The Cost of Leadership

If given the choice between buying a book entitled, “The Cost of Leadership” or “How to Be a Highly Successful Leader in Just Twenty Minutes a Day,” which would you buy? Based on current book sales, the later would cream the former.

However, when it comes to real leadership, the former creams the later. It’s one of those “not so sexy” leadership lessons that few talk about, yet everyone needs to hear.

Where I Learned This

I remember the first time I really “got” this. I was in my first year of seminary and like a lot of natural leaders I quickly got involved in student government. The problem was that the faculty members at my seminary were split into two factions and I had professors on both sides who had become my friends—and who all shared information with me that they shouldn’t have.

Like most pastoral candidates, I knew the value of keeping confidences—but it was eating me up inside and I didn’t know what to do with it. So one day, as I was walking across campus talking with one of my professors I said,

“I need some help. I know professors and administrators on both sides of this conflict and they’ve all told me things they shouldn’t have. So I now know things I shouldn’t know that I can’t share and it’s eating me up. What should I do?”

He replied,

“Welcome to the world of real leadership, Bruce. There’s always a cost to leadership. And one of those costs is knowing information that you can never share. In essence, real leadership is lonely. If you learn that lesson now, it will serve you well for years to come.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It was a game changer. And for the past quarter of a century, it’s served me well. And hopefully, it will serve you well as well.

True Leadership

Leadership is not about power. It’s about service and sacrifice. It’s about cost. And when no one tells us about that, we get frustrated and angry. Why? Because we’ve bought into a lie, a misbelief about the nature of leadership. And whenever we believe a lie about something and someone comes along and blocks our belief, we get frustrated and angry.

However, when we change a wrong belief (leadership is about power) and replace it with a correct belief (leadership is about sacrifice), then when something happens that costs us something, we don’t get frustrated or angry. We anticipate it.

The Ultimate Example

Whether you come from a Christian tradition or not, you surely know the story behind the Easter story (which those of us who are Christ-followers will celebrate this weekend). If you or I ever needed a perfect picture of real leadership this would be it. Jesus’ power rested not on riches, or celebrity status, or PR mentions, or armies, or technology, or the number of his followers.

Jesus’ leadership rested on—and this weekend, Billions (that’s with a capital B) will celebrate their leader because of it—an act of sacrifice. It’s that simple. Jesus’ ability to lead billions is marked by his decision to not cling to his rights, but to put others needs before his own.

So How About You?

Do you ever find yourself frustrated by your people? Do you ever get frustrated that you know information that they don’t, that if they did, would change their minds—but your can’t share what you know with them (can you say, “HR”)?

Do you ever get angry that you’re working harder and longer than they are and yet they have the audacity to complain about their schedules and workloads?

Do you ever get frustrated that you have to cover for them when they have a quarter of your responsibilities?

Do you ever get ticked that they’re supposed to be working for you, taking things off your plate, and yet you have to keep explaining the same things over and over again to them?

Do you ever get tired of people taking shots at you without knowing all the information?

Do you ever feel lonely that no one really understands you or the weight that you carry for the whole of your business (or organization)?

Or do you ever feel lonely when you know you can’t just be friends with your employees?

If you have, then “Welcome to the world of real leadership. There’s always a cost to leadership. It’s lonely. If you learn that lesson now, it will serve you well for years to come.”

Leadership is all about sacrifice. That’s where the real power of all great leaders is found. So don’t be frustrated by the cost or loneliness of leadership, embrace it!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you haven’t picked up a copy of my new book entitled, “Breaking Through Plateaus: How to Get Your Business Back on a Double-Digit Growth Curve By Creating a Culture That Automatically Produces It!” make sure you check it out right now at

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