Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

The Loneliness of Leadership

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I attended a learning event where we were talking about how difficult the calling of a pastor is. Let’s face it, you don’t pursue that particular calling for the money. In most cases, a leader will earn much more in a general marketplace position than they will in the church. The hours are long. Pastors don’t have set “9 to 5” hours, they are always “on call”. In most cases, a pastor does not get the respect that a workplace leader would receive. And while a pastor will occasionally be told how a particular sermon blessed someone, it is often a difficult and lonely calling.

That got me to thinking that in general the call of leadership is a lonely calling. Now, there are certainly many, many joys of leadership. Some of the things that I really enjoy about leadership have been:

  • Working with people who are excited about continuing to grow. This energizes me and motivates me to continue to grow.
  • Seeing people meet, or even exceed, their career or life goals.
  • Rewarding people for a job well done.
  • Seeing people who have had performance problems, work hard and turn things around. There are not many better experiences for a leader than this.

And yet, for all of the joys of leadership, the calling of leadership can be a very lonely one. Within the Fortune 50 organization in which I spent my entire career, we had a well-defined leadership identification/development process. High performing/potential analysts would be identified as potential future leaders. They would work with mentors and be given challenging “stretch assignments” to help them grow. However, they would often find the workplace lonely when they were promoted to a formal leadership position. Some would find relationships with friends who were still analysts “awkward”, now that they were in “management”, and they began developing relationships with leadership peers.  This was not something that they had anticipated.

Going back to the calling of a pastor, I’ve observed that it is difficult for a pastor to have really good friends – people that they can just be themselves with – within their church. Many years ago, while with a pastor friend out of town, I recall him enjoying a glass of beer at a ballgame, something that he didn’t feel comfortable doing in his hometown because of his role. I completely understood that, though still felt bad for him. I have found that pastors can be friends with many, but good friends with only a few, and many times their best friends are outside of their church.

Leadership can be lonely for many reasons. I’ve often mentioned some core advice that my career mentor gave me about relationships with my team members. He told me that if I was to have one relationship with them, it needed to be a professional one. At that time, I led a team of Building Maintenance professionals. He said that I couldn’t go out bowling with them on one night and then expect to do a good job managing their performance and holding them accountable in the workplace the next day. It just wouldn’t work.

Leaders have to make difficult decisions about pay rewards, promotions, and in difficult times even ongoing employment, and cannot afford to let personal relationships impact those decisions. As a result, while team members often develop close relationships with each other, the relationship between the leader and their team members is just going to have to be a bit different.

In the learning event I mentioned above, someone mentioned that the higher up in an organization someone is, the lonelier it can be, which I agree with.  I can imagine the calling of a CEO being very lonely, for example.

People pursue a leadership calling for many reasons, some of them worthy (helping people grow and organizations prosper) and some not so worthy (power, greed, fame). One thing they may not realize before they enter into leadership is that it can be a lonely calling.

If you are a leader, what has been your experience with the loneliness of leadership?

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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