How vulnerable should leaders be?

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.

2 thoughts on “How vulnerable should leaders be?”

  1. I completely resonate with this. I am always so much more blessed by listening to someone be real than to someone telling me what they think I want to hear. Pastors are the worst at it. THE WORST. But, the reason they are is because as a matter of survival in today’s brand of church, they’ve learned to survive and tell half-truths when necessary. I get so sad listening to this very conversation take place amongst ministers. More hurt and tears behind closed doors happens because of that very thing. We, as believers, ought to have a small group of people we can be honest with. Some of that honesty can and will spill out into normal life. I just hope we can do better with responding to it. Honestly, I’m more interested in what the broken have to say and more impressed by a heart that’s been humbled thank I am some other person with someone “to prove”.

    The pastor at our church took a long sabbatical. He shared the deatils with the church in a way that made us trust him and want to walk with him through th long haul. Now he’s back and better…and we’re the better for it!

  2. I feel that leaders must choose who to share the vulnerability with. Leaders are human, and a person can only take so much without being vulnerable to someone. I don’t feel that leaders should share all of their inner feelings, but at the same time I feel that some inner thoughts and feelings should be shared. Thanks for bringing this up!

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