Leadership can often be very fulfilling and rewarding. It provides a unique, and sometimes rare, opportunity to help individuals, teams, and organizations realize their full potential while achieving something of meaning and lasting significance. This is the appealing side of leadership.
But on the flip side, leadership can also be very draining on an emotional, relational, and physical level. People always need you. They expect you to have all the answers. They expect you to consistently exhibit positive energy and enthusiasm. They expect you to always be strong and confident in times of difficulty.
These are all reasonable and understandable expectations because it is natural for followers to look to leaders for guidance, support, and inspiration.
However, who supports the leader? Who is reaching out and checking on them? To see how they can help? To see what challenges the leader is facing? To see if the leader’s “energy bucket” is being filled or depleted?
This is the part of leadership is that often taken for granted and overlooked. I mean, if someone is a leader, they must have it all together and figured out, right? Not at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and we see the evidence of this in leaders from all walks of life. No leader is immune to the dangers associated with becoming burned out, isolated from others, and emotionally drained.
Recently Pete Wilson, senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, resigned after 14 years because, in his words, he was “leading on empty.” Wilson said, “I’m tired. I’m broken, and I just need some rest.” While it was refreshing to hear this level of transparency from a leader, it was also disheartening to see a well-respected leader step away from what he loved because he found himself in a place of exhaustion and brokenness.
How does it get this bad for leaders? What is causing this to happen?
It happens because we put leaders in a terribly difficult place by expecting them to always have things all together, while simultaneously helping everyone else have it all together as well. This is simply not fair or realistic. Why? Because leaders are people too. They don’t always have it all together, and they need to be able to have the freedom and safety to admit this. They also need to know that the people they lead will be there to support and encourage them, not judge and criticize them.
So if you are a follower, show some appreciation to your leader by encouraging them and letting them know that you are there to support them.
And if you are a leader, take time to refill your energy bucket to make sure you don’t get so depleted that you end up leading on empty.
Leaders are not superhuman–they’re just people. Both leaders and followers need to always be mindful of this reality.