Thursday, November 17, 2011

Expensive lessons in leadership

It remains one the most painful leadership lessons I have ever learned.  The campus ministry I served with invited me to take a position as a team leader in Romania.  My team was made up of four recent college grads and a thirty-something friend who took a year off from her work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.  

This was my first leadership position in our organization and I relished the opportunity to lead.  To prepare for this, I threw myself into every leadership training opportunity I could find:  A week with the national team as they trained the newest campus directors and four weeks in Colorado at our ministry's Leadership Development Project, where I was exposed to leaders in business, psychology, academics, and the church world.  I submitted myself to tests, mentors, and opportunities.  I was prepared...or so I thought.

Two weeks into my arrival in Romania, full of enthusiasm and excitement.  Armed with training, ideas and a team of young men and women, I fell flat on my face.

One of my team members didn't like having a leader.  He didn't like authority and I became the lightening rod for all of his hostility towards authority figures.

He didn't like me,

I wanted to be liked.  

Desperately so.

My desire for approval, even from someone who didn't like me, was so strong that it undermined my ability to lead well.  I hesitated to make decisions.  I feared making hard decisions.  Confronting him didn't change the situation.  Appeasing him made no difference.. I tried simple friendliness.  Nothing worked.

I was determined to get him to like a fault.  I wanted to be liked more than I wanted to lead.

My determination to win his approval was costly.  Team meetings were draining and hindered our effectiveness in ministry.  In the midst of the challenge of cross cultural ministry and the stress of living in a foreign country, our team meetings could have been a place of encouragement and support.  Instead, weekly staff meetings stole more life from each of us.

Why didn't I send him home?.  I wanted to believe that I was dealing with the equivalent of a minor paper cut that simply needed a band-aid of friendliness.  Instead, I was facing a cancerous growth that required radical surgery and removal.  I committed one of the classic errors of leadership:  I refused to face reality.

That year in Romania was costly.  I learned several expensive lessons, among them are the following:
  • Leadership isn't about being liked.  It's about leading, even when its tough.  It is not about making everyone happy.
  • Reality is your friend.  Good leaders face reality.  They confront it and respond to it, even when it's tough.
What are some of the expensive leadership lessons that you have learned?

No comments: