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Leadership Traps: #5

#5: Wanting to Please People   

The church today is in a major vision crisis (if you don’t believe this, just tour the churches in your community.)  One of the key things driving the crisis in vision is leaders who won’t stick to the best course of action largely because they are afraid of angering people. 

In fact, many leaders simply want to be liked by the people they serve.  We simply don’t anyone to be angry at us.  And the best way (in the short term) to avoid people’s anger is to do what they tell you.  The problem is that in leadership, leaders need to lead.  And agreeing to what everyone at large wants to do is not leadership.  That’s followership.  Particularly when people’s ideas about the future are different from each other and often fundamentally incompatible.

Ironically, when people pleasing becomes your chief goal, you end up with an ineffective mission plus a group of angry and/or ineffective people.  They get angry because the mission isn’t accomplishing anything, and in the end, the very people you were trying to please by saying "yes" end up mad at you anyway.   So not only are you not further ahead, you are actually further behind.

Leadership takes secure leaders.  Leaders who are not afraid to take a few hits — who have the guts to take the best idea and run with it even if it’s not the most popular at first.  Great ideas have a way, over time, of winning converts.  Most of the eventual converts need to see the idea become reality and succeed though, before they’ll endorse it.  Enter the job of the leader. 

Leaders always need to lead with humility…this is far from justification for a big power trip. In fact, it’s just the opposite.  It means we need to submit to God at a whole new level.  But usually, leaders will grasp a sense of the wisest or best course to take…it’s just that sometimes we lack the courage to take it  That’s where reliance on God needs to kick into a whole new gear.  He can give grace and courage when everyone else has withdrawn theirs.  And that is powerful.

As a leader, there are seasons where I need to motivate myself with a single thought:  I really believe God is in this, and even though it’s not popular, I’m going to commit myself to it because I honestly believe that down the road, the entire group will be grateful we got there. 

What part of this resonates with you (if any)? How’s your courage?  Who are you trying to please?  What might you do to overcome it?


  1. josie on February 19, 2008 at 8:08 am

    One needs to keep in mind "who" they are trying to please! Everyone tries to please someone whether it is themselves, others, or God. I think sometimes we care more about how we will offend other people then whether or not we offend God. "Excellence" can even disguise itself as pleasing people. When we become so anal about doing everything to perfection we need to re-evaluate who it is we are actually serving. Just food for thought!!

  2. Gregory Wengren on February 12, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Carey, you're bang on with leaders needing to lead. I recall Bill Hybels stressing this at a leadership conference not long ago.
    Not sure of your other "leadership traps" that will be covered, but it seems a lack of humility should be high on the list. Or should we say pride is the trap. I think pride can lead to an overly confident direction – despite what others may say about that direction – or what the facts actually say. In this mode, part of leadership becomes "hearing" instead of "listening". In some instances, constuctive criticism is heard as anger….and disagreement with the vision or strategies is seen as threatening to the leader. After all the leader is right…….in his/her mind. And with the competitive nature of many leaders, they need to be right… their minds. Even Moses needed Jethro to set him straight.
    Good leaders don't need to be right, they need to be humble – one thing Jesus said of himself.


  3. John Bigham on February 11, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I've been reading Edwin Friedman's last book, published ten years posthumously, specifically about family systems therapy issues (à la Murray Bowen) that is so apropos your comments. Get this: the title is A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. The one take Friedman has on this that you're kind of slipping by is the idea of sabotage of natural leaders being a systemic part of the "families" we're part of. And that sabotage takes the form of the objectors striking at the inherent weak points in the system–the people who will do nothing–with incredibly accurate intuition. To take an example you and I are familiar with in church government, a complaining congregant will go to an elder who has a large circle of influence but who's only out for the status quo, or they'll hop up a level–even though it's not "legal," and dump an issue in Presbytery. And how are you supposed to get a committee of 70 to act like it's got spine? Well-differentiated visionary leadership by the local pastor becomes a de facto bug squished by the homeostasis of the hierarchy.

    I wonder, then, when you combine this with correctives like Cavey is putting forth in The End of Religion, if the future of the Church doesn't lie outside the mainline denominations in congregations where a leader can be a leader while only having to look out for the sabotage from below rather than from above as well?

    I'm all the more disillusioned today as I try to prepare something the Session asked me to put together on the groups at our congregation for our new members' course, to familiarise people with how things work around here. As I type/read it, I'm just so discouraged at how bureaucratically dismal it must sound to anyone who's on an authentic quest to meet Jesus and carry on a passionate ministry with Him today.

    I remember you saying four months ago or so about how your team was starting to see a silver lining in the prospect of not being able to keep the building. I believe you may have also struck gold in making your "foolhardy" move to independence.

    Keep up the great work and your encouraging ministry to those of us in the trenches.



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