Several years ago I read “Becoming a Leader of NO Reputation” by author/lecturer R. Scott Rodin, who is president of Rodin Consulting Group of Spokane, Washington and who previously had been president of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Here are two provocative excerpts:

“Leaders are exposed to opportunities to generate applause.  It can come in the form of commendation from the board, approval of our decisions by employees, recognition of our institution’s work by constituencies, admiration of our leadership abilities by co-workers, and words of appreciation from our students.

“As public figures, we receive both the undue criticism for the failures of our institutions, and the unmerited praise for their successes. The true calling of leadership requires us to accept the former and deflect the latter.  That is, our job is to take the blame for mistakes made by those under our leadership and to deflect the praise and re-direct it to those most responsible for our success.  In this way we keep ourselves in balance, never taking the criticism too personally and not accepting the praise too easily.  But this balance is often very difficult to maintain.

“One axiom of leadership I have come to appreciate reads, ‘leaders do not inflict pain, they bear it.’  In the same manner, leaders do not absorb praise, they re-direct it.  The success of any . . . leader lies significantly in their ability to keep this two-fold movement of leadership in balance.  Leaders who inflict pain lose trust and dishearten their people.  Leaders who absorb praise produce resentment and sacrifice motivation.”


“Two significant temptations come to play here.  The first is the fear of rejection that causes us to run from confrontation.  The second is the desire to make everyone happy and to measure our performance, our effectiveness and our ‘leadership’ on that scale.  The two are very closely related.  The first temptation is motivated by the idea that good leaders will not generate conflict, and that rejection of our performance in our role as leaders is a rejection of our personhood and character.  These are significant pitfalls for a leader.  They are generated from that deep-seated desire to hear the applause of all with whom we work.

“The second temptation is to lead by reacting.  We see which way the wind is blowing and steer that direction, regardless of the situation.  We do not want our people to be anxious, to question our decisions or disagree with our reasoning.  We want harmony and unity, which is commendable.  But left unchecked, this desire will cause us to sacrifice courage, vision and risk-taking.  It will bring us momentary applause, but will ruin us in the end.  To use a variation on a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Some leaders worry themselves into nameless graves, while here and there some forget themselves into immortality.’

“So we must ask ourselves just what kind of applause are we seeking?  If it is human applause that validates, that affirms and that encourages us, we will also find that same applause binds us, boxes us in and ultimately strangles the life out of us.  When our daily self-worth and the measure of our effectiveness come primarily from the reaction of those with whom we work, then we are finished as . . . leaders.”

You can find the entire article in Journal of Religious Leadership/Vol. 1, No. 2/(Fall 2002), pp. 105-119.

Posted in: Leadership


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