When you started as a leader, life was probably full of potential and excitement. You had dreams of what was possible and lived with a heightened sense of energy to lead people or an organization towards a better future. This vision is what drives anyone who decides to serve in a leadership role. What most men in leadership roles are not aware of is the lonely side of being a leader.
It seems counterintuitive for a leader to be lonely. You are usually surrounded by or regularly interacting with people, so how is it possible to feel this way? Here is what I have found to be true: you can be near people and not be close to anyone simultaneously. In my life, I have had to battle certain leadership myths to try and defeat loneliness.
Myth 1: Nobody understands the challenges I am facing
Yes, your problems and concerns are often unique compared to the experiences of others. The more accurate statement is nobody you currently know understands the challenges you are facing. Therefore, it is vital to put yourself in the same spaces as peers or mentors who have gone before you. There is a great potential they are experiencing very similar challenges as you. If you are a men’s ministry leader, this need to connect with peers is why the Men’s Ministry Leader networks are so important.
Myth 2: Nobody wants to know the real me
We are convinced people are so busy they don’t want to know us on a deeper level. Plus, we live in fear of someone intimately knowing us because we have an image to uphold as a leader. What would happen if someone knew our greatest temptations? Where would things go if people saw us struggling?
The Bible speaks to this through the apostle Paul. We would all agree that Paul was one of the most influential leaders in the New Testament. But in 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul describes himself to Timothy in this way: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I am the worst of them.”
Hiding the real you is a form of shame. Hiding is what Adam and Eve did when they knew they had sinned. They hid from God and each other. One of the effects of the work of Jesus is to set us free from shame. Paul walked in this freedom by being honest with the people he was leading so they could know the real Paul. The Scriptures show us a leader who was open about his sinfulness, his anxiety (2 Corinthians 11:28), his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) and his disappointments (2 Timothy 4:10).
Helping people to see the real you is a sign of the work of Jesus in your life to remove shame.
Myth 3: I can’t be close to people I lead, and I don’t have time for anyone else
This has been a big one for me. Again, I take the lead from both Jesus and the apostle Paul. Jesus was very close to his disciples. He called them his friends, and he invited them to be part of his darkest moments in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul called Timothy his son in the faith and was also very transparent with his protégé.
When I was leading Promise Keepers Canada, I was blessed by great friendships with many staff and board members. In my new role as a pastor, I met with our small group and asked them for a favour: when I am in our group, I am not your pastor – I’m your friend. These friendships have been an incredible gift to me. People have seen me at my worst and in my most difficult seasons, and they still stood by me.
Why This Matters
Every day, I fight loneliness as a leader. I must choose not to be isolated and carry my struggles and thoughts on my own. Sometimes I get it right, but I often sit in the land of self-pity, believing nobody cares.
Loneliness is not something you should accept as “part of the job.” There is evidence that loneliness impacts your mental health, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and even alters your brain function. Addressing your loneliness will be a gift to yourself and the people you are trying to lead.