Practical Insight To Navigate Leadership Pain

When you are uncertain if the pain of leadership is worth the outcomes of leadership, you are likely to experience frustration, doubt, and lack of joy.

We all love the promise of leadership. Changed lives, a better future, and the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It’s when the promise of leadership hits the pain of leadership that we can begin to doubt and ask, “Is it really worth it?”

The pain of leadership shows up in several different ways. Here are just a few.

The pain of being misunderstood
Communication is complicated. Social media interprets your words, and they travel at light speed. It’s difficult to recapture truth when perception wins the moment.

The pain of rejection
It’s more challenging to lead today than ever before. If you say the wrong thing (anything can be wrong to somebody), you can be canceled.

The pain of a personal attack
Those you have loved, served and developed for years can take you by complete surprise with a personal attack.

The pain of deep discouragement
Discouragement is highly prevalent among church leaders. It’s perhaps the leading cause of throwing in the towel. Unfortunately, Covid has elevated that reality.

When you read a list like this, it’s a sobering reality.

The first step in navigating leadership pain is to decide if it’s worth it.

You have a sense that the right answer is “Yes, it’s worth it.”

But it so often doesn’t feel that way.

You can’t talk yourself into true belief. The “dutiful solider” thing will help you get through a tough season, but it doesn’t work for a lifetime.

You need to authentically believe that the pain of leadership is worth the promise of leadership at a heart level to stay in the game for the long road.

Practical Insight to Help You Keep Going

3 Truths About Leadership Pain

1) There is no progress without pain.

NFL players know they’ll never gain ten yards, let alone score a touchdown without some pain while moving the ball down the field. But, it comes with the territory, and they’ll tell you it’s worth it!

How much more for us who get to serve the church?!

There is no progress without pain; therefore, leadership comes with a cost. That is why you must first decide that the pain is worth the promise.

We would all love it if leadership consisted of blissful lunch meetings with wonderful volunteer leaders, good coffee while studying the Bible, and people lining up to serve in the nursery. But we all know that’s not the reality of leadership.

Sacrifice, setbacks, and struggles line the path of leadership, but progress toward the vision makes it all worthwhile and then some!

Embracing the pain does not mean that we seek it or enjoy it. It’s not about some weird ascetic perspective of pain. It’s simply acknowledging reality.

2) Personal growth comes through pain.  

In his excellent book Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, My friend Sam Chand writes, “You’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain.”

That is such a profound truth.

So many good leaders have “tapped out” because the pain became too great. As a result, they are no longer in ministry.

In some cases, this was the wise and healthy thing to do, but many times if each person could see to the other side of pain, the personal growth would carry them through.

Stretching the threshold of your pain starts with your calling; it’s connected to your vision and resides in your resilience.

3) You simply cannot outrun pain.

As a young leader, I was bright-eyed and eager; I had no idea there was opposition. Today, I’m still fired up and incredibly hopeful about the future, but I’m very aware of the price tag and have learned how to successfully navigate it.

I have learned that as leaders, we cannot outrun pain, and when we try, it makes things worse.

The most common ways leaders attempt to outrun pain is by:

  • Medicating it – Covering pain with pleasure.
  • Avoiding it – Pretending it’s not real.
  • Indulging it – Feeling sorry for self.

Instead, it’s much better to face it, be honest about it, and grow through it.

Let’s look at a few things that will help you do that.

3 Steps to Turn Pain to Power:

Note: Please don’t think I’m trivializing anyone’s pain by giving “three easy steps.”  Pain is difficult, and the journey isn’t easy, but I want to encourage you and say that you can do it, it’s worth it, and I pray this will help.  

1) Don’t lead alone.  

Pain makes us pull back. We tend to shrink our dreams to fit our pain. We often try to protect our hearts from more hurt, which can result in pulling back from the people we need to reach out to.

When you lead more isolated, you can lose perspective, motivation, and confidence.

Pain was never meant to be held inside. Pain carried in your gut is like cancer that eats away at the leadership spirit God placed in you.

You were not designed to lead alone. Instead, lead shoulder to shoulder with at least a small group of people that know you well, love you as you are, give sound advice, and help you carry the load.

These are leaders and friends whom you trust, and they trust you. They will tell you the truth and are for you. But, remember, you don’t need many like these to grow through pain and go the distance with joy, peace, and success as God defines it.

2) Allow the pain to deepen you, not defeat you.

Let me say again that leadership pain is not something we seek or enjoy, but it does come with the territory.

Leadership pain can either defeat you or deepen you.

When we embrace the pain that life brings our way rather than attempt to medicate, avoid or indulge it, one of the first good things we do is reflect on it.

Reflecting on your pain is not the same as getting stuck in it; it’s about slowing down to understand the hurt and loss and how to grow through it. This deepens you at a soul level and makes you stronger.

The stronger you become, the greater ability you gain to press through the next pain point faster and with more resilience.

This often requires someone to talk through it with you. Don’t hesitate to do that. But, remember, don’t lead alone, and always take your pain to Jesus. He understands it.

3) Keep your eyes on the promise.

If you’re a parent, you love your kids and would do almost anything for them. However, you also have likely faced at least a few challenging moments, including some conflict and maybe disappointment along the way.

However, as a mom or dad, when you keep your eyes on the promise and hope of your kid’s future, it keeps you going!

It not only keeps you going but with unconditional love, commitment, and joy!

It’s very similar to a leader of those you love, care about, and are responsible for. The hope of a better future keeps you going. When you see life change, you are fired up to continue leading.

What’s your dream? What’s your vision?

Keep your eyes on the promise!

9 thoughts on “Practical Insight To Navigate Leadership Pain”

  1. For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for receives a blessing from God.
    Hebrews 6:7

    Praise the Lord

  2. Many years ago when I taught high school I took a risk to do something I had never seen done at the high school level. There was the risk of failure and success but nothing would be the same. In the end it was huge success. Before I implemented what I had developed, most people I shared my plan with questioned the plan on the basis of the risk involved. Only one person helped me evaluate the plan and he gave me one recommendation. Once I was identified by educators in the state for having an exemplary program and no dropouts in a school that had a 2/3 dropout rate they asked to meet with mea and talk with my students in the classroom. One of the results was my students won every competition every year. The first year of teaching was spent improving the quality of education and raising the level of what the students expected of themselves. In the end they were winners and were willing to do what it took to win. What I did was much like Jesus did in John 6 when he called his disciples to a higher calling. When we walk with Jesus many others are proven wrong who seem to think following Jesus is a good activity. Others walk away when Jesus calls, and those who accept his call realize the difference Christ makes. Bold leaders lead bold people. We make disciples like we are.

  3. Dan, I think that this is one of the most important and valuable posts that you have made. I have seen it in my own life as well as most pastors. Many pastors who feel overwhelmed will cover this to keep people from thinking that they are weak. Self awareness is key and as you said in the article lean on others. So grateful this Thanksgiving for you and your friendship and leadership. You are such a blessing to so many. You bring so much and give so much to the table. You have helped scores of pastors throughout your ministry. You are a holy and godly man. Thanks for who you are and what you do! Happy Thanksgiving to you and the family!

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