Leadership Confession Blog Series: Part 1 – It’s Lonely (in a Different Way)
Leadership is one of the greatest privileges given to any human being. I’m sure that many of us in leadership would agree that leadership is one of the most fulfilling experiences in life. The unique vantage point and influence that leadership offers, in any given organization, group or business, has the power to exhilarate, inspire, and motive people towards great works.
Nevertheless, leadership comes at a cost. Leaders don’t just become “great” leaders. Read any story about a person you deem a great leader. It probably took that leader intentional effort, sacrificial living, right timing, resources, sensitivity, and perseverance (to name a few) to become a great leader. In addition, if you add people’s unrealistic expectations, our physical limitations, and the bombardment of critics, etc., leadership can be quite overwhelming.
The reality is that most of us in leadership simultaneously live in both of these worlds; a world of great potential and life as well as a world of utter despair and discouragement.
In this new blog series called “Leadership Confessions”, I want to explore how leaders respond to the cost of leadership (i.e., living in the latter world). I personally think that, regardless of intent, leadership always has the potential to create an unhealthy and destructive ethos for life. I would like to (attempt to) honestly engage some leadership struggles I regularly find myself in. This series will be part confession (from either my past or present experiences) and part invitation to work towards health (and not perfection).
Confession #1 – It’s Lonely.
I have been in a leadership role in churches, organizations, and networks for more than half my life. I think in my 20 years+ of being a leader, one of my greatest struggles has been with working through loneliness. The irony of this struggle is that I am continually surrounded by a crowd of people. In addition, I am also blessed to have some phenomenal friends with whom I have mutually committed to journeying through life together.
What I am realizing now (in my case) is that loneliness in leadership is not necessarily an issue of having or not having people that one could authentically share life with. For example, I have been lonely in leadership even during seasons when I have had friends who could relate to who I am and what I do. I think loneliness, in this sense I am referring to, is the natural by-product of a leader, uniquely designed by God, coming to the realization that their experiences in life and leadership are like no other.
Could it be that we are possibly confusing our need for community (a need created by the divine community himself, God) and our realization of the unique life experience God created us to live as leaders? In other words, maybe loneliness is not a bad thing. Maybe loneliness invites us to recall and celebrate our unique place in this world.
I’m not sure if leadership and loneliness will ever be separable. In fact, I’m not sure if I want them to be separated. Some would say that there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. I suppose we could dissect the nuances here, but I just want to let loneliness (as we’re discussing here) be a natural outflow of our God-given uniqueness. I think coming to grips with this will cause us to turn to God and not another human being because the solution is not another human being.
If I am true to what I am experiencing, it could point me to God. Could it potentially lead me to a state of confusion or despair? Of course. Then again, most things in life could. Nevertheless, I am inviting leaders to turn to God and embrace our God-given uniqueness and the need to be embraced by the only true one who can embrace our journey as leader.
My suggestions…when you feel lonely in this sense:
- Try not to ignore it. Embrace it through some form of acknowledgement (verbal, written, action, etc.)
- Try not to make compulsive decisions about leadership. It’s rarely a good path.
- Pray to God for perspective. It’s never easy to live out a unique view or mission.
- You don’t necessarily have to seek divine comprehension or knowledge. I would suggest you seek God’s presence first. Let comprehension, knowledge, or perspective be the fruit of your time with him.
- Try not to think community first. As great as your friends and confidants are, your first stop should be God.
- Choose to celebrate uniqueness (even with all of the heartache). Thank God for your unique journey as a leader.
I’m not claiming here that there is a magical formula to deal with this kind of loneliness. I’m simply offering my story and context to interact with what you might be going through as a leader. Be encouraged. You’re probably doing better than you think.
A fellow leader,