It’s lonely at the top.
Really. Whether you are the pastor, a president or the person who is looked to for the answers due to the organizational chart or the pecking order, it is (or can be) lonely at the top.
What are you going to do with that? You always have a choice.
Sure there might be other people around but there’s often a challenge. The
truth is that others say things to the leader that they a) think you want to hear b) avoid saying what they think you don’t want to hear c) what they hope will make you like them more, for a lot of reasons d) make you go against someone they don’t like e) or say anything else for any number of reasons. Often without even knowing it! So who do you trust?
Or maybe you like lonely! Lots of leaders are introverts so for many of them that’s just fine. Yet those are sometimes the ones who can be even more vulnerable to self deception. Another way to put loneliness is that whether you are an introvert or not, as a lonely or isolated leader you are being isolated from good information. Left alone to drift in this sea of uncertainty or unreality the leader can lose their bearings. That's when "mission drift" happens. Sometimes a leader may not even be aware that what they are hearing may not be 100% accurate. A grain of salt is always a good thing to keep on hand when hearing things. All the more reason that the leader can’t be holed up in their offices staring at a computer.
Loneliness also has another shadow side. Who will be their support system? Who will they go to for support and care when they feel less than superhuman? It can be a problem. Pastors are sometimes wary of getting too close to members. The relationship can be tough when the pastor needs to preach the law or make decisions for the whole church that the friend/member might not like. And it might be true in the reverse for the member as well. There is another problem not often talked about: leaders who are isolated or lonely may be more vulnerable to seek unhealthy or sinful coping mechanisms. By contrast, healthy leaders and healthy pastors seek out their “Aaron and Hurr” (Ex 17:12) people to hold up their hands.
The pastor wants to be transparent and honest with integrity but may also want to let their hair down at times. Is that a good idea? Where to go? Who to trust? If you have to let your hair down too far, how real are you when you are not letting loose. Maybe you’re not yourself and are too uptight. Why is that? By the way, it is probably not fair to lean on your spouse too heavily either. They have a burden too. Where do they go? It can be lonely. So what does the wise leader do? You really do have choices.
Action steps for the lonely leader:
- Seek verification when you hear something - 8th commandment stuff - no flying off the handle - talk to people and check the facts for yourself. Information can be inaccurate.
- Go and do your own research to see how things really are. Meet people, ask questions, be curious, find out for yourself. People will feel cared for and valued and you will hear things first hand. You will also be energized far more than sitting at your desk.
- Recruit a personal “board of directors.” I learned this from an academic source but also a friend who is growing in ten different directions at once and values the input of some trusted advisors she calls her “board of directors.” Who is wise? Who is a mature thoughtful person who is courageous to speak their mind? Who has the integrity to tell you the truth (in love! Eph 4:15)? Ask them to come together confidentially to support you, pray for you, challenge you, love you. They don’t have to be your best friends but rather people who can be your eyes and ears and conscience!
- Get a coach! They will help to guard your agenda, challenge your thinking, lead you to new or renewed awarenesses, help you shape plans and commitments and hold yourself accountable.
Now, which one(s) will you put in to practice?
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, email@example.com or scottgress.com
"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"