Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Pain of Leadership

Before sending in Picket's Brigade at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee is reported to have said to General Longstreet, "The greatest pain is to order the death of what you love the most - but we do our duty, sir. We do our duty." There is great pain in leading effectively. I want to repost something Wade Hodges put up some time ago on tolerating pain. So, let me know what you think.

In order to be an effective leader you have to be able to tolerate pain. Your own pain as well as the pain of others. Sometimes others will inflict pain upon you. You must absorb and carry it forward in order to lead. Sometimes you will be called upon to inflict pain on others for their own good or for the good of the organization you lead. If you don’t think leaders inflict pain, then go make a decision and see if anyone yelps. Sometimes you will inflict pain upon yourself when you inflict pain on others because you care so much about those whom you are leading. Without a doubt, one of the hardest things to do as a leader is to watch people we love squirm with emotional pain because of a position we’ve taken. Most of us end up caving sooner or later and we sheepishly reverse our position or change our direction in order to dull the pain and keep the peace.

The reason most churches within my sphere of awareness are struggling to move forward in any kind of discernible way is because their leadership is spending all their time and energy trying to avoid pain. They think the absence of pain is a sign of good leadership. Making sure no one gets hurt may be a win for a bank robber (put your hands in the air and do what you’re told and no one gets hurt), but it’s a terrible way of judging how well we’re doing as leaders. All pain avoidance does is delay the inevitable, which is . . . pain.

Leaders who try to avoid pain will someday be confronted with the worst pain of all, the awareness that the end result of their perpetual pain avoidance is the collapse of the organization they were supposed to be leading. Are you called to lead? If so, and if you’re not ready to experience and tolerate some pain, then please say no to the call. Whatever organization you’re being called to lead will be better off without you in leadership. If you’re ready to deal with some pain, then step up and buckle in, because it’s gonna hurt.


Bill Jordan said...

... ouch!

Charles Sean North said...

Yeah, it really hurt to say those things!

PS: Other puns (and serious comments) are welcome!

Bill Jordan said...

It isn't an easy message to deliver, but it needs to be heard.

I'm feeling it on two fronts right now. The first is obvious to you and anyone else that knows us. The second is I have some good friends who are knee deep in helping the Terrell school district make some badly needed improvements. They have their work cut out for them, but they've been willing to deliver some "pain" and get the process started. The school board president has really stepped up and made some tough calls. I wouldn't want to trade places with her for anything, but she's put the best interest of the 4,400 kids in that school district ahead of her own pain and the pain of some close friends and associates. So it isn't just in churches or on the battlefield where leaders are needed. There are real leaders in every corner, willing to take on pain so there will be better days and "gain" ahead.

jenn said...

This is a little different than what you are talking about but when I think of leadership while reading your blog I was thinking of parenting. I have 2 kids ages 13 years old and 6 months old. I have always believed that I need to follow through with punishments to my children so that they will know who is "boss" and they will learn to respect others by me keeping my word to them. My son knows that I love him very much but also knows that he will be punished when he does not behave. He knows I will keep my word. I also believe that leadership means you have to take responsibility and responsibility means knowing when to say yes and say no. And Charles you are right. Leadership does hurt. It hurts the leader and the one who is the follower and I believe it is the leader who always hurts the worst because God knows we can take the pain!!

Charles Sean North said...

I read your blog post about the TISD. That is tough. True leaders carry a heavy burden wherever they lead. I'm not sure I could be the kind of leader I wrote about here, but it's something to aspire to I guess. Here's a great Siburt saying to go with these thoughts: "Churches don't change when they see the light. They change when they feel the heat!"

Jenn aka "supermom"
I guess the old saying is true when parents punish their kids: "This will hurt me more than it will hurt you." I guess God describes Himself as our Father for a good reason. I dread the day I have to punish William for the first time!

Bill Jordan said...

I don't know that you can make a blanket statement that good parents make good leaders. History might not back that up. But Jennifer is certainly right that being a good parent is very much about being a leader and taking responsibility.

When my oldest son was just three or four years old he was playing in my office and an older gentleman that I respected very much stopped by to visit with me. He watched Andrew playing and having a big time and then smile when he heard me point at him and say "no." I don't even remember what he was doing, but all it took was "no" to get him pointed in another direction.

My visitor looked at me and said, "That young man is going to be just fine. If they know what 'no' means when they are that young, they'll turn out just fine."

In his very first statement as school superintendent in Terrell, my friend James Smith made it very clear to students, teachers, parents, administrators and the whole community that what has been going on in the past is "not acceptable." And I know this about James, he will back those words up.

God tells us "no" and he also makes it clear to us what is "not acceptable." Maybe leadership isn't as complicated as we make it sometimes. But on the other hand, there's no getting around the pain that comes from backing up our "no" and backing up our "unacceptables."

Mike Holder said...

I think one of the other aspects of leadership we sometimes forget is that some people seek out leadership roles for personal gain.

This is especially true in large organizations such as mine. These so-called leaders shy away from painful decisions because it detracts from their gain. They view the protection of their little kingdom as their sole leadership responsibility.

This type of protectionism (I am not sure if that is a real word or not.) is the enemy of creativity.

Charles Sean North said...

That is a GREAT line - "protectionism is the enemy of creativity."

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