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Hard Won Lessons on Leadership – Part Five

A leader should always have an agenda, but it should never be hidden.

I’ve been shocked over the years to discover the distrust people have of their leaders, even those in ministry. We know that’s true in general, but it rarely dawns on an individual leader that their people, or even their own families don’t always trust them. Most leaders believe we’re men or women of integrity and therefore, we don’t have to be concerned about that problem. We do! So, why is it that we often distrust leaders?

1. Almost everyone has had someone in authority over them, who has hurt, embarrassed or betrayed them.

My father had a good friend – a very successful Christian businessman, who I discovered was gossiping about my father behind his back. I once had a teacher who everyone knew gave good grades to his pet students and lesser grades to students who challenged his ideas.

Perhaps you had a controlling parent, a critical spouse, or coach who humiliated you in front of others. So, have the people who work for you. They will often unconsciously project their experience on to you. I’ve repeated this maxim often: No one was raised in a Petrie dish – we all have emotional baggage. We’ve all experienced hurt by others because of sin and as a result, we’ve become wary of the motives and agendas of others.

2. Most of us know that we, ourselves have been deceitful in the past and therefore, we are wary of that sin in others.

A few years ago, a small group of people in our church met with the elders and accused us of being deceitful about a plan we were proposing. To a man, we were shocked they could even think of us as intentionally deceiving them. Later, meeting alone with my pastor, I was still hurting from their accusations. My pastor then made this wise observation, “Each of those people have very strained relationships with other family members. Some are bullies. Now, they’re simply projecting on us, what they intuitively know about themselves. They assume we’re just like them.”

To some extent, that’s true of each of us. Because all of us have occasionally been secretive, or not totally forthcoming with certain facts or information that might embarrass us, or torpedo our plans, we assume others may be doing the same to us – a hidden agenda. There is a reason for people to be a bit skeptical of all leaders. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to prove ourselves to be the exception. But how?

Agenda or Plan? There’s an important difference between an agenda and an actual plan. An agenda is the issue you hope to address and why you think it’s important to address it – it’s your motive for action.

A plan or proposal are the ideas being put forth to accomplish your agenda. By answering the “why” question first (the agenda) often a leader is able to lower the fear factor for his or her plan, giving it a much greater chance of success.

Leaders have agendas. I’ve had people make this accusation of me, “You have an agenda here!” My answer is invariably. “Of course I do! Every leader ought to have an agenda! That’s what drives change. But, here’s the promise I’ll make to you, I have no hidden agendas.”

It’s amazing what happens when I make that statement. People relax a bit; because I’m simply saying out loud what we all know is true. Everyone has an agenda!

Most people fear the unknown, more than the known. If people don’t know why you’re proposing something, they will become fearful. So as much as possible and as soon as possible, I try to lay out exactly what my agenda is. When I do, it often takes much of the tension out of the room, even if we disagree on an issue.

Occasionally, I’m not at liberty to disclose certain facts to people, which they might later conceive as “a hidden agenda”. In those cases, if possible, I’ll tell them that there are certain facts I can’t disclose that may also affect my ultimate decision. My goal is to help them be aware that there may be hidden facts that may influence my decision, but not a hidden agenda.

In Conclusion One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about leadership, not surprisingly, came from Jesus. “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” A good leader is able to put himself, or herself in the place of another and ask themselves, “If I were them, what information do they need to help them understand why I’m asking them to act or believe a certain way?” Psychologists call it having empathy for others. Followers of Jesus for 2000 years have simply called it the “golden rule”.

This Thursday, I’ll post my “final” blog in the Leadership Series. (But, my guess is there’ll be more in the coming year!)

Question: Have you ever been hurt by someone’s hidden agenda?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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