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Thick Skinned and Soft Hearted

The difficulty of leadership was summed up in a question I heard asked recently, “How do you keep your heart tender and your skin thick?”  It seems that those around you can say whatever comes to their minds but you must always be careful with what you say and how you say it.  Someone conveyed to me that they are at the age right now that they can say whatever they want because they have earned that right.  I’m still looking for the verse in the Bible that backs up that one. What I do read in Colossians 4:6 is, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”

We all heard in our youth, “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  Let me say this clearly…that is a lie!  How do you make sure that you do not allow your heart to harden, your attitude to become negative, and your outlook to become cynical?  The first step in this journey is to realize that the most difficult person you will ever have to lead is yourself.  Tony Dungy said this, “What’s wrong with me is that I am a very flawed sinner, and very fertile ground for the subtle wiles, evil plans, and devious ploys of Satan.”

Here are a few things that may help you to keep your heart tender while having thick skin.

First, maintain a close walk with the Lord.  We think we know this, but we cannot forget that it is far more important who we are than what we do.  If we are not protecting and producing a close relationship with the Lord our viewpoints quickly become skewed.  We begin thinking that “they” are out to get us, or “they” have an agenda against us, or that “they” are always talking about us.  “They” can be a figment of our overactive imagination if we are not careful.

Second, you need to consider the source.  There will always be the naysayers and those who are convinced that their opinion is the correct opinion.  Sadly, there are those who seem to love to be negative and so often they are the ones who appear to be more than willing to share that negativity. Take a look at the biblical examples of strong godly leadership and you see people standing against them who were very unspiritual trying to convince the majority not to follow.  Do I need to mention Noah, Moses, Nehemiah, and Jesus? The devil has the ear and the mouth of many.

Third, go to the source when needed.  You should not overreact to every negative comment and make sure you are not being overly sensitive but biblical confrontation is a good thing.  Find out if there is a problem and be willing to listen to them and discuss the problem if one exists.  The key to this step is dealing with this challenge on the lowest possible level and that is always one on one.  Maybe they misspoke or maybe they did not understand the situation correctly and just needed some clarification.  Build into your culture the value of talking to people and not about people.

Fourth, don’t bow and serve the vocal minority.  Usually, you will know if it is just one person or if there are more but do not listen to the overexaggerations made when they speak. They might say “many have been talking to me about this” and that probably should be interpreted as one or two. The other exaggeration is quite often verbalized as  “several have mentioned this to me” and that might mean their spouse.  The reality is that you cannot allow one or two people to hold everyone else hostage to their negativity.  Lovingly but firmly confront them as the Holy Spirit of God leads you.

Fifth, remember that the Lord reminded us that this would happen.  Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”  Unfortunately, people will lie, exaggerate, and say falsehoods against us.  One truth that is very important is to always be open to any kernel of truth there might be. Do not just dismiss but also humbly submit to any correction you might need to be aware of.

Sixth, continue to grow holistically.  If you stop growing closer to Christ the results could be devastating.  In Kingdom First, Jeff Christophersongives us “three key factors that should inspire us to deeply desire to personally take on the character of Christ.”  The first of these three teaches us that our lowest point of character is our highest point of capacity. Jeff goes on to say, “my leadership, especially spiritual leadership, cannot grow beyond my weakest point of character.”  If you are weak in a particular area the devil will expose it and exploit it.  

Seventh, don’t be oversensitive.  This has already been said but it is crucial.  If you are tired, stressed or on the verge on burnout you will begin to notice that you are overly sensitive.  There will be times you will be wondering why it is bothering you when it should not be bothering you.  Stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself two questions.  What is this bothering me and should it be bothering me?  Be honest and open about the fact that sometimes we just too thin skinned and we should not allow these smaller issues to overwhelm us.

If you are going to lead others it is imperative that you lead yourself well.  The apostle Paul challenges the Ephesian leaders in Acts 20:28, “ Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers.”  Don’t miss that the focus is first on “Pay careful attention to yourselves.”  It is a great challenge to keep a soft tender heart while also having a thick skin!

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