Most conflict and stress is a byproduct of trying to be what we’re not, do what we shouldn’t, and influence what we can’t. It’s all a result of not knowing your role and not working within your limits. Leaders who know their role and work within their limitations have less conflict and stress and get better results. They have an accurate sense of self and their responsibility. They engage in activity that leverages their gifts and talents. They strategically focus effort on the correct people and projects.
If you don’t think of yourself as a leader, you’re not off the hook on this one. Take out the word “leader” in the paragraph above and insert “people.” This is a general life principle. This article applies to all people in all situations!
Leaders who try to be what they are not often look phony and usually get marginal results. A clear example is the leader who acts friendly with employees, when the truth is that he is manipulative or even mean-spirited and vindictive. We’ve all seen this and no one likes to work for these folks. A subtler example, though, is the well-intentioned leader who just wants to be helpful. Scenario: There’s a critical problem in engineering and, trying to be helpful, the leader dives into the project to lend support and help find the solution. Yet, not being an engineer, he gets in the way and actually sub-optimizes the workflow and solution. The real experts (those with the engineering degrees) don’t want to offend their leader and put up with it.
Tip to employees: If your leader is doing this to you, find a way to humbly and respectfully tell him the truth. You’ll all be thankful in the long-run. Tip to leaders: Get out of the way and trust your experts do their work on their own.
When leaders try to be what they are not, do what they shouldn’t, and influence what they can’t, the end result is less-than-best solutions, conflict over what really went wrong, and the continuation of a stressful environment because the original problem still persists.
Other examples of violating role and limitations include:
- People promoted into positions of leadership due to technical expertise, not leadership competency
- Managers trying to be leaders
- Leaders trying to be managers
- Leading from positional power rather than authentic and relational capital
- Decreeing change rather than working to shift values and beliefs
- … and many more (I’m sure your own list is rather long)
Paul David Tripp, in Age of Opportunity, offers very profound wisdom about this issue of understanding our own role and limitations.1 He presents two simple questions that, if you are willing to engage in honest self-dialogue (or with others!), will help you quickly clarify your role and limitations in difficult situations.
The first question is: “What, in this situation, are the things that God calls me to do that I cannot pass on to anyone else?” This question focuses on clarifying your role. Note that the question cuts deeper than your organizational role. This question challenges you to focus on your moral, ethical, and relational role. You ask, “Yeah, that’s good, but what about my work?” Frankly, your job is secondary. If you get your moral, ethical, and relational role right, the job will take care of itself!
The second question is: “What, in this situation, are the things I need to entrust into God’s capable and loving hands?” This question focuses on identifying your limits. Let’s be honest, as a leader it is easy to develop a “god complex.” The trouble is, there is only one God, and you and I are not him! At the end of the day, we all know there is very little under our own control. When it comes to projects and things, you may actually have a fair amount of control, but conflict and stress is about people, not projects and things. When it comes to people, you have very little control! Anything outside these limits we need to entrust to others, the best choice being God.
The next time you find yourself in conflict or a stressful situation, use these two questions to evaluate your approach. “What is God calling you to do that no one else can do?” Stick to that—leave the rest alone. “What do you need to entrust into God’s capable and loving hands?” Release those things and trust the omniscient and omnipotent Father to deal with it. He’ll do much better than you.
When you don’t do what God asks you to do and when you do what belongs to God, you can be sure conflict and stress will be the result.
1: Tripp’s book is written to parents of teens, offering biblical guidance for the awesome responsibility of raising Godly children. However, much of the wisdom found in this book applies beyond the context of parenting teens. Tripp, Paul David. Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001.