I once spent a day with a group of ministry friends and mentors. All of whom have been leading their organizations for a long time. We had a heartfelt conversation about the challenges of leading in the same organization for most of our adult lives.
As I processed our day together, I realized there are common denominators between leadership and marriage. Most of us try to make our relationships work out, both personally and organizationally. And its not easy.
As you read this, know this post comes out of my experience. I realize many marriages don’t make it. I realize that I will have a hard time understanding those dynamics. I’ve been married to my wife Toni for 23 years. We have not always had an easy marriage, but we are both so thankful that we decided to work through the issues.
Similarly, I’ve been in leadership with many of the same people for 18 years in the same community. It hasn’t always been easy. But we’ve seen some incredible things together. While these reflections come out of my personal experience, I offer them in the hopes that they help us all filter through the challenges of life and leadership.
1. There is no such thing as casual leadership
As much as we live in a culture where casual sex has become normal for many people, it doesn’t produce strong or healthy relationships. Similarly, there is nothing casual about leadership.
Like a healthy relationship, it takes work, effort and commitment over the long haul. As much as we try to make things easier and easier in our culture, leadership will remain challenging by its very nature. Just like great relationships, it will always take work, effort and commitment.
2. You need to choose between serial commitment and long-term commitment
Someone once told me that commitment in our culture has shifted from life-time monogamy to serial monogamy; you’re with someone exclusively for a few years until you move on.
Take a look around you. Many leaders approach leadership the same way. They’re with an organization for 3-5 years, and then they move on.
I’m not saying that’s always a bad idea. But most of the people who make significant impact in an organization stay at least a decade. If you think about most ministry leaders you admire and who have transformed their organizations and communities, most have been there their entire lives.
3. It’s easier to leave than it is to work through your issues
This is the gut wrenching part. Every leader I know who has been in leadership for a long time has been tempted to leave, tempted to pursue other interest and hit cruise control. In other words, been tempted to have an affair on what might be their real calling.
Very few couples who make it over the long haul do so because they have no issues. They stay when it’s easier to leave.
4. There will be some joyless seasons
It’s not all dancing and singing all the time. Every leader I know who is in long term leadership has either had to scale significant organization issues or even personal crises. God uses dark nights of the soul to grow us and shape us.
But here’s the promise. If you’re being faithful, your emotions eventually catch up to your obedience.
5. Wise people realize that they are the problem
Many relationships fail because one partner says the other partner is the problem. I lived like that in my marriage and in my leadership for a season until I realized that I’m the problem. In fact, the longer you stay in a relationship or leadership, the more you will have to come to terms with the grinding truth that you are the cap on progress.
That’s why serial relationships and serial leadership is so wide-spread. Leave soon enough and you never have to look in the mirror. It’s always someone else’s fault.
Wise people understand that embrace that they are the problem. I tell myself almost daily that I am the problem in leadership where I serve, and that potentially God might work a solution through me.
Wise people also seek help in identifying their blind spots and problems by gather mentors, counselors and friends around them to help them spot their issues. They are also wide open to hearing about problems from the people they work with.
6. There is certain joy that only happens after years of being together
When you are able to work through your issues in a marriage, everything gets better. Theres a certain joy that comes in being with the same person for 23 years. We know things about each other that no one else can know. We can read each other better than anyone else can read us. The deep pleasure in simply being together grows every year. There’s an intimacy that only time can deliver that is almost hard to put into words.
Thats one of the things I love about working with some of the same people for years and years. There are stories whose mere mention brings a smile to everyone’s face. The trust runs deep. And there’s a joy in knowing you’ve been in this together for so long and it’s making a difference.
What’s your experience? Do you see parallels between love, marriage and leadership?
Reposted with permission. Originally posted here.
Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church and is author of several bestselling books. Carey blogs, podcasts, writes and speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth.
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