Over the years, I have had conversations with several top-level leaders. They are considered “top-level leaders” because they are the head of their respective organization. They are senior pastors of churches, presidents of non-profit ministries, and CEOs of companies. In our conversations, I often ask the question, “What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of your position?” I have received some very candid responses to this question. Their answers reveal that the perceptions of being a top-level leader are not always as it seems.
Based on my conversations, I have listed five ugly truths that those aspiring to be top-level leaders need to know:
1. If you are a top-level leader, many will consider you undeserving of your position.
They will never know the hours you worked and the time spent honing your skill set. They probably will never know your prior accomplishments, or, if they did, the significance of them. There will be those who think that someone else should do your job. They will think that someone is better qualified than you. And you will hear about it.
2. If you are a top-level leader, you will wear a target.
Complaints tend to outnumber compliments. Top-level leaders are the go-to targets for many disgruntled individuals. And sometimes, the complaints can take a very personal tone. As a top-level leader, you should anticipate receiving complaints about your church, ministry, or company.
3. If you are a top-level leader, you will bear the weight of responsibility for actions that have nothing to do with your leadership.
Your leadership will get blamed for issues that are out of your control. When an employee or volunteer makes a poor decision, you will feel the weight of the decision. As Arnold H. Glasow puts it,
A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.
4. If you are a top-level leader, there will be periods of loneliness.
There will be times when you feel like you have no one to which you can turn. You carry a burden of responsibility that no one else in the ministry can understand. The weight of big decisions is heavier for you. In these moments of loneliness, it is vital that you have trustworthy peers at other ministries to contact.
5. If you are a top-level leader, most will never know how much you genuinely care about those who work under you.
Most will never know that you wish you could give them a raise, that you really want them to love their work. Most will never know the tension that you feel between the ministry’s needs and their wants.
Perception is not always reality. Top-level leaders will tell you this. The scrutiny and weight of responsibility is unlike any other position that they have held. It is not all bad, but it is not all good. And that is the ugly truth.