Updated: May 25
(Though this post was written with pastoral leaders in mind, it absolutely applies to those leading in business or anywhere else!)
It isn't too often that you find yourself weeping at 4am in a bunk alone in a cabin, but I doubt I will ever forget that moment over 15 years ago.
I was in a season of working my "day job" (that I wasn't really thrilled about) and doing/running my ministry full time as well. I had just finished preaching at a retreat earlier that night and then immediately made the almost 4 hour drive to be at the next retreat that I was preaching at. I was exhausted from ministry and life; and I was alone.
No one knew any of that of course. No, they saw what I projected:
I am doing the Lord's will.
God is moving through my ministry.
I am handling the hardships like a champ.
I am a put together and successful leader whom you should follow.
In reality, I had burned the candle at both ends with a flame thrower. In reality, I had problems that I didn't know how to solve. In reality, I should have reached out WAY BEFORE it had gotten to that point.
And obviously from there I reached out for support, so that I would never find myself in that position again, right? Nope! But why don't we as pastors/leaders reach out, especially when we readily and often encourage others to reach out?
It usually begins with pride:
"I don't need help. I help others. I can do this on my own."
And then we quickly spiritualize that thought to make it palpable... maybe by incorrectly applying some passage like Philippians 4:13 and conveniently forgetting passages like Proverbs 28:26:
"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered."
On that same note, Abraham Lincoln has been credited with reciting an old legal saying:
"A Man Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client."
(And please don't think for one minute that today as a ministry coach, I am not actively being counseled and coached. I have lived this foolishness before, as in the story above, and truly do not want to go back there again.)
And then in that pride, we busy ourselves trying to ironically solve the problems alone, without giving any real consideration to the environment that the problems grew in and now thrive in:
"Isolation? I am not isolated! I am surrounded by people all of the time. I am a leader. I am in ministry!"
Yet, we have all experienced feeling alone in a crowded room. And for pastors/leaders, that momentary feeling alone in a crowded room can quickly turn into a dangerous way of life. Did you read that last statement as dangerous for you? Good, because it is.
But it is also dangerous for those around you - you become dangerous! I like the way that Eric Geiger, Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Southern California, introduced this concept in his blog 6 Reasons Isolated Leaders Are Dangerous Leaders:
"An isolated leader is a dangerous leader. The sting of criticism, the burden of the responsibilities, and the pace of leadership can nudge a leader towards isolation, but every step towards isolation is a step towards danger. Sadly, many leaders move towards isolation. They have taken the cliché “it’s lonely at the top” as justification..."
He then goes on to give six reasons how isolated leaders are dangerous.
Ok, but let me get back to why it is dangerous for you specifically. I like the way that Doris Helge said it in this article that she wrote for Forbes - How To Avoid Leadership Isolation:
"The view from the highest point of a summit on a crystal-clear day is so breath-taking that a foolish leader filled with visions of their own greatness will forget that everything in life is but a moment in time. The very same mountain top can become one of the harshest, loneliest and most miserable places in the world if you’re all alone and a series of storms threaten your safety.
Don’t set yourself up for a fall if your title or your rise to the top create an illusion that you and you alone can lead your team."
The next objection that I often get is something to the effect of, "I meet with..." That statement usually ends with some friend, accountability partner, mentor, leader, etc.
And you should be meeting with those people.
But do you meet regularly and consistently with those people? Are those discussions focused on the problems/burdens in your ministry or business? Are those conversations dedicated to addressing those problems and relieving those burdens? Did you partner with that other person to build out a viable solutions roadmap and then become accountable on a regular basis to execute on that roadmap towards success?
If you answered "yes" to all of those, then you are probably already partnered with someone; moving out of isolation and travelling down the road to resolve (assuming you are partnered with the right someone).
And that is where most pastors/leaders in isolation go wrong - partnership.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17.
And don't mistake partnering as being the same as meeting. Many pastors/leaders meet with people to stave off the appearance of isolation in their own soul (back to that alone in a crowd thing), but they don't truly partner with anyone - in obedience to Galatians 6:2:
"Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
Why? Because partnership and letting someone else carry and help you navigate your burdens is often the first step out of isolation, and isolation is a false feeling of safety. Don't fall for this lie. It isn't safety. In fact it is the exact opposite. Fellow coach Andy Knutson said this to me recently:
"The enemy works hard to separate us from each other. It is through isolation that he is able to gain influence over people's thoughts."
So, if you didn't answer "yes" to those questions above, then find someone "called" and experienced in partnering with pastors/leaders to navigate those problems with you.
Is that Grats? In most cases yes and you can contact us here to get that conversation started.
Does it have to be Grats? No.
But at this point, you are most likely understanding that it needs to be someone who accurately fits the bill; who is "called" and experienced in partnering with pastors/leaders to navigate those problems with you.
So, I encourage you to stop waiting (waiting is a standard trap that sits at the beginning of the path out of isolation) and take brave action in the next 24 hours to make changes and find/decide on the right partner.