Sometimes leadership hurts. What do I mean? I'm referring to the fact that when an individual begins to lead, they become easy targets for criticism. Anyone who does anything worthwhile becomes an easy target for criticism and criticism hurts. That's a fact. If you can't handle being criticized you probably shouldn't lead.
The toughest part of leadership is not about having the strength to endure the criticism, it's about maintaining a soft, pliable heart in the midst of it. It's human nature to insulate yourself from hurt, but in the attempt to protect ourselves from further pain we actually end up hurting the very ones we are called to lead. This is because an isolated heart leads to a hardened heart. Great leaders prefer to hurt rather than allowing their hearts to get hardened. It is wise for a leader to see their heart in a similar way to an electrical wire which cannot conduct power until it's insulation is removed. Simply put, leaders must resist the natural desire to insulate their hearts and prefer to hurt.
A leader that insulates their heart to protect themselves from further pain will begin to exhibit the following signs:
- A Lack of Joy. Joy is a measurement of your real strength as a leader. Nehemiah said that "the joy of the Lord is our strength." One of the first signs of a hardening heart is the loss of joy in your personal life.
- Pride. Pride begins when you compare yourself to others. Insecurity in yourself and your calling will lead you to compare yourself to other leaders. You'll become jealous of those who are doing better than you and will feel a sense of happiness when looking at those who are worse off than you.
- Arrogance. The third level of a hardening heart is arrogance. Arrogance is the unwillingness to be questioned or opposed . The unwillingness to be challenged is generally a way to protect your heart from being hurt any worse than it is.
- Self-gratification. How would you feel about yourself if you suddenly lost your job, your looks, your money, etc? If your sense of significance is completely tied to external sources you are in danger of being slowly corrupted by power. This natural erosion is caused by an over insulated heart. We became leaders because we wanted to make a difference in people's lives. Yet, somewhere along the line our leadership stopped being about them, and it became all about us. That's a tell-tale sign of a hardened heart.
- Insensitivity . The next level of erosion is an increasing insensitivity to the needs of others. You are no longer interested in serving them, you begin to demand that they serve you. This is the stage when a leader begins to fall in love with power and uses power to manipulate others for self-serving purposes.
- Domination. The next stage is domination. You have to have it your way at any cost. You will begin to use fear as a primary motivator.
- Tyranny. The final stage of a corrupted heart is the misuse of power. This is when you shout, "I’m the leader, shut-up and do it!"
A biblical example of a leader who went through these stages of a hardening heart is, of course, King Saul. In contrast, King David was a leader who worked very hard at keeping his heart soft and pliable. He was a leader who simply preferred to hurt, rather than allowing his heart to become slowly hardened.
Question: How's your heart?