How to Lead When You’re a People Pleaser

people pleaser

When you think of a leader, do you think of a people pleaser? A leader is supposed to charge ahead, not care about the casualties along the way, and take us to where we most likely don’t want to go.  They disregard the negative feedback and push back, they eat complaints for breakfast, they never worry what anyone else thinks of them.  Right?

Here’s the problem: Not all of us are wired that way, yet we still are called to lead.  Let’s face it, some of us are people pleasers.  No matter what personality test you are using, the reality is some of us don’t want to poke the bear, don’t want to rock the boat, try to keep everyone happy, and think not only that this is the definition of Christian unity, but that it’s also possible to achieve!

Many of us who are first born kids are saddled with this burden.  We naturally want to be in charge and lead, but we also want to make mom and dad happy. We are pleasers.  So what do you do when you realize you have to lead, you will not make everyone happy, you won’t get all YES votes, and yet you so desperately crave everyone to applaud your decisions?

3 Suggestions for the People Pleaser

1. Focus on the mission

As a leader who can drift towards keeping people happy, the mission is my North Star. There have been times I have yielded to public opinion or perception at the cost of sacrificing mission momentum and I’ve always paid the price.  Leaders do three things: They define reality (Here’s where we are) the determine destination (that’s where we are going) and then they decide how to get there (that’s strategy).  Once you clarify this in either your organization, volunteer project or even your family, you will only see people as those who are working with you to get there or working against you.  You empower those working with you. They help lead the work while you have to take a knee and talk with those working against you.  If they can’t do it or won’t do it, they haven’t rejected you. They may say they do, but what they’ve really rejected is the mission of the church.

2. Figure out the rebellion

Why is this person not “pleased” by you or your leadership?  Not what they say, but what they really feel. Most will over-spiritualize their reason: “God told me…” or “You’re evil and I’m righteous…” Or, they will overpopulate their reason: “We all feel this way…” or “Everyone is about to bail…”. Climb below the surface with some time, attention and a listening ear and you’ll probably discern they are hurt by losing preferences, position or power.  If they can see what it is, there’s a chance to build back the relationship without giving in to what they demand.

3. Be the most encouraging person in the room

It’s easy to confuse this with pandering for compliments or approval.  However, instead, this is just accentuating the good things. Everyone likes an encourager.  Even if you have to deliver bad news, it’s hard to be too upset with someone who encourages them and has the best of the organization in mind.  And if they do, then their selfishness would disrupt your team if it hadn’t already.

Letting people down, or not always pleasing them is tough… but if you give a mouse a cookie…In the end, if you sacrifice the mission and others needs for your need to be loved by all, one day we’ll realize we don’t have any of these things.

This article about leading as a people pleaser originally appeared here.

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Rusty George
Rusty George is the Lead Pastor at Real Life Church in Southern California; a multi-site church with campuses in Canyon Country, Valencia and a large online community. Under Rusty’s lead, Real Life has become one of the fastest growing churches in America–growing by 111% in 2011 alone.