Ever wonder how your leadership potential gets crushed? How you end up stalling out as a leader with your dreams stifled and your future looking far less exciting than you hoped for?
It happens more easily than you think.
And it often happens despite a leader’s best intentions.
In fact, there’s a good chance that even today, you’re wrestling with the very dynamics that ultimately thwart your leadership potential.
What kills your leadership potential more than just about anything?
I’ll walk you through a downward spiral many leaders have encountered. It starts innocently enough but ends rather tragically.
How does it happen?
You’d be surprised. Because you come by it so honestly.
We’re All Afraid of Rejection
So let me guess, you’re almost always working hard on a new idea. You:
Sweat over it.
Pray over it.
And you hope—really hope—that when your idea is unveiled, people will like it.
Before you dismiss that as a trivial observation, ask yourself: Have you ever unveiled an idea or project you sincerely hoped people wouldn’t like?
I didn’t think so.
The desire to have your proposal accepted is pretty universal, isn’t it?
Almost every leader is afraid of one thing: rejection.
And not just personal rejection, but the rejection of your ideas as well.
Your hopes. Your strategies. Your dreams.
So you do what you can to make people happy… to get them to buy in.
And therein lies the trap.
So This is What You Do
Because we’re all afraid of rejection, you and I revise our ideas until we think they have the greatest chance of acceptance.
And in principle, that’s a good idea. Who wants to introduce something that ultimately only 5 people on planet earth are going to find helpful?
But often, in the process of trying to get people to buy into your initiative, you take the edges off of it.
You dilute it.
You talk about what’s possible, not about what’s best.
And then you die a little inside.
Then This Happens
So… you introduce your slightly watered-down idea/product/change/innovation hoping people will applaud wildly.
Except they don’t. People still don’t like it.
You hear from the critics.
A few people leave.
More people threaten to leave.
You grow more scared.
So you retreat.
You revise your plan. You sand more of the edges off. You compromise more. You try to offend as few people as possible.
And then you die a little more inside.
Except now, your product becomes, literally, unremarkable.
Criticism, remember, is a remark, and a remark indicates you might have a truly remarkable idea.
Can you imagine what might have happened had you gone with your original stellar idea you were afraid to even say out loud???
Do you see what you often do when you water down your bold changes as a result of criticism? You change a remarkable initiative into an unremarkable one.
Being inoffensive ultimately makes you ineffective.
And Suddenly You’re on the Fastest Path To Irrelevance
That’s why far too many leaders end in a place where they are too afraid to be bold. Too afraid to try something new. Too afraid to even dream.
They reduce potentially great initiatives to the least offensive form they can find, hoping everyone will buy in.
Except your ability to attract new people just went out the window.
The only people who really like your new idea are a small core of the people who already liked your old idea…and any growth potential is jettisoned.
Here’s the lesson far too many leaders never learn about trying to offend as few people as possible:
If you attempt to offend no one, you will eventually become irrelevant to everyone.
Where does this land you as a leader?
With worship services that are bland enough to inspire no one, including the 40 or 400 people who are there but who strangely want to keep it that way.
Adopting mission statements so drab they could have been lifted from an HR manual.
With a vision for the future that looks far too much like the past.
It’s not that difficult to head down the path to irrelevance.
When your vision for the future looks too much like the past, you need a new vision. And that’s where you’ll end up if people-pleasing causes you to lose your courage.
So what do you do?
Four things can help a leader usher in bolder change and avoid irrelevance without becoming a brash, arrogant leader.
1. Be bold
Don’t stop dreaming. Introduce some bolder changes. The problem with incremental change is that it brings incremental results.
So be bold. Bolder change will bring bolder results.
2. Lead with humility
No one likes an arrogant person; even fewer people like an arrogant leader. Being bold is not a licence to offend.
Leading from a place of humility can help you broker change far better than leading from a place of arrogance.
3. Take the long view
A key difference between leaders who successfully navigate change and those who don’t is the ability to stick out the initial waves of criticism.
The fact that some people don’t like your change is natural. Take the long view and realize this too shall pass.
Think about it: surprisingly, your insistence on pleasing people will ultimately cause you to disappoint people.
4. Focus on who you want to reach, not who you want to keep
If you focus on the 10% of people who don’t like the change, you will lose the thousands of people you can reach by making the change.
Again, this is not an excuse to be stubborn, arrogant or bullying.
But it is permission to be courageous.
To be true to your convictions, and to lead with conviction and even some occasional daring, I share more specific strategies on how to effectively lead change here.
If your mission is as important as you say it is, it deserves your best leadership and courage.
My Guess Is…
…that you are not trying to be ineffective.
It’s just that the gravitational pull we all feel in leadership to please everybody is almost always counterproductive.
Sometimes, you even end up being nothing to nobody.
So what’s keeping you back from acting on your best strategy?
What’s keeping you back from being more daring?
Is it the desire to be liked? The fear of being rejected? The unwillingness to offend?
I understand that…but just know what’s at stake.
To be inoffensive is to be ineffective.
Sometimes, you need to push through a controversial proposal to get to the other side.
In your attempt to offend no one, you just might become irrelevant to everyone.
If you’re wondering what issues the church needs to tackle to be effective and reach people, I devoted my most recent book, Lasting Impact, to 7 pivotal issues every church leader needs to address. You can learn more about Lasting Impact here.
What do you think?
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