“Exercising leadership might be best understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.” -Ronald Hiefetz
I had a mentor tell me when I first started out in leadership, “Every leader on a daily basis should disappoint someone; if not, you aren’t really leading.”
There’s a part of me that likes this idea. It means I’m moving something forward, creating change or pushing against the status quo.
The other side of me hates it because I want people to like me. I don’t want to disappoint people. I want them to love what I’m doing, be a part of it and think, “I never want to leave the church Josh is leading.”
The reality is, leaders do disappoint people, and if you aren’t disappointing people, you aren’t really leading.
Disappointment can look like frustration, bristling at changes that are made, challenging people to step up and lead, take ownership or challenging someone in a counseling session to deal with their junk.
All of those things disappoint people because it pushes on something in those people.
I’m calling disappointment; when you as a leader make someone uncomfortable, lead a church where they don’t think it should go, make a change that they wouldn’t make.
Now, to be clear: disappointment is not the goal of leadership, but it is a byproduct of it.
It is the reality of what you are doing.
Disappointment also comes in another form and from another place: past hurts.
When you hear things like, “You’re moving too fast, you’re changing too much, you’re building your kingdom and not God’s”, two things might be happening. One, they might be true and you need to listen to them. Two, someone is looking at you through the lens of a past hurt and past disappointment; you are reminding them of a leader they once followed or a church they were once a part of.
Where does that leave you as a leader?
Leaders do a few different things with this:
1. They run from it. Many leaders have enormous wounds from their past that shape their present and future, and the idea of disappointing anyone keeps them from leading. Many leaders want everyone to love them, which keeps them from making bold decisions, praying big prayers or making any changes. The slightest hint of conflict or an unwillingness to move into a new future from anyone in their church, and they are done as a leader. Many pastors fear the Monday morning emails that come in, so they look towards the status quo and simply surviving.
2. They revel in it. Some leaders genuinely enjoy making people mad or disappointing them. In a sick way, it is a badge of honor. “I made this change and we lost __ blank people, but I’m being bold.” Maybe you’re bold, but you might be brash and kind of a jerk. How you talk about people’s reactions to change reveals a lot about you as a pastor. If you enjoy people leaving over changes, that can reveal some broken things in you.
3. They learn from it. Leaders are learners, bottom line. It is not just about reading books and blogs (thanks for reading this one) and listening to podcasts. Do you learn from the reactions to your leadership? Do you learn from how you make people feel when you walk into a room or how you speak to them? Any time you disappoint someone, you should find out why. What can you learn from that?
4. It makes them stronger, better leaders. If you allow disappointing people, turning people’s anger into learning as a leader, you will become a stronger, better leader. This creates resilience to keep leading. The strongest leaders I’ve met are the ones who have lived and led through some pretty big storms.