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Leading with a Limp
by Tom Goodman
August 5, 2010

"My music is the product of my pain—
and that which has cost me the most pain to produce
the world seems to have the most pleasure in listening to."

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Can you lead injured?

It's an important question, considering that no one escapes the "good fight" (2 Timothy 4:7) without a few scars.  As leaders, personal or family problems can leave us distracted.  A bad leadership decision -- or at least an unpopular one -- can leave us or those we lead in doubt of our capabilities.  Our projects can get torpedoed by unforeseen circumstances -- the economy or the loss of key team players, for example.

"Life is difficult," wrote M. Scott Peck in the opening line of his book, The Road Less Traveled.  It's a line as true as it is simple.  And when life proves difficult, we need to know how to lead injured.  Here are a few suggestions.

Remember.  Remember that everything in life is "Father-filtered," and he causes all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28).  As a pastor, I've often voiced this prayer during others' crisis times: "Lord, in large ways and in small ways remind this family that you are present with them."  When you hurt and you still have to lead, look for the "large ways and small ways" that God keeps showing up.

Retreat.  Hollywood prefers military stories of stubborn resistance against impossible odds.  A story of military retreat doesn't make for a good flick.  But in real war, it's a wise military officer who knows when he's under-resourced for the conditions he's facing.  When you're leading with a limp, retreat is sometimes the wisest option:

  • In the thick of your hardship, spend more time on the work tasks you like, re-assign deadlines to a later date, postpone a major decision, and take the personal days the Personnel Manual provides.
  • Send fewer emails and hold shorter conversations -- I can't stress this enough.
  • Resist the tendency to overshare with those you lead.  I've read the blogs from Christian leaders who advise us to be more "open" and "authentic" about our lives.  Sorry, but those you lead don't really want you crying on their shoulder.  There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but err on the side of discretion when you're hurting.  Find someone to talk to who isn't depending on you for leadership.

No doubt, sometimes there's no getting around a decision that has to be made or a conversation that has to be held or a deadline that has to be met.  In those cases, return to the first piece of advice and "Remember."  But when the hardship is at its heaviest, retreat where you can.

Remind.  It's not always possible or advisable to hide your hurt from those you lead.  This is especially true in church leadership.  In these cases, know that your pain -- as with everything else about your life -- is meant to be a platform to put Jesus on display.  And let me add that this is therapy for you, the leader, and not just encouragement for those who watch you.  I thank God that my position as pastor required me to speak of him even in my dark times.  Why?  Because there have been times when saying what I was supposed to say got me to where I was supposed to be.

If you're leading with a limp right now, grab hold of the wisdom of Brooke Fraser's "The Desert Song," from 2008.  Listen to this song at my "Get Anchored" weblog by clicking here.  Lyrics:

This is my prayer in the desert
And all that's within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me, Lord, through the flames

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

And this is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I'll stand

All of my life, in every season
You are still God,
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow


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