Why People Pleasing Ultimately Damages Your Leadership

(Unsplash/Ishan Gupta)

People pleasing is common among leaders in the local church.

People pleasing is when you lead in such a way that you attempt to keep everyone happy. You receive affirmation and therefore feel good.

The congregation is happy, so they feel good. Seems harmless enough.

But the ill-gained affirmation you receive will hurt you and your leadership over the long-haul. And of course, you can't keep everyone happy, even if that was a good idea.

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You will end up exhausted, and some of the followers that are happy with you at the moment will turn against you the first time you attempt to make a tough decision that doesn't go to their liking.

It's not always that dramatic, but the day-to-day idea still functions in the same manner.

It's not unhealthy for you to enjoy knowing that the people you serve are happy. It's natural to want people to enjoy working with you. And it's normal for you to want people to like you.

The healthy place that comes from is a desire to serve and help people grow.

It becomes dangerous when you want people to approve of you more than you genuinely want to help people grow and mature in their faith.

People pleasing usually comes from insecurity and often results in a performance trap.

The performance trap is a condition where you work very hard to please others and gain their approval. The trap is that you can never do enough, and again, you can never make everyone happy all the time.

The trap includes feeling good about yourself when others approve of you, rather than finding your security in Christ.

6 practical reasons people pleasing hurts your leadership:

1) You may pull back or lighten up on the truth in Scripture.

It's not uncommon for a people-pleasing leader to pull back on communicating the truth in God's word, so they don't ruffle anyone's feathers. Their desire to be liked overtakes their passion for teaching the truth.

One common example is the reluctance to teach on tithing or challenge someone in their giving because that might make them uncomfortable or convict them spiritually. The thought of that resulting in conflict shuts down the right leadership behavior.

2) You may hide your real self.

People pleasers often have to pretend. They pretend they are happy with everything going on and they rarely are.

Secretly they often feel like they're being taken advantage of and like they work harder than everyone else. (They may be working harder, but it's their choice.)

When this happens, you lose connection with people because you're not presenting your real self.

3) You may avoid a tough decision.

Or worse, you may knowingly make the wrong decision just to keep people happy.

One of the more common stories here is when a leader keeps someone on staff who clearly should not remain on staff. They will tolerate poor performance or even a bad attitude because of the potential backlash that would come from letting that employee go.

4) You may overwork in order to gain approval.

Overworking is not always a pattern of people pleasing leaders, but often is. A strong work ethic is a good thing, overworking is not.

The result is usually exhaustion and regret. You end up hurt, and everyone wonders what happened.

5) You may delay or avoid an essential confrontation.

If you sidestep tough conversations to keep everything peaceful and in your favor, your leadership will eventually suffer. It may be anything from confronting sin to restoring a broken relationship.

Your willingness to speak the truth in love, even when it's uncomfortable or perhaps very difficult, is essential. Your willingness and ability to successfully have tough conversations will gain trust and respect in the long run.

6) You may inadvertently lower trust.

When your leadership fails to deliver courage and strength in the right moments, over time those who follow you may lose trust in you. Perhaps not in you personally, but in your leadership.

Your friends and followers may still trust your character but will lose trust in your leadership decision-making and execution.

People pleasing is not a new problem.

The apostle Paul talks about it in Galatians chapter 1:10: "For am I now seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? For if I were still trying to please men, I would not be the servant of Christ."

Your story or my story may not be the same as Paul's, but the big picture is the same.

The previous six points will help you know if people pleasing is a struggle or temptation for you.

If it is, the first stage of the way out is to begin to re-establish your identity and security in Christ.

As a servant of Christ:

  • Know you are loved by Him. Your sins are forgiven. God is your heavenly Father.
  • Find your security in Him, not in anything or anyone. God is your peace.
  • Trust that He can and will meet your deepest needs. God is your provider.
  • Know you are called by Him. He has chosen and gifted you. God is your power.

Breaking free isn't always easy, or fast, but there is freedom in Christ for all who desire it.

The second stage is to begin to practice leadership in a new way:

  • Lead in order to set an example for spiritual growth, not gain someone's approval.
  • Lead in order to serve people for their best interest, not to please them.
  • Lead in order to fulfill God's purpose, not perform for anyone's admiration.

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.

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