Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Dealing with Making Hard and at Times Hard Decisions

Written by: on February 12, 2024

Dr. Eve Poole in her book Leadersmthing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership provides readers with a list of seventeen Critical Incidents.  These are based on asking “board-level leaders: What do you now know as a leader that you wish you had known ten years ago?[1]  I looked over the list to determine what areas I have succeeded in, struggle with, and those I really haven’t given much thought.  My first leadership role began when I was a Resident Assistant in my dormitory back in college.  That was a long year, and overall, I felt like a failure.  There were those residents that didn’t want to get to know you and those who wanted no part of any activity that you planned. This weighed heavy upon me, because I wanted to do a good job.  Fast-forward fifteen years and I found myself in another leadership role.  It is from this point up through today that I evaluated myself as a leader.

There are some Critical Incidents that I do well, “Work-Life Balance,” “Listen to staff,” and “Knowing when to seek help and advice.” [2]  But there are two areas in this list that I feel I don’t do necessarily well, “Taking key decisions” and Accepting when you get it wrong”[3]  I don’t like making decisions that can negatively affect other people.  Poole says that “leaders find themselves taking decisions not necessarily at a time of their own choosing, but as dictated by the needs of the organization.”[4]  Honestly, if I had my way, some of those decisions would be put off forever; but I know doing that isn’t an option.  Sometimes making those hard decisions forces me into the next area I struggle with “accepting when you get it wrong.”  I served as a ruling elder on my church’s session for six years.  Those were six long, stressful years; years that involved upsetting long time members of the congregation, Covid-19, a pastor leaving, and the hiring of two transitional pastors.  A friend of mine started his tenure on session the same time I did, we both identify as recovering elders.  I have taken the past year as a sabbath from church leadership and am still not sure I will ever serve as a leader in the church again.  I witnessed friends whom I love, leaving the church, a result of decisions we made.  I know we hurt people and though apologies have been extended, the relationships still seem strained.  I struggle with this.  I don’t like wounding people. After reflecting on the wounds that had been inflicted, the session and our transitional pastor made a decision after my term had ended.  They decided that the current session would accept responsibility for any decisions made by them or previous session members.  Over the past year, they invited the wounded back to hear their grievances and try to initiate healing.

Why is making key decisions and accepting them when I get it wrong something I struggle with?  I believe they are difficult because of my character.  Poole writes “Character protects your future ability to lead because it is the very thing that will save you when everything else is stripped away. “[5] My character impacts how I make decisions, however, there are also other things.  I teach social work students about five different ethical philosophies.  Utilitarianism, searching for what is the greater good for the most people.[6]  Distributive Justice, focusing on justice or fairness for everyone.[7] Kantian Ethics or Deontology, making decisions based on moral reasoning of what is right and wrong.[8] Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, making decisions based on your virtues and character.[9] Ethics of Care, focusing on caring for those who we are in relationship or similar to first.[10]  I teach this because as social workers, and for us as leaders, we need to know how we ourselves and those who we interact with make decisions.  According to Ryan Burge, in 2022, forty-eight percent of Gen Z identifies as atheist, agnostic or no religious affiliation and according to a poll by the Associate Press, 30% of adults surveyed in America have no religious affiliation.[11] [12] If people are no longer using the Bible as a source of decision making, what are they using?  Are there Biblical concepts found in these theories?    What exactly am I using to make decisions (I really haven’t fully evaluated this)? Finally, a question Poole might ask, who have we and others apprenticed under in learning how to make decisions?

While reading Poole’s book and reflecting on the hard and at times wrong decisions I have made, I reviewed the notes I took in Oxford from our speakers.  Martyn Percy said “leadership drains”[13]  Jo Nelson said “leadership is hard” and that it “can be extremely lonely.”[14]  I am in this program so that I can exercise my leadership muscles, keep them supple, by learning new things; and also take small steps to gain some leadership muscle memory[15] So hopefully at the end, I will find that leadership isn’t so hard, draining or lonely.

[1] Eve Poole, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership (London: Bloombury Business, 2017), 10.

[2] Poole, , 27, 29, 31.

[3] Poole, 15, 18.

[4] Poole, 15.

[5] Poole, 47.

[6] Academy 4 Social Change “Utilitarianism: For the Greater Good – Moral and Ethical Philosophy Series,” November, 29, 2020, produced by United 4 Social Change, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zzlEs5YeQI

[7] Crash Course “What is Justice?: Crash Course Philosophy # 40,”  Dec 19, 2016, Produced by PBS Digital Studies, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0CTHVCkm90

[8] “Academy 4 Social Change, “Deontology: What if everyone did that? – Moral and Ethical Philosophy Series”  April 8, 2021, produced by United 4 Social Change, video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6utLSHQnZQ

[9] Crash Couse “Aristotle and Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy # 38,”  December 5, 2016, produced b PBS Digital Studios, video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrvtOWEXDIQ

[10] Grey Matter Bardene Philosophy, “Care Ethics: An Ethical Theory,”  June 27, 2021, produced by Fishchiatrist, video,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9lD-L65uoo

[11] Phil Vischer “EPISODE 4: Why Gen Z is Leaving the Church with Ryan Burge,” November 17, 2023 , Are the Kids Alright? produced by Holy Post, podcast, 6:30, https://www.holypost.com/holy-post-podcast/episode/2ec033b0/are-the-kids-alright-episode-4-why-gen-z-is-leaving-the-church-with-ryan-burge


[12] Peter Smith “America’s nonreligious are a growing, diverse phenomenon.  They Really don’t like  organized religion.  Associated Press.  October 5, 2023.  https://apnews.com/article/nonreligious-united-states-nones-spirituality-humanist-91bb8430280c88fd88530a7ad64b03f8

[13] Martyn Percy (lecture, Portland Seminary, Oxford England, September 23, 2023).

[14] Jo Nelson (lecture, Portland Seminary, Oxford England, September 23, 2023

[15] Poole, 13, 68.

About the Author

Jeff Styer

Jeff Styer lives in Northeast Ohio's Amish Country. He has degrees in Social Work and Psychology and currently works as a professor of social work at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Jeff is married to his wife, Veronica, 25+ years. Together they have 4 beautiful children (to be honest, Jeff has 4 kids, Veronica says she is raising 5). Jeff loves the outdoors, including biking, hiking, camping, birding, and recently picked up disc golf.

13 responses to “Dealing with Making Hard and at Times Hard Decisions”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Thanks for your honest post, Jeff. I’m glad we get to go on this journey together and that the Poole’s book is helping you to self-reflect and, hopefully then, grow as a leader.

    As I was reading through Poole and your post I thought about some of the clubs activities that might give you some fuel and joy in the areas where you are leading. Did any of the activities or areas of leadership stick out to you as things you can try to overcome some of the challenges you’ve identified?

    • Jeff Styer says:

      One of the activities in the Clubs is the 10 of Clubs – Change. I like what Poole gives as an activity for Understanding. In my family and at times in my classroom, I have times when I feel like I am explaining something so easy, but the intended recipients don’t seem to be understanding. So slowing down, rewinding and listening will be a good process to engage in when I am in that situation, which just happened with my wife not too long ago.

  2. Christy Liner says:

    Jeff, I appreciate your post. Leadership is hard.

    As I was reading your post, I too was reminded of our time in Oxford and the lesson from Dr. Percy – leadership comes with a cost.

    My husband was an elder at our church too, and it was filled with difficulty. I know that you’re still recovering and maybe wouldn’t want to do it again, but are you glad that you served in that way or does the cost you paid make you regret the time?

    • Jeff Styer says:


      The overall cost was not too high. It allowed me the opportunity to go through a certified lay pastor training and to attend national and regional presbytery meeting that were very life giving.

  3. Graham English says:

    Jeff, thanks for serving the body of Christ during a difficult season. I would encourage you to lean into it if your local church affirms you and calls you into leadership. I have always been thankful for the opportunity to lead and have seen it as God’s means of sanctifying me as his son and as a leader. My experience has been that leadership can be fun but never easy. How might a book like “Leadersmithing” cause you to frame thinking about leadership in a different way?

    • Jeff Styer says:

      While I have served in leadership positions, I question what I have learned from others. This concept of Apprenticeship to Journeyman to Master has been going through my mind. Who have I really apprenticed under and where am I in the process? Maybe I can sort that out with my coach. I also want to dive deeper into the deck of cards and see how those may help me reframe leadership and the skills I possess. This is a book I want to spend some more time digesting.

    • Jeff Styer says:

      I think the idea of apprenticeship has been enlightening to me. I think I need to consider who I have apprenticed under thus far, and find some other Master leaders to learn from. Learn from them how the approach leadership, especially decision making.

  4. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Jeff, thanks for your openness and honesty about the challenges of leadership. It’s evident from your reflections that you’ve grown significantly since your first leadership role as a Resident Assistant, and your ability to identify specific areas where you excel, such as work-life balance and listening to staff, is a testament to your self-awareness. As you continue to reflect on your leadership journey, what strategies do you plan to implement to further develop your decision-making skills and navigate the complexities of leadership with confidence and integrity?

    • Jeff Styer says:

      I’ve started to dive into next week’s book and I am being challenged by that book about my decision making skills. I need to reflect on why I hesitate so much to make hard decisions, those that can really negatively impact others. I think I can process some of this with my coach. I also think I can learn from other leaders. I’m not a Master yet so there are others I can learn from on my journey.

  5. Debbie Owen says:

    Jeff, what a great leader you were during such a difficult time. Having to make decisions that are unpopular, even though you know – because of your values – that they are the best and healthiest decisions for everyone… well, that takes fortitude and a knowledge that in the end, it’s the right thing to do.

    Your question, What are people using to make decisions, if not the Bible? is heartbreaking. We know that we seem to be born with a moral code (I forget where I read that; now I want to find it again!), but without a higher purpose, that moral code can easily shift across time.

    Let me throw you what I expect is a softball question: Using the Bible to make decisions, what’s the bottom line for you?

    • Jeff Styer says:

      I guess the bottom line for me is to make decisions that bring glory and honor to Christ. I know that sometimes a decision that seems to hurt people can still bring glory and honor. The overall impact may be healthy for everyone involved and cause people to strengthen their dependance on Christ.

  6. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Jeff, Thank you for your post. I hear your sincere questions and thoughts churning. I know that everyone comes to churches from different perspectives and different needs and strengths at different times, but I think churches can be difficult places to be in leadership. When my husband and I changed churches over 15 years ago, we were tired and spent. We had been at a very small church where everyone was expected to do a LOT. The pastor at the new church said something simple yet profound. He encouraged us to come to church and sit in the pew for as long as we wanted without ever saying yes when asked to do something. He encouraged us to let God heal our bodies and hearts and when we were ready just say the word. It was truly a gift. I hope someone gives you such a gift to sit at the Masters’ feet and let Jesus feed your soul. Peace brother.

    • Jeff Styer says:

      Thanks, that was a beautiful thing that pastor did for you and your husband. It is also comforting to know that unfortunately, others have been emotionally and mentally singed by everything they do for the church. On a side note, I am helping through Lent lead a small group on Sunday mornings, but our new pastor is really doing all the prep work, I’m just serving as a facilitator.

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