“Hello darkness, my old friend.
I’ve come to speak with you again.
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence”
- Simon & Garfunkel
Stephen Mansfield has a pretty interesting job. His company specializes in helping companies and organizations get back on track after a key leader falters. Many of those national stories you’ve heard involving financial impropriety, deception, or moral failure in pastors or business leaders has a “rest of the story” that includes Mansfield and his company. They come in after the crash to build a path back.
Recently he was interviewed about the 10 key warning signs of an impending leadership crash. While I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the ten, I was caught off guard by the prevalence of these situations and the emphatic way that Mansfield spoke about them. He said the warning signs were almost identical in every situation. One of the warning signs was all too familiar to me and all too common in many of the leaders I know.
"The most visible sign of an impending leadership crash is when a leader chooses isolation; when they isolate themselves from those that know and love them."
Now, we’re not talking about the times of solitude that most leaders need to rest and recharge. This is choosing to "hide out" from the overwhelm of the situation and the feeling that there is no solution to the problem. It is the desire to hide what you’ve done wrong or how bad things have gotten as a result.
There are very few places left where it is acceptable to admit that things aren’t going well.
Our “friends” in social media, our family dynamics, and even many of our churches don’t seem like safe places to be really honest anymore.
Mansfield says the best thing you can do (and as quickly as you can, I might add) is find a friend you can trust and confess your situation to. The monster is typically not as terrifying when brought out of the dark. And just by telling someone, you are not facing it alone any longer. Mold and fungus grow and fester in the darkness, but if you expose them to light, they die almost immediately.
His other suggestions are very helpful as well:
- Build the kind of friendships that will come looking for you when you start to hide.
- Create a culture around you that permissions others to give honest and open feedback.
- Create a culture of forgiveness, collaboration, and problem solving where no one feels like they have to hide or handle a burden on their own.
Some of my favorite coaching moments are when a leader calls me at the start or end of the day. Things are usually going very well or horribly wrong when I get those calls. Often it is to share how well they handled a situation or led something (leaders often don’t have anyone to celebrate their successes within their own companies). Occasionally, however, they call when things are really bad, when they are at the end of their rope, or their desire to hide is increasing.
But instead of isolation, they chose the opposite.
We discuss the problem.
Determine the next steps or solutions.
And go to work on turning things around.
I tell them every time...
"You are not alone. You have the Lord and you have me. And we are going to figure this out."
- What great burden or fear are you carrying on your own? (Financial calamity, moral impropriety, problems in your marriage, overwhelming fear of failure, etc.)
- Who can you let in the boat with you? Who can you share it with as a first step to changing things?
- Do you have the humility required to share your burdens with a friend and your Father? (Your friend likely already knows you're in trouble and I promise the Lord does.)