The Greatest Burden of Leadership

If it is difficult to be a leader, it is far more difficult to be a good leader. If there are challenges that come to those who lead, there are far greater challenges that come to those who wish to lead well. This is exactly why we have such deep respect for leaders who are exemplary, for leaders who lead with skill. This is exactly why our bookshelves are overflowing with titles on becoming better leaders, on leading with confidence and vision and character, on leading like Steve Jobs, or Abraham Lincoln, or Jesus Christ.

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There are a number of areas in which I have had to take on a position of leadership. I am a husband to a wife and a father to three children and called by God to lead them. I am an elder within a church and called to exercise leadership there. I run a little blogging enterprise and have to lead various people who support me in this. In all these areas I need to set direction and provide oversight and resolve disputes and solve problems. In all these areas I need to care for people and lead them in ways consistent with the Word of God.

There are many parts of leadership I find difficult. It is difficult to bear the responsibility of charting vision and deciding between different directions; it is difficult to resolve interpersonal conflict; difficult to motivate people to rally around a particular vision; difficult to have to ask forgiveness for making poor decisions; difficult to be ultimately responsible for the well-being of people and organizations.

But I believe the greatest difficulty of all is the knowledge that I am leading poorly. It’s the knowledge that I am not leading as well as I could or as well as I wish I would. The burden of responsibility is light compared to the burden of insufficiency, inability, or just plain failure. If all those other weights are heavy, this is the one that threatens to be crushing.

I see my leadership failures in my home. I don’t lead my family in the ways I know I should. Sometimes I see we are going nowhere as a family. Sometimes I see we are bored, discouraged, disgruntled, disinterested. Sometimes I see how long it has been since we’ve sat down together for family devotions or how long it has been since I’ve talked to my children about the state of their souls. I see my leadership failures in my church. I don’t lead the church in the ways I know I should or even the ways I could if only I would. I consider how little I’ve prayed for the church, how few times I’ve picked up the phone to check in on someone, how few times I’ve invited people into my world or invited myself into theirs. I see my leadership failures in every part of my leadership. And this is my greatest burden.

Yet this burden can be lightened, at least to some degree and at least for some time. It is lightened when I consider grace and see how God has expressed his approval and granted his blessings despite my insufficiency. It is lightened when I see growth, whether that is personal growth or the growth of the people I love and lead. It is lightened when I hear gratitude from those I lead. It is lightened most of all when I consider the gospel which assures me that my failures—whether unintentional or neglectful—are forgiven through Jesus Christ. Though I long to lead perfectly, because of Jesus my joy, my success, and my salvation do not depend on it.