It happens to every leader. It’s those wounds that we often find. It’s those betrayals that seem to inevitably happen. The truth is, no matter your leadership capacity, there will always be people that hurt you, people that try to overpower you, and people that stab you in the back.
As leaders, we often wear targets on our backs. Whether young, old, experienced, or new, all leaders share this target. The target comes with influence and authority. The target is placed there because we’re the ones in front—leading, stepping out, and being bold with our vision. People will shoot at us. Those that have their eye on our spot, those that feel they could do better, and those that simply want to cause division will shoot at the target.
It’s just a reality of leadership. It always has been.
I love the way Jesus reacted to the power plays that came against his life and leadership. From the Pharisees being upset with Him for serving people on the wrong day of the week, to Jesus’ own town rejecting him when He tried to spend some time with them… Jesus survived His share of rejection, manipulation, and bulls eye attempts.
When dealing with conflict and manipulation as a leader, I think we can learn a lot from Jesus in Mark 8. Jesus displays a little bit of a formula for how to deal with those that unjustly come against us as leaders (yes, sometimes people come against us justly…leaders do wrong things too).
Mark 8 begins with Jesus feeding the 4,000 people. Not too long before this, He had fed 5,000. But His followers—the disciples—didn’t seem to remember that. Instead, the disciples once again panicked at the thought of having to serve a massive load of people on the equivalent of a fish sandwich value meal. Nonetheless, Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves. It’s this kind of service to the crowds and to His disciples that really sets Jesus’ leadership apart. He displayed who He was—His power—but also His willingness to serve people in the midst of chaos and difficulty.
If we continue in Mark 8, we see Jesus warning His followers about the yeast of the Pharisees. I have to believe that He has a good grasp on the power plays and the manipulation that will follow when He talks about this. He knew about the corruption that would try to work its way into His followers down the road.
After the whole “yeast of the Pharisees” conversation and Jesus’ frustration with His disciples in their inability to understand that He’s the provider and is not in need, Jesus serves more people. He heals the blind man with His closest followers watching. He sets an example of His power and His willingness to go to the weakest and the dirtiest. It’s in these moments in the life of Jesus that we can understand that dealing with and leading messy people is a job not for the faint of heart. It’s in these kinds of stories that we have to realize that, if Jesus is willing to serve everyone and lead all, we have to be willing to as well.
After all of those little acts in Mark 8, it’s the final two that give us such insight into how a leader should deal with those that try to prevent them from chasing their God-given vision. You see, in Mark 8:29, Peter boldly tells his Leader that He’s the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is a picture perfect follower of Jesus at this time. He seems to grasp the vision. He seems fully bought into the mission and the service that comes along with it. Then, in a crazy turn of events, Peter rises against his Leader just three verses later and reprimands Jesus for the notion that He would die. Peter tries the ultimate power play and takes Jesus aside to have a word with Him. In response, Jesus reminds Peter of the vision and that He’s being used by the Enemy.
That sequence in Jesus’ and His followers’ lives show us as leaders that we have to be willing to serve. Even when corruption is happening and it’s not our fault, we have to serve anyway, anywhere, any people at any time. It also illustrates that, when someone comes against those areas of our leadership that are core principles and pieces, we have to call it out. As a leader, those are the conversations we don’t want to have. Sure, we don’t mind serving some, we don’t mind doing life with the people around us, but it’s those “get behind me” kind of conversations that are the hardest. The hardest, but sometimes necessary.
As a leader, we have to be in tune with God. Jesus certainly was. We have to be forgiving and willing to listen to honest consultation. However, we can’t ever be afraid of the God-prompted, tough conversations.
Go ahead, wear that target on your back, leader. Let it be seen stooping to serve. Let it be seen bleeding from you taking a stand for what’s right. Let it get dirty. But always let it be on the back of someone willing to lead well.