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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

05 Nov '12

Leaders and their reputations

Posted by T.J. Addington in Healthy leaders, reputation
A byproduct of leadership is a level of viability that many of us don't really want but which comes with the territory. Along with that visibility comes a vulnerability from those who are unhappy with us for decisions that are made and who choose to take shots at our reputation in return. Sometimes it is out of spite and anger. Other times it is out of a lack of understanding that we are not at liberty to clarify. Either way it can be painful for all of us care about our reputations.

This can be especially painful for leaders who have a need to be popular. That is an unhealthy need for leaders. We should desire to be respected but we give up the contest for popularity if we choose to lead. Inherent in leadership is the need to make unpopular decisions at times. 

Leaders are naturally targets when those they lead or others are looking for one. While there are many ways in which leadership can be a deeply fulfilling calling, this is not one of them. This is one of the costs of leadership rather than one of the perks. It is a cost we willingly take on with leadership which is why Peter says that leaders need to be willing to lead. 

How do leaders handle the painful shots that come their way? First, we must realize that ultimately our reputation is in the hands of God. David realized this in Psalm 37 and 73, two Psalms that have been of immense help to me over the years when the the missiles were particularly painful. 

Reputation management by ourselves does not work but God is completely able to handle our reputation in His way and in His time. When we focus on managing our reputation we are focused on the wrong thing. When we focus on doing what is right we are focused on the right thing.

While leaders are not able to share everything, a candid, open spirit can go a long ways to generate trust and understanding. The more open leaders are, the more accessible they become to those they lead. And, while others may not keep their emotions and anger in check toward us, it is important that we do toward others, even those who may not deserve it. Except on rare occasions, and with purpose, leaders seek to de-escelate conflict even when it is targeted at them. This is why I write so often on issues of EQ and leadership. The ability to manage our emotions is a large part of good leadership.

The ability to dialogue with those who become our critics can in many cases win them over, especially if we can speak honestly without losing our relational connection. This does not work with black and white people for whom you are either right or wrong but it does work with reasonable people. When your critics understand that you desire to hear and understand their point of view, even if you don't agree with them, it helps build bridges rather than walls. This is usually a learned skill and a very important one.

This is not possible without a non-defensive spirit, even when we are the targets. Defensiveness escalates the issue while non-defensiveness de-escalates. This is not an easy thing to do in the face of unkind words or actions but one that is a necessary leadership trait. The issue, after all, is often not really about us but about the organization and its direction and philosophy. The more impersonal we can keep the issues, the better chance we have to see resolution. The more we can keep issues impersonal and relationships personal, the better chance we have at resolution and understanding.

None of this means that we simply accept behaviors that are damaging to our organization or team. There are times when we need to be defining and clear about words and behaviors. This is not about us but about the health of the organization. When doing so it is critical to put it in writing or say what needs to be said in the presence of another so that there is clarity and accountability. 

Leaders bear greater responsibility than others especially when they become targets fairly or unfairly. How we respond to shots at our reputation is a test of our leadership.