My first real experience in leadership was during my senior year of high school. Faced with the reality that our senior class would not be taking a school-sponsored senior trip, I organized an unsanctioned trip to Orlando for a large group of classmates. With the school’s knowledge and blessing, but without any financial support, we had to raise the funds for the trip on our own. When April rolled around, over a third of our senior class hopped on a charter bus, accompanied by four teachers who had volunteered to chaperone the trip. It was a trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives, although it wasn’t without its ups and downs.
I have led in many different contexts since then, but I learned a valuable leadership lesson during that experience that I still know to be true today:
Leadership is hard.
If you’re a leader, you already know that to be true. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader in your church, in your workplace, in your home, or on your son’s Little League basketball team. It is not easy to lead.
Inherently, leadership is a public role. Think about it: followers can’t follow their leader if they don’t see him or her. Therefore, because of leadership’s public nature, leaders are subject to public evaluation and scrutiny. When things are going well or when folks agree with the decisions being made, leaders are often recognized and celebrated. When things are not going well or when folks disagree with the decisions being made, leaders are often questioned and criticized.
That’s when leadership is hard.
During the pandemic, this leadership reality has been on full display. Leaders of all shapes and sizes have faced intense scrutiny and criticism over the past year. It doesn’t matter if you are a church leader, government official, school administrator, or president of the local youth sports league, it has been an extremely difficult season to be a leader.
Why Leadership is Hard
Here are just some of the reasons why leadership is hard, during a pandemic or any other time:
- Leaders must make difficult decisions. Leadership is hard because many decisions made by leaders are not easy decisions, and those decisions don’t just affect the leader. Depending on their role, their decisions may have consequences in the lives of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. Furthermore, leaders don’t have a crystal ball to gaze into the future, and it’s not always clear which path a leader should take. The pandemic has presented leaders with a steady stream of difficult decisions, and it has undoubtedly taken a toll on every leader in some way.
- Leaders’ motives are questioned. As difficult as it is to make difficult decisions, leaders must then deal with the repercussions of those decisions. Sadly, sometimes folks question the motives of the leader after a decision is made. They may claim that he/she made this particular decision because they want to keep a particular group happy. Or it was motivated only by the financial impact. Or perhaps they will claim it was a political decision only. Although we can’t see inside the hearts of others, that doesn’t stop folks from questioning the motives of leaders with whom they disagree anyway.
- Leaders are unfairly criticized. This reason is closely related to the previous one. In fact, all of these reasons are closely related. Although their critics rarely have all of the facts about a particular situation, leaders are often unfairly criticized because of their decisions and actions. People use insufficient information to draw conclusions that they shouldn’t draw. Sometimes they connect dots that shouldn’t be connected. Unfortunately, I have been on the giving and receiving end of unfair criticism more times than I can count. If you’re a leader, you probably have too. And that’s another reason why leadership is hard.
- Leaders are falsely accused. Not only are leaders unfairly criticized, sometimes they are falsely accused. Another term for this is called slander. If you have been a leader for long, you have probably been on the receiving end of some false accusations as well. While there is no truth to these claims, it still hurts that anyone would attempt to slander your name or reputation, especially with no evidence to support their claim.
- Leaders’ competence is challenged. Sometimes, folks simply question whether the leader is fit for the job. There may even be calls for the leader to resign or be removed from his position. This may very well be one of the most difficult leadership experiences that a leader might face. Sadly, I have heard about numerous occasions throughout the pandemic when a leader’s competence is challenged. Unfortunately, some of those leaders are no longer leading.
A Word of Encouragement for Christian Leaders
If you are a leader and you’re facing a difficult season of leadership, please know that you are not alone. Biblical examples of difficult leadership experiences abound. Joseph was falsely accused. Moses faced constant criticism. Nehemiah faced physical dangers. Paul had a thorn in his flesh. The people tried to make Jesus king by force. And the list could go on and on.
The bottom line is that leadership is hard. If you’re a Christian and you lead in any context, I know that these have been difficult days to do so. You may feel like you are all alone. You may feel like throwing in the towel. You may feel like you’re not up to the task of leadership.
But the good news is that you’re not alone. Christ is with you always. And His power is made perfect in weakness. So, during these hard days of leadership, let me encourage you to stay close to the Lord as you lead. Specifically, draw close to Him in His Word, in prayer, and in consultation with other godly counselors/leaders.
As you do so, the voices of your critics will not fade away completely, but they will be significantly diminished in light of your relationship to Christ.
A Word of Encouragement for Christian Followers
The reality is that we all follow someone, so this really applies to every Christian. Whenever you disagree with a decision that a leader makes, let me encourage you to follow the biblical wisdom found in James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” In other words, don’t rush to judgment, but rush to extend grace. Give your leaders the benefit of the doubt, recognizing that leadership is hard. Instead of criticizing them, pray for them often. As you do so, you will honor the Lord and encourage your leaders.