As someone who is often thrust into the role of public decision-making, I’ve made my share of unpopular decisions. Some of these have been in the context of church ministry. Others have come through my involvement with various nonprofit boards. Still others are due to my service as an elected community official. Below are a few lessons I’m in the process of learning when making unpopular decisions (mostly gleaned from the book of Proverbs):
1. Allow the opposition an opportunity to speak. The only thing lost by listening to the opposition is time; but what can be gained is insight, which is by far the more precious commodity. “In the abundance of counselors there is victory” (Prov. 11:14b; 24:6).
2. Earnestly listen to those you trust. Surround yourself with individuals marked by wisdom and competence. In the midst of a storm, their counsel and advice will be reliable guides. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9). Also, heed the rebuke and criticism from trusted friends. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).
3. Be guided by reason and facts. Good leadership requires a commitment to intelligent thinking. Things can quickly become clouded by emotions, competing perspectives, and relational loyalties. A leader must strive for objective decision-making. “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly” (Prov. 15:14).
4. Don’t take insults personally. Unpopular decisions will make people angry with you. Insults will come from unexpected sources—even by those with whom you thought you were on good terms. Leadership requires individuals who are able to put their own hurts aside and see the bigger picture. “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult” (Prov. 12:16).
5. Don’t be surprised by irrationality and anger. Most people are guided by their emotions, and few have learned to master them. “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Prov. 29:11). “The mouth of fools pours out folly” (Prov. 15:2).
6. All you have is your integrity. The temptation will be to try to please some individual or group. (However, if you’re in leadership long enough, you will soon find yourself in a position where you cannot please everyone.) A man of integrity will do what he considers right and wise, even if all turn against him. “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them” (Prov. 11:3).
7. You’ll never lose a true friend. Though perhaps many will privately and publicly attack you, true friendship survives difficulty and disagreement. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).
8. If you have integrity, you will be hated. Though honesty and integrity will win many, there are certain individuals who will hate you all the more. Your integrity is a living, breathing reminder of what they lack. In your presence they feel guilt and shame toward themselves, which they redirect into bitterness toward you. “Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless and seek the life of the upright” (Prov. 29:10).
9. Stop trying to convince everyone. Proverbs 18:2 tells us that “a fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” Certainly there are other wise individuals who happen to see things differently, but it is also true that there are fools who simply refuse to listen to reason. Your job is to be an effective leader marked by wisdom and integrity, not a zookeeper who constantly attempts to remove the ostrich’s head from the sand.
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