I don’t fancy myself any sort of great leader, but there are two things I have learned about leadership over the years, and they are intimately related.
Just about the worst thing a leader can nurture in his heart is self-pity. And just about the worst thing a leader can do in front of his people is murmur and complain.
I understand there is an appropriate place for lament. I know it is not always wise for leaders to quietly endure injustice. I’m not encouraging leaders to be stoic and indifferent to pain. What I am saying—and rather forcefully I hope—is that leaders must not be whiners.
If you are a leader, by definition you have followers. And if you have followers, then you often make decisions that impact other people. You sometimes get the last word. Your voice speaks louder and carries further than others. Yes, you have great responsibility, but you have unique opportunities too. That’s what it means to be a leader.
Sometimes I meet leaders who want all of the influence without any of the hassle. But that’s not how it works. The more people who report to you, the more people who can be upset with you. The more people who listen to your message, follow your tweets, and read your stuff, the more people who can fire shots at you. This is one of the irrefutable laws of leadership: the broader your influence flowing down, the more frequent the complaints can flow back up. Don’t be surprised by the fiery trials. Don’t be startled by opposition. Don’t let the ugliness of manipulation, the weakness of passive-aggressive behavior, and the cowardliness of retaliation took root in your soul.
Be vigilant against self-pity when it spots like gangrene in your heart. Do leaders deserve all the flack they get at times? Probably not. Do they deserve all the influence, opportunities, and privileges they’ve been given? Certainly not. Nothing good comes from feeling sorry for myself when people don’t like my ideas, or misjudge my motives, or forget all the good I’ve done in the past. Crying out to God is one thing. A very good thing too. But self-pity is not that. Self-pity is crying out in the echo chamber of my own little world. It’s issuing a lament just to take pleasure in hearing the lament over and over.
Leaders have feelings. Leaders get hurt. Leaders get discouraged. Sometimes leaders have to push back. But leaders should never whine and never feel sorry for themselves.