As servant leaders, we care deeply about those we lead. In fact, the feature that sets servant leadership apart is the capacity to place the needs of followers first, even above the organization. As a result, we invest emotionally in these relationships. This is a good thing. Unfortunately, when our focus is misplaced, this capacity to care has a downside. We may find ourselves frustrated and burned out by those we lead.
During my tenure at a medical pregnancy network, first as a volunteer and then as the director, I learned some valuable concepts that I apply to my life and leadership settings. By making a shift in my thinking, I am able to view my leadership influence in a new way. When I am actively engaged in this way of thinking, I am able to avoid being an exhausted leader and lead as an empowered one.
The first concept that liberated me as a leader is understanding the difference between goals and desires.
According to Dr. Larry Crabb, “A goal is an objective that is under my control.” For example, suppose my goal is to lose ten pounds. My wonderful husband can make a delicious caramel cheesecake (my favorite dessert), and he can set it right in front of me with a fork and napkin. But does he control my choice? As tempting as his efforts may be, the answer is “No.” My goal to lose ten pounds is dependent on my own personal resolve and choices.
On the other hand, a desire is “an objective that I may legitimately and fervently want, but cannot reach through my efforts alone.” We can see this played out often in our families and churches. For example, among my own congregation there are people who struggle with addiction. They come to Christ and experience the forgiveness of sins, which is wonderful. But somehow many of them remain bound by addictive behavior. I may desperately want these dearly loved people to be free from the chains of addiction. I can fast and pray for them. I can provide Scriptural tools to help them transform their thinking patterns. I can even provide a safe, accepting environment for them to stay. Will that be enough? No. The decision to be sober is ultimately up to them.
God has called us into a partnership to reach out to the world with His love. However, it requires a positive response from others to become transformed disciples of Christ. That’s part of the mystery of free will–God giving all human beings the choice to accept Christ, to worship Him, to honor Him with their lives.
We will encounter a great deal of discouragement and burn out if we set unrealistic goals for the people we lead. We aren’t big enough to make people choose God’s will for their lives. God is big enough, but He never violates their choices. Set appropriate goals for yourself, ones that are completely within your control. Identify appropriate desires for others. Then direct your prayers accordingly. Goals for self; desires for others.
Next week we will take a look at the concept: “Responsible to others” versus “responsible for others.”
Do you struggle with setting inappropriate goals?
If so, identify some people for whom you have set unrealistic goals.
Reframe those goals in terms of desires. What effect will that have on your relationships?
Ask the Lord for wisdom in setting goals and desires.