Self-pity is the kindest killer on earth. It will subtly sap strength, passion, drive, and purpose. It is to your life what cancer is to your health.
The cure for self-pity is responsibility. That's a great word when you break it down: Able to respond. When a setback occurs or adversity arises, we can influence whether we will progress or regress. Great leaders understand the need to take responsibility for a problem in their life or organization, even if it was not their fault. If I get a flat tire because I ran over a nail in the road, it may not have been my fault, but it is my problem now.
When things go awry, high level leaders work to fix it, whether or not they were caused the problem in the first place. It is when all hell breaks loose that you spot true leaders. True leaders summon strength in adversity. They own their thoughts in a crisis and inspire others to do the same.
As a pastor, I have had staff members miss an appointment with a member, or forget to return someone's phone call. Usually when this happens, our church will get a pretty heated call or email letting us know that we hurt them. When we failed to connect with them, they felt devalued. Many times, these shots are aimed at me despite the fact that I was not the one who forgot. But I am the one who has to call them and own the issue. I have to win them over and explain that they do matter, that we are all sorry, and would love nothing more than to make it up to them.
We all rise and fall together. When I make those calls, I am taking responsibility for the staff member as that person's leader. Sure, I have to get on the team member's case a bit, and set up procedures so it won't happen again, but playing the blame game here only strokes my ego and possibly feeds another's self-pity.
Feeling sorry for myself in these situations is immature. I know because I have had my fair share of pity parties over things like that. It never fixed anything. I'm learning that it's better to return a hit with a hug, that humility and responsibility are garments that look good on anybody. Strong leaders know that hurt people hurt others. When a leader refuses to give in to self-pity, they grow. You will win many battles in life by taking responsibility when others run.
This is the first of a two part post by Michael Cheshire.
Michael Cheshire is pastor of The Journey Church in Conifer, Colorado and author of How to Knock Over a 7-11 and Other Ministry Training (2012) and Why We Eat Our Own (2013)
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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