Three Ways People Pleasing Makes You Miserable

I once heard a leader reflect that if you want to be liked by everyone all you’ve got to do is stand for nothing, say nothing, and do nothing. Unfortunately for those of us committed to making a difference in our world that’s just not possible. Leaders by definition are people of intense belief and committed action, otherwise you’re just not leading!

What I’m getting at here is one of the most fundamental truths of leadership there is. Namely, that if you’re a leader not everyone is going to like you. It’s one of the most difficult, yet most important realities of leading to accept, but coming to do so is necessary because a failure to will doom your leadership for these three reasons.

  1. It Paralyzes You

    One of the most destructive aspects of a people-pleasing mentality in leadership is that it paralyzes you.

    For people pleasers division is a nightmare because it means people are frustrated with you because of the decision you made.

    Because it’s making decisions that produces these pain points, people pleasing leaders will inevitably wind up doing everything they can to avoid making them out of the mistaken belief that that’s the least painful option. But of course pushing decisions further down the road only makes them that much more painful to make when they’re finally made. Now, instead of just dealing with the blowback from the decision, you’re dealing with additional frustration that you waited so long to make it! Nobody wins when a leader is paralyzed in decision making.

  2. It’s Impossible

    Perhaps the most distressing aspect of making “keep everyone happy” a priority in your leadership is that it’s impossible. That’s the great folly of people-pleasing, trying to please everyone ultimately means you’ll please no one. If you signed on for leadership thinking the people you lead will always be happy with you you’re in for a shock.

    Leadership is about doing what’s best, not what’s easiest; and doing what’s best often precipitates wading knee deep into conflict and hurt feelings.

    But there’s hope. As paralyzing as it can be to try and live in the impossible reality of pleasing everyone there’s great opportunity available to the leader who will unashamedly reject the allure of a people pleasing spirit. As Henry Cloud puts it,

    Once you get that it truly is impossible to please everyone, you begin to live purposefully. You begin to play offense. You start spending your time and energy on things that bring meaningful results, rather than on the impossible goal of making everyone else happy.

    I can think of few things worse than wasting energy over and over again trying to do something that’s impossible. Don’t make that mistake by believing you can make everyone happy with your leadership.

  3. It Serves the Wrong Master

    We’ve arrived now at the most important reason for resisting the temptation to people please in our leadership- people pleasing teaches us to serve the wrong master. As Christian leaders we are accountable to God and God alone for our leadership. For as Paul reminds us, “Whatever you do work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

    As Christian leaders we must be aware of what the people we lead want, but we must be most aware of what God wants. Leadership is often lonely, and leading well is no guarantee of popularity.

    That’s why learning to lead for the approval of God, not others, is so important. Look for approval in what people think of your leadership and you’ll doom yourself to a life spent forever chasing the winds of popular opinion. But look for approval in what God thinks of your leadership and you’ll free yourself to live a life full of purpose, appreciation, and rest.

People pleasing is impossible, encourages us to serve the wrong master, and paralyzes us from making key decisions that need to be made. So why waste time on it this week? I’m at my worst as a leader when I let the spirit of people pleasing define my leadership, and I’d be willing to bet the same goes for you. For further inspiration on this topic check out Carey Nieuwhof’s great post “Five Ways People Pleasing Undermines Your Leadership.”

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