It was one of the most helpful leadership tips I have ever heard/received. My wife, Susan, and I were at a summer training program with The Navigators in East Lansing, Michigan. It was an evening meeting and the speaker, Jack Mayhall, made this comment,
“If you become a leader, plan on being misunderstood.”
I didn’t think much of the comment at the time, but did write it down. Fast-forward 45 years and I have experienced being misunderstood numerous times and have learned a ton!
So what is the hardest thing leaders have to do? I would say it is learning how to get along with many different kinds of people, starting with those who misunderstand you, often followed by those criticizing you, judging you, labeling you, questioning your motives, questioning the authenticity of your walk with Jesus; sometimes questioning everything and anything. It always hurts and it's always painful on multiple levels.
For me personally, the hardest of the hard things was hearing from a person on a team I led question whether I was even a Christian. That comment sent me into the woods to pray and think long and hard about my leadership style and philosophy which would elicit that kind of comment. I had some significant repentance to do.
Along the lines of getting along with all kinds of people, James 3:17 brings fresh insight to me, which I seriously need.
In the ESV it reads,
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
In The Message it reads,
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
Now here is the take-away for me:
Godly wisdom is simply doing the hard work of getting along with others.
James is equating wisdom with relationships, which I have never understood before. I always thought of wisdom as making good decisions…being able to apply information and things I understand to various aspects of my life. I had never (until meditating on James 3:17) equated wisdom with relationships…being misunderstood, criticized, judged, etc. and still being able to relate to those people in healthy, biblical ways.
It’s hard work (as The Message says) to get along with others. It’s hard work for employees to get along with their employer. It’s hard word for parents to get along with their kids (especially when they hit the teenage years.) It’s hard work for team members in the church and in the market place to get along with each other… learning to celebrate rather than resent each other.
Sometimes the hard work is speaking the truth in love, which Ephesians 4:15 encourages us to do. Not so loving that I’m not truthful; but also not so truthful that I’m not loving. Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek church put it this way:
“Truth telling is more important than peacekeeping…the well-being of the other person is more important than the current comfort level in the relationship…peace at any price is a form of deception from the pit of hell. A relationship built on peacekeeping won’t last. Tough love chooses truth telling over peacekeeping and trusts God for the result.”
I don’t know about you, but finding the balance between being loving and being truthful is a lot of hard work--work that some leaders (including yours truly) are reluctant to do.
So here are two conclusions I draw:
1. Being in leadership means being misunderstood, along with all the other things that flow from that.
2. Truly wise leaders are always learning how to get along with all kinds of people as they strike a balance between truth and love.
Question to ponder:
How wise are you…really? You might be street smart or book smart, but are you people smart?