Leading with courage in the midst of betrayal

Chuck Swindoll encourages leaders to keep a tender heart and a tough hide.  In my last blog on 7 practices to avoid becoming a self-absorbed, narcissistic leader, I dealt with the  “soft side” of dealing with the wounds of betrayal from abandonment or abuse.  A tender heart keeps us from becoming jaded.

The flip side is: You have to develop a tough hide or you will get eaten alive.  A leader can’t take things personally.  Here a few lessons I have learned over the journey about leading courageously in the face of betrayal:

Relationships are never neutral…Check out the following grid from Nebel and Rohrmayer (2005)

Quadrant I   Work with these people.   But, watch for signs of erosion.

Quadrant II Intentionally look for ways to build your relationship with them.

Quadrant III  Look for ways to inform, educate and expose them to working models.

The dotted line in the middle is like the peak of a roof.  Because relationships are dynamic, people can slide if a leader is not engaged and attentive.

Quadrant IV  If these people do not move to Quadrant II or III, encourage them to find a better place to serve.

You can’t please everyone.  Don’t try it.  I realized that this was impossible when one person I had visited little said I was pressuring him too much; and another person with whom I had much more contact said I was neglecting him!  A leader’s audience is One.  Aim to be obedient to Him and please Him first and foremost.

Entropy:  Don’t wait until people detach, disengage or decide to quit under the pressure.  When they are not performing or there is “funk”, act quickly to resolve the issue.  People who will not be part of a team, make changes to grow or will not be accountable have no future in the organization.  I can waste a year or two of their life trying to “make them fit” or “redeem” them, and burn a lot of my emotional energy by trying to coerce them to stay.  Release them to their future sooner rather than later, and save everyone a lot of headache.

Have the difficult conversations.  Difficult conversations are a part of life and you will not always achieve perfect results; but you can reduce the fear and anxiety.  According to Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project, each difficult conversation has three levels:

      1. The “What Happened” Conversation.  Most difficult conversations have different perspectives.
      2. The Feeling Conversation.  Every difficult conversation asks and answers questions about feelings.
      3. The Identity Conversation.  The conversation we each have with ourselves about what this situation means to us.  We conduct an internal debate over whether this means we are competent, a good or bad person, worthy of love or unlovable…

Visit MaturitasCafe for more on difficult conversations.

Remember the 80/20 rule:  In one leadership position, we spent the first few years trying to convince people to get on board.  We spent 80% of our time and resources in crisis management with these people who would not be the future of the organization.  They eventually left despite our efforts.  If I had to do it over again,  I would identify and invest in the potential future leaders , and not try to manage independent people who did not want to be part of a team or the organization.

Don’t give in to emotional blackmail: Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”   Criticism and manipulation also have a way of eroding courage.  Do the right thing no matter how much pressure you receive.  If you are in ministry, it is especially important to develop a board of advisors who can give outside perspective.  Also develop relationships with other leaders at your level.  Most likely they have already faced the issues you are dealing with.  Learn from them.

Remove doubt by the roots.  I have learned to ask one simple question that has helped me engage with others who make hurtful comments:  “Why would you say that?”  Ask this question and then listen for an answer.  It is even alright to go back to the person to ask that question in the next conversation.  But don’t let too much time go by or you will waste lots of emotional energy on something that may not be an issue.

What has helped you lead with courage?

Other posts in this series:



Nebel, T. and Rohrmayer, G. (2005).  Church planting landmines.  Churchsmart Resources.

Stone, D., Patton, B., Heen, S., and Fisher, R. (2000). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most.   New York: Penguin Group.


About Steve Morgan

I work in Global Leadership Development with Cru with my wife, Terry. We have been married 30 years and have 4 grown children. We have a Masters in Global Leadership together through Azusa Pacific University. I generally write about 5 “L’s: Living Well, Loving Deeply, Learning Continuously, Leading Courageously and Leaving a Legacy. I occasionally write about Laughing Loudly. Subscribe on the right side to receive an email whenever there is a new post. I invite you to leave your comments so we can dialogue on the various topics and learn from each other. If you are new to the site, you might start with looking at some of the top posts or doing a search on the right side bar for one of the 5 “L’s” that interest you. Or you can view the blog archives for topics. Photo Credit: sarahjoellephotography.com
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