Leadership is a relationally risky endeavor.
There is simply no way around that reality. What makes leadership so challenging from a relational perspective? Leaders make decisions and decisions have emotionally charged ramifications in the relationships of the people who those decisions affect. This is why, of course, it is so imperative to exercise great wisdom and use high doses of emotional intelligence when making big decisions that greatly affect the lives of others.
I can honestly say that some of the biggest mistakes I have made in leadership roles over the past 15 years involved careless or insensitive decision making. Making decisions while failing to count the “cost of the offense”. Closing a deeply loved department or ending a ministry program that people have invested blood, sweat, and tears into, is a difficult, but unavoidable component of leadership. It always will be. With this high probability of offending others in your leadership decisions, there is another danger crouching at our door as well: the danger of “perceived offenses”. These are times where we are offended with another, for all the wrong reasons, or perhaps for no reason at all. I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been offended by friends for failing to make much of me. I have been offended by a leader in a position above me, who makes a difficult decision that affects me in a negative way. These perceived offenses are often as dangerous as a serious grievance because they are difficult to diagnose in our own hearts. In Ryan Lokkesmoe’s excellent new book, “Paul and His Team: What the Early Church Can Tell Us about Leadership and Influence”, the danger of perceived offenses is addressed:
”We need to remember that Satan wants us mired in disagreements. He wants to stir up a multitude of perceived differences in our hearts in order to keep us in a perpetual state of anger or bitterness, which cripples our ability to reflect Christ. Satan wants to keep us focused on ourselves, to turn our ministries into mechanisms of propping up are you go. One of his classic tactics us to dress pride up in disguise it from us so that we don’t think it’s pride.” p.92
One of the Enemy’s great unity-destroying tactics in a team of people is a series of small nudges in the direction of offense. Usually, when I am struggling with a perceived offense it is because I am assuming that the one I feel wronged by is as obsessed with me as I am! How do we slay this dragon?
Repentance and communication.
Repentance frees us up to see where we are holding a grudge and communication helps us work through those misguided feelings. There are few offenses that cannot be addressed helpfully in a short, earnest conversation.
After a quick glance at the Cross, all offenses seem less important.