Growth, Change, Loss, Pain — Growth
I couldn’t possibly write a book on leadership pain without honoring Brenda, my wife and “pain partner” since 1979 and my best friend since 1973. Together we have been through the darkest times—leadership failures, poverty, deaths, marriage challenges, parenting, failed business ventures, people disappointment, betrayal, plans gone awry, and so many more.
Brenda is my bride, my best friend, the best mother and grandmother, and the wisest person I know.
All that I am has to be credited to the Lord and His gracious gift of Brenda. She has sat next to me every day in pain’s classroom for growth. (Samuel Chand – book dedication)
“Pain isn’t an intrusion into the lives of spiritual leaders; it’s an essential element in shaping the leader’s life,” declares Samuel R. Chand in his book, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. (p. 14)
Samuel Chand is a man who really understands pain first hand. Not just leadership pain – but personal pain as a “colored” man in a white world. He was forbidden to date the love of his life – Brenda – while attending a racist college in the South. Being told that you are not allowed to do something because of a human attribute causes deep and abiding pain. More on that later.
In his book, Chand uses the testimonies of many leaders who experienced pain. The problems cover a wide spectrum and leaders reading the book will probably find their own story matches at least one of them.
After opening with an anecdotal story or two, Chand added his insights into the particular problem that may have caused the pain. He gives a summary of the insights – “Know This”, an exercise the leader can perform – “Do This”, and offers ways to think more deeply about the issue. Each chapter ends with the main point of the book – “And remember: you’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain.” (22, 52 and elsewhere)
Pain can come from internal and/or external sources. Sometimes our pain can be self-inflicted. Reminiscent of McIntosh and Rima, Chand points out that “Heartaches and conflicts, however, have a way of brining the dark side to the surface.” (158) Chand gives five crucial lessons to be learned from pain:
- We are weaker, more self-absorbed, and more fragile than we ever imagined;
- Actually, we don’t have a clue what God is up to;
- We become more grateful;
- We find God to be beautiful instead of just useful; and
- We become more tender, more understanding, and more compassionate.
External pain can often come from those around you, even people you really trust. It is important to make sure you know who is holding your ladder (45, 93). Perhaps as Jim Collins suggested the person who is not a good team member needs to get off the bus. It is very painful for leaders as they shepherd their team. Team members are human beings and it is hard to disappoint someone. But Chand says that the leader should not avoid the pain; should keep the vision fresh; and get themselves a rigorous personal development plan. (19,20)
Pain is inevitable but misery can be avoided. Leaders should replenish with Jesus. All leaders go through a necessary “process of sifting, coming to that moment when our strength is spent, is how God builds our faith.” (195) We need to see how God can use this pain in our lives. Perhaps a period of voluntary isolation (Trebesch) would be helpful in identifying the causes of the pain and the solutions.
Another suggestion, and I think very important, is to get a “pain partner”. This should be a friend who listens with empathy, can hear your self-revelations without immediately criticizing, and has some common ground with you. (220,221) When mistakes are made, forgiveness is paramount to the relationship. The three most important words are not “I love you” but “I am sorry”. Your prayer partner will be your main support as well as hold you accountable.
Finally, as we experience God’s redeeming goodness in our lives, we need to raise our threshold of pain again and again. It is not only beneficial for us, but those around us will give glory to God for His amazing greatness. (236)
Most of the stories in the book involved male leaders. There were stories of some wives who suffered. There was one woman who shared her experience as a female leader – Lisa Bevere. I admire her gentle response to the way the men ignored her and caused her pain – she decided to just not take it personally. (Wow. That would be good advice for men, too.) But how will fading into the background, not taking the pain personally, “build a better world by rising above prejudice and exceeding expectations”? (174) Lisa took the slow path to change by maintaining her integrity.
Lisa’s story brings up the fact that there are different kinds of pain for women and men. Men are not told they can’t be a pastor because they are male. Samuel Chand understands the pain of being told he can’t do something because of his color, so though there aren’t many anecdotes from women, I think he understands. I wish there could be more stories of women in these leadership books. I pray for the day when half of all leadership anecdotes are from women!