Over thirty years ago, I thought I knew a thing or two about leadership. Now I know that most of what I knew then was crap. I have failed as a leader far more than I have succeeded. But one thing I do know: It is so much easier to “know how to lead” (or think you do) than it is to lead.
So if you’re frustrated with someone in leadership, here are a few things I would strongly and passionately urge you, please, to consider:
Show some grace. I’m constantly amazed by how critical and graceless people–who claim to follow Jesus—can be. I understand that your pastor, boss, leader, or coworker may be driving you crazy. But, while you may be frustrated, keep in mind two things:
1. No leader can lead without disappointing SOME people (even Jesus; see John 6:66). In fact, part and parcel of leadership is anticipating and managing people’s disappointment with leadership decisions.
2. You have no idea what the leader is facing, or dealing with. You may think you do, but you don’t. You don’t know if her teenager is struggling. You don’t know if he stayed up all night helping a junkie through the night. You don’t know if he or she is losing sleep praying for YOU!
So PLEASE give a little grace. Leaders need it, just like you do.
Ask questions. Engage the leader in conversation. I have often been told “facts” people “know” about decisions I made or actions I’ve taken that bear absolutely no resemblance to the truth…because that person or group never came to me seeking understanding; they simply assumed they knew something. This happens way too often. So please don’t make assumptions. Don’t come to conclusions about a decision or about a leader until you’ve actually gone to that person, asked questions, listened, and sincerely tried to understand.
Examine your expectations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation along these lines:
- “I’ve just been so hurt. No one called. No one cared.”
- “Did you tell anyone you were hurting?”
- “No. They should have known.”
- “Did you notice if anyone around YOU was hurting?”
- “How could I? I was struggling so much!”
- “But if you didn’t tell anyone, and if those around you could have been struggling as well and you didn’t notice THEM, can you really blame them for not reaching out to you?”
- “Yes, absolutely! They should have known! They should have seen!”
And so it goes. People often expect a leader or leaders to read minds, to know what they need, to be in several places at once, to meet their needs even if they never call for help, to do all the things the person himself or herself is not doing! Please don’t do that. Examine your assumptions. Don’t demand from leaders what you don’t expect from yourself.
Make charitable judgments. Part of being a leader is placing yourself in the line of fire. Comes with the territory. But it’s still shocking how many people—Christians!—feel perfectly justified in maligning and slandering persons in leadership. Please don’t do that. Instead, judge charitably. To borrow from the website of Peacemaker Ministries:
Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.
For example, when Anne’s pastor did not visit her in the hospital, she should have realized that there were at least two possible explanations. One explanation was that he was deliberately slighting her. Another was that he had not received her note or had some other valid reason for not visiting her. If she had developed the habit of making charitable judgments, she would have believed the positive explanation until she received facts that showed otherwise.
Believing the best about others is not simply a nice thing to do; it is not optional behavior. It is a way to imitate God and to show our appreciation for how he treats us. God knows everything and judges accurately. He has the final say in criticism (and in commendation). Yet he judges charitably, even mercifully, passing over and putting up with many wrongs. He is kind to ungrateful and evil people (Luke 6:35).
It’s easy to be critical of those in leadership roles. But nowhere does the Word of God command us (or even encourage us) to act uncharitably toward our leaders. Quite the contrary. We are told to obey them (Hebrews 13:17), submit to them (1 Corinthians 16:16), imitate them (Hebrews 13:7), and honor them (1 Timothy 5:17). To do otherwise is disobedience…even if they’re imperfect leaders—which they are.