3 Lies Leaders Tell Themselves

In leadership, integrity is everything. If the people who follow you can’t trust you then any chance at being an effective leader is shot. Yet sadly, while most leaders rightly try to be honest with those following them there is one person they spend a lot of time lying to: themselves.

When leaders are unwilling to first be honest with themselves—to invite a healthy dose of truth and perspective into their thinking, feeling, and decision making—then the leadership they offer others will be tainted by a sad, skewed, and misinformed understanding of the world around them. The end result is usually un-health, manifested most often in personal burnout, moral failing, or the loss of influence and trust among essential allies.

Leaders can be self-deceived on any number of issues. However, there are three lies that are most common and, arguably, most destructive.

Leadership Lie #1: “It’s not me, it’s them."

Yes, it’s possible that you simply made a bad hire—they were never a good fit. True, there will be those that fail to grasp your vision—they were never going to get it. And you are correct, change and turnover in your team are inevitable—life happens. But perhaps the reason for that staff member’s ineffectiveness, that board member’s doubt of your grand plan, or the cascade of employees that have exited your organization is not simply about them but about you?

It’s easy to deflect accountability, but a critical part of healthy leadership is remembering that you, as the leader, are the common denominator of the culture you create, and when issues emerge you must be willing to ask the question, “What was my role in making this happen?"

Leadership Lie #2: “It’s normal to have no friends."

You’ve heard it said that leadership is a lonely island. In many ways this is true. You’re often the only one who sees where the organization could go. You’re left alone to make the big, fat difficult decisions. But far too often we allow the singularity of the leadership role, along with the tasks of the leadership role, to keep us from having intimate and life-giving friendships while in the leadership role. And typically even when this lonely leader does invite others into his or her life it’s usually only for a season and because this person has a critical part to play in upcoming initiative. In other words, they’re not really friends. It’s a strategic alliance.

The end result of “friendless leadership” is that you have no one to help bear the burden of your leadership life, no one to offer insight, council, distraction, and—most importantly—unconditional acceptance. In friendless leadership bad habits go unquestioned, hurts go uncomforted, and the desire for your work to meet the needs of your soul—which it cannot do—grows like a weed.

Leadership Lie #3: “I just need a new plan."

Sure, sometimes a plan fails. Sometimes. But the truth is that more often than not a plan will work if the leader will simply work the plan. Most leaders give up on their strategic initiatives, their organizational structures and work flows too soon. Yes, being nimble and able to respond to issues as they emerge is a great tool to have in your organizational belt. But being incessantly nimble and constantly flexible is not a sign of good leadership. It’s a sign of deep insecurity.

Just because you’ve attended an insightful conference, had an exciting conversation with a colleague, or noticed an industry trend does not mean that your plan is faulty and that it’s time to reinvent the wheel. Fight that urge.

We live in a world where ingenuity is valued over stability. But it is stability that pours a foundation of trust beneath the feet of those you lead. It is consistency that creates a confident and empowered culture. Yes, you can always use new voices, new energy, and new gifts added to the team. But chances are you don’t need a new plan—at least not yet. You need to refine, measure, equip, and work the one you have.

In leadership, integrity is everything. But integrity begins not by being truthful with others, but by being relentlessly truthful with yourself. The question to ask is not “if” you are lying to yourself, but what lies are you tempted to tell yourself right now?

For Christian leaders this question drives us back to the freedom and beauty of the Gospel. When our identity is rooted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who has granted us a righteousness before the Father that is not our own, we are free to examine our hearts and to root through our internal "box of lies" without fear of rejection. After all, whatever lies we find have been covered over in Christ—so why wouldn’t we confront them, confess them, and be free of them?

[ This article was originally published at the Leader to Leader Blog from LCEF. ]