Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Change

Leading can be difficult. It can lead to headaches, heartaches, difficulties, loneliness, and pain. It can also be exhilarating, exciting and filled with incredible joy.

For many pastors, we underestimate the cost of leadership. We think of the cost in terms of suffering or something connected to culture, but many of the costs of leadership will come inside of us or inside of our churches and the people we interact with. Not because they are intentionally out to get us, but because we are all human, and we all struggle with change and being led.

I re-read a few books on my shelf, and Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Change is one of those books.

Let me share three lessons for pastors and leaders, and then I’ll share some favorite quotes.

First, pastors must get to the balcony in their leadership.

Getting to the balcony comes from the idea of being at a dance, and how you experience the dance while you are on the floor versus when you are on the balcony. We experience it differently. The sights, the sounds, the band, our dance partner, the size of the crowd, all of it.

The balcony provides you with a different perspective and experience. Too many leaders only experience their church or business on the dance floor.

This is the white space a leader needs to think, to process, to pray.

The second lesson is to orchestrate the conflict.

Now, for a pastor, this does not sound very pastoral. Yet in relationships, teams, churches, and organizations, conflicts arise. Too often, as the authors point out, we are so attached to our roles that we make ourselves the issue of the conflict instead of something else (not someone else). There’s a crucial difference.

Many times when things have gone awry during conflicts in my leadership, it is because I or another person became the source of the conflict instead of the issue.

Lastly, anchor yourself by separating yourself personally from your role.

Honestly, this is one of the hardest things for me to do because being a pastor is something I love. It is hard to separate that and just be Josh.

When we are not able to separate ourselves from our role as a leader, we do those closest to us and those we lead a disservice.

Here are a few other things that stood out in the book:

  • Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble.
  • People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss.
  • Leadership becomes dangerous, then, when it must confront people with loss.
  • To survive and succeed in exercising leadership, you must work as closely with your opponents as you do with your supporters.
  • People are willing to make sacrifices if they see the reason why.
  • You stay alive in the practice of leadership by reducing the extent to which you become the target of people’s frustrations.
  • Exercising leadership might be understood as disappointing people at a rate they can absorb.
  • If people do not feel the pinch of reality, they are unlikely to feel the need to change.
  • When you lead, people don’t love you or hate you. Mostly they don’t even know you. They love or hate the positions you represent.