Leaders Hurt Us

I remember reading, many years ago, that few who are called to leadership successfully navigate the obstacles on the way so as to realize the calling in full. I believe this is true. Much of the time these obstacles are put down by our leaders themselves–the very ones who are trying to help us reach our potential. Often, this happens through the leader's weakness, our personal weakness, or a collision of the two. Here are some things I'm learning about this, some of them the hard way, that I believe will help you avoid the stumbling blocks.


ALL of us, as humans, have moments of insecurity. Some have strongholds of insecurity. Much of what we see involving insecurity in leadership falls somewhere in between those two extremes. This can be surprising. Don’t let it be, but let your awareness of your own weakness be a source of grace for others. Don’t expect perfection from yourself or others, and commit to forgiveness. Sometimes, if we are truthful, we'd likely admit that our expressions (sometimes outbursts) of insecurity come out unexpectedly, in surprising ways, and completely unforeseen, even to ourselves! Remember the story of Noah and his sons? How we respond to demonstrated weakness will have a material impact directly on us, sometimes immediately, and sometimes downrange, but it will have an impact. Being gracious rarely requires repentance or an apology (see Genesis 9:20-27). 

Communication and Misunderstanding

Communication (and working together) is not without its pitfalls. Saying what you mean and being transparent, even when it makes you uncomfortable, can help you not to create false expectations with others. If in our communication we leave people believing something that isn’t correct or true, even if we didn’t technically “lie,” it's still misleading someone, and we will have to give an account for that, often with a backlash of loss of trust. Often, we have at least three variables–what was said, what was heard, and what was meant. Diligence is important and, remember, relationships aren't for lazy people. Keep in mind communication has not happened until both/all parties are on the same page. It takes God’s grace and favor to co-labor in a productive, effective, and peace-filled way; when the grace thins out, problems will arise. Be careful: Make sure you understand what someone is saying and aren’t just hearing what you want to hear. AND make sure you are understood and that others aren’t just hearing what they want to hear and/or something far from what you are trying to communicate.

Expectations (Unrealistic and/or Mismatched)

Here is a test. Relax and clear your mind. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, with deep thought, this question:

Would I be comfortable with someone putting the expectations on me that I am putting on those I look to for leadership? Think before internal response, please. 

Unrealistic expectations stunt relationships every day, often in messy ways.

Can you humble yourself?

Can you remain flexible?

Can you admit that you were wrong or immature?

How are you with change?

Keep in mind, you cannot decide on your own what to expect from your leaders. It has to be ratified, as relationships are mutual and voluntary.

The way to overcome mismatched expectations is transparent communication over time. This is because transparent communication requires trust, which is built over time. We may not know or realize why God has brought us together right away, and it will take some investigating and patience to understand this. One good first step is to ask the Lord to make it clear to all and to help us cooperate and invest ourselves toward that end.

Is a Mentoring Relationship Necessary for Legitimate Influence?

Do we expect to get personal and direct time with each person who has something to impart to us on our journey of faith? Should we?

Is it necessary to have direct personal time with someone in order to onboard something they have to contribute to you? Is that even possible?

Don't get me wrong here. We have been talking a lot about relationships, which are central to our development as leaders, and I am a huge proponent! At the same time, we can undercut the value of something God has for us, wanting to give us something from brothers and sisters we will never get a chance to meet, even some who have gone on to be with the Lord.  

I was struggling around this idea when I got some real help from a tape–you know, a cassette tape. It was Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell. In it he said, “though it may be desired or preferred, it’s not essential to have direct personal contact to receive what someone has to give to you in God's grace.” Bear in mind, it was definitely my preference at the time, based on previous experience. I lost “my mentors” somehow, and I couldn't find them again. I found that I was looking for the same thing again in the same format, and it was severely limiting my development.

We need to focus on receiving what the Lord is trying to give us, through whoever He wants to use to hand it off, and focus on Him–Jesus–the Source. Jesus said, “come to me… let me teach you” (see Matthew 11:28-29 NLT). This needs to be our central belief on the subject of mentorship. We need to look to the Lord for this, asking Him to help us recognize whom He is using, or plans to use, or may use in the future to see that this gets done to His satisfaction. After all, it’s His responsibility, and one that He will make good on.


The struggle of the jealousy I am referring to here is Saul toward David. When your mentor sees your potential and is jealous of you. This is an ultra-classic, quintessential example, but versions and variations of this same struggle are playing out all around us, all the time. Saul–a man whose leadership was on shaky ground–was threatened and became jealous and territorial when David–a man who was ordained by God for principle leadership–came on the scene.

Keep in mind that David wasn't gunning for Saul; he was actually serving him and blessing him with relief and restoration through his service. Sound familiar? 

Curve ball alert–why is it that most of us, especially emerging leaders, see ourselves immediately as the “David” of this scenario?

If we live long enough, we may experience both sides of this testing personally, especially if we fail the test in our “David period.” Understanding it will help us to avoid a trap.

As leaders, we need to put our leadership, reputation, and legacy in God’s hands, and not try to establish ourselves. Saul didn’t do this. Even though he was called and ordained by God, his insecurities would not leave him alone. Just because God has called you, doesn't mean you will be established in a way that sets you “on high” and free from all interference and challengers–real or imagined. As those who are being raised up, we need to walk in humility toward those who are already established, being very careful to let love be our constant motivation in our interactions with them and the people those leaders are serving. David did this. We must rely on the God who called us to establish us, even though we can be sure there is a tough make-ready period between calling and establishing.

Dishonoring Attitudes

If you are not faithful in what belongs to someone else, how can you be given that which is your own? Is this just the way it works? Apparently so. Putting this question to ourselves directly makes it super practical and somewhat uncomfortable.

We have a command to honor those who have come before us. This is super important as we are on the road to coming into our own in God. We don’t have to agree with everything someone says to honor them. All that is needed is to love them and to be gracious. Keep in mind also that honoring does not mean a personal endorsement or that the one being honored is flawless. The closer we are to someone, the more their flaws will be impossible to miss. This can be especially troublesome to us if we don't have weakness in the same areas. When our need to be right rises above our love for another, everyone loses–chiefly us! And it could be that the best way to honor in some cases is to refuse to dishonor. God is the one whom we all serve and ultimately answer to. By our pride, we cannot defeat the pride of others.

Relationship Transition

Often, we as leaders, and as those walking with and alongside leaders, feel that the relationship we are enjoying will continue as it is forever. After all, it can be quite enriching and a taste of heaven itself! In my experience, this is not the case. This can be for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the Lord leads us to walk with someone only for a season. This can be brief or can last for years or decades. Our love can and should endure, even if our proximity changes. I have seen this challenge from both sides and have struggled with and through it. We have to be careful not to get our identity wrapped up in how other people respond to us, or how they don't.  

Relationships change, especially as maturity grows. How do we go from a supporting role to more of a peer relationship? If you see this done successfully, with grace and unity, let me know. I need to learn how to do this; I've been in the train wreckage. You may have too. Let love be your highest goal, not the perpetuation and maintenance of the way the relationships of influence are situated, or the form they are in currently or were formerly.

Development Responsibility

Development is always self-development, according to one of my mentors I never met, Peter F. Drucker. “The responsibility for the development of employees (read leaders, mentees, followers, constituents) of all kinds rests with the individual, her/his abilities, her/his efforts…” While this throws the conversation to one side for closer examination, it should be noted it is incomplete. At the same time, it helps us to avoid the pitfall of waiting for someone, or someones, to do something that never happens (or may never happen…. are you still waiting?) 

The point to be emphasized here is that YOU have a responsibility for your development, and no one else can assume that part of the equation! Looked at more holistically, there are three who have responsibility in your development–you, Jesus, and others. But, and it should be stressed, only YOU and Jesus have responsibility FOR your development. If we maintain that others have the responsibility for our development, we will never be developed.

And keep in mind, no learning is complete without a test.

6 Replies to “Leaders Hurt Us”

  1. Good article. A lot in there.

    A takeaway for me is, “Being gracious rarely requires repentance or an apology”.

    McClelland on Leadership.

  2. seems the more of your writing I read, the better. Articulate, crafted in truth and grace. Too often in our limited vision we run straight into our undefined expectations of what we envision and the stark realities of what we’ve been provided in terms of development and growth. Great question at the start Ken…
    often I have been ‘invited’ to embrace the position of mentoring others from a place of serving them, not with words but with attitude and actions. Tough assignments as well as divine appointments.
    Your heart that all are edified in our collective parts of the whole is a clear reflection of who ((and Whose) you are brother. It’s better than Blue Bell ice cream yo!!😎

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