-fire busy with various projects they have no business getting involved with. There is no middle ground these days, but the majority of people I know have a very hard time limiting themselves to the core aspects of their effectiveness.

My final leadership lesson is one that I've always known, but have never truly experienced until this year.
Leadership lesson #3:
Be transparent about your own struggles. Effective leadership is not ivory tower, untouchable leadership that never honestly expresses the true nature. Real leadership is broken about personal and corporate struggles. It is these struggles that make leaders approachable and tolerable, while building loyalty from those who follow.

My greatest leadership successes this year have come as a result of quite possibly the biggest shortcoming I've ever experienced. Shortly after my diagnosis of General Anxiety Disorder, I wrote an article for our church magazine entitled "Too Sick to Pray." In it I detailed how this struggle had taken hold of my life in a very serious way, and how shocking it was to experience my own limitations. That honesty has resutled in greater impact on others, and deeper loyalty from others. People have responded to this struggle with open arms, and they've taken me more - not less - seriously because of my honesty.

Leadership is an industry these days. Everywhere I look there is a new leadership best seller. It is often over-analyzed, and definitely over financed, but it feeds people's desire to feel important. Hopefully these few lessons I've learned will demonstrate that leadership isn't always about getting ahead. Sometimes it's about getting hurt, humbled and haggard. One thing's for sure: you'll learn a lot more about leadership from leading than from reading a book about leading.

7 comments:

r! said...

"leadership isn't always about getting ahead. Sometimes it's about getting hurt, humbled and haggard."

Great statement. I think leadership is something that people need to prepare for. One thing I have learned this year is that transparency is huge to those that follow us. But I do think it should be limited.

I think my greatest lesson this year is that leadership is about suffering. It's about suffering for the people we serve everyday. This has been difficult for me because God has been using the concept of suffering to teach me that I cannot lead if I am unwilling to suffer for him (love God) and suffer for the students I am trying to serve (love neighbor).

Barry said...

Nice post, Steve. Dan Allender has a new book that explores the kinds of sentiments you've expressed here called *Leading with a Limp.* Thanks for not hiding your "limp." Your piece in Chatter was great!

Steve Hayes said...

Barry,

Thanks for dropping in. I've admired your work on T&F for a while now. Aren't you at Wheaton or something?

Barry said...

Yea, Steve. I'm in Wheaton for about another month, then we'll be returning to DFW and to IBC. We're really excited to be returning. I'm finishing my PhD at Wheaton College and will be joining the faculty of Dallas Seminary this fall. I'll look forward to meeting you sometime when we're back at IBC.

Steve Hayes said...

Great! A Wheaton guy at DTS! I would love to meet for lunch sometime. What will you be doing at DTS?

s.o said...

great post.
I've got to get to the Cajun blog more often! (there, can I admit it?)
Really, thanks for writing this. Don't let me blow you away here, but I haven't heard this kind of sentiment about our own leadership for a while ... or at least for as long as I can remember. Being a relatively young guy at this pastoral stuff, I'll come out and tell you : I need to hear and know this.
Perhaps we need to have lunch, like we mentioned doing last year.

-s.o

Steve Hayes said...

Any time. I'll treat! Shoot me an email this week and we'll plan it.