How vulnerable should leaders be? Should we cover or reveal our weaknesses? Should we put on a brave and confident face, even if we aren’t brave or confident? Or should we be open about our struggles and doubts? Of course the answer isn’t found in one extreme or the other … it’s somewhere in the middle.
Leaders often feel the desire – and sometimes even pressure – to make themselves look better than they really are. Many leaders struggle to let their guard down, and in the process alienate people, and set themselves up for burnout or flameout when it comes to light that they are not living congruently.
Don Miller has a great article on his blog about this topic. Here are a few excerpts:
Christian leaders who can’t admit their mistakes place a wall between their congregation and God, rather than a window. They paint an image of Christ on themselves, as they feel this is their job. People like the painting of Jesus they see on the wall, but in the end, the painting isn’t the real thing, and so Jesus just gets distorted.
A person who cannot admit their faults is afraid, is insecure, and leads from the belief that if they make a mistake, nobody will follow them. A confident person would admit mistakes freely, because they really don’t need you or I to approve, they would get that from Jesus, and they’d teach us to get it from Jesus too. Instead, they teach us that they do not make mistakes, and so they are selfish.
Nobody in scripture is perfect, save Christ. And God has no trouble airing the dirty laundry of his followers. Peter denies Christ, but God leaves the incident in the text, Moses is a murderer, but God leaves the story in the text, David cheats on his wife, Lot offers his daughters, Thomas won’t believe his friends who saw Christ alive, and so on and so on. There are few good marriages in the Bible, and fewer good fathers. Throughout the ages, Christians have been more than comfortable admitting their humanity, almost as a reference to God’s goodness. Until, that is, western civilization and, perhaps, the commercialization of our culture. Now Jesus is a product, and we sell him, and if we are selling a product, the product better work, so we just make things up about how great we are.
I’ve noticed healthy children often have parents who sit down with them and explain their short-comings. A parents admission that they weren’t perfect frees the child to learn from their parents mistakes rather than cover up or react to family issues. But parents who, in neediness and selfishness, will not admit fault, in an effort to control their children, often have children who feel they cannot be safe with their parents, and sometimes react. Authenticity works in all forms of leadership, I think.