It’s Lonely at the Top


In his book The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster: Why Now Is the Time to #Join the Ride, Darren Hardy says “The higher you climb, the lonelier it is and the more people dislike you.”

This idea is often debated in church circles. Should their be the guy at the top or a team? What about the plurality of leaders? Does one person make the final call? Is that healthy and good?

Does it have to be lonely at the top?

The reality is that leadership is different than following. There are similarities and  you have to be a good follower to be a great leader.

There are some realities though that you have to keep in mind as you climb the ladder of any church or organization.

1. Someone has to make a decision. In every meeting, in every team, committee, church, business or family, someone has to make a decision. Once all the research is done and all the data is collected and every discussion has been had, someone has to say “yes, no or wait.” Somebody does. You might say, “but it is a team decision.” My question would then be, “if it fails, who gets fired?” The person who is accountable for something is the person who is leading. In football, they fire coaches. Many leaders try to not make a decision in hopes of saving themselves, but you have to decide.

2. Leaders need to get better at letting people in. As leaders lament the loneliness of leadership and it can be lonely, the reality is that many leaders and pastors are bad at friendships. We are bad at letting people in. At the same time, when you make a decision, when you have to have the conversation about firing someone, it is lonely. When you get the scathing email about your sermon, it is lonely. When people talk about how your kids act or what your wife does or does not do, it can be lonely. Some of this loneliness is the nature of a role, but often is the fear of the leader that makes it lonely.

3. Leaders need other leaders as friends. As I said before, leaders and pastors are notorious for being poor at friendships. This is why it is crucial to the health of a leader and their spouse to have friends who are in the same position at another church or company. Lead pastors can relate to lead pastors. A student pastor doesn’t have the full picture of what that life is like. It is crucial to have friendships with people who walk in your shoes.

4. Does everyone have to dislike you to be a good leader? The answer to this is yes and no. It is true that leaders often make people angry by changes they make, new things they start, old things they stop doing. Often, the reason leaders are disliked is that they are jerks instead of nice people. Often people will dislike a leader as a church grows because the relationship is different. People who were close to a leader and in meetings with them at the start of a church plant are no longer in the same meetings when it is hits 200. The game changed. At the same time, if no one is mad at you as a leader, you may have moved into maintaining mode and are no longer pushing into new ground. We like smooth sailing, but that means we have no wind and aren’t going anywhere.