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Navigating the Swamp of People’s Expectations // part one

Do you ever have days when you are exhausted by everyone’s opinions and expectations? Or, is it just me? On those days leadership feels like trying to navigate the swamp of people’s expectations. Those are the days when this little saying comes to life.

God Loves Me And Everyone has a Plan for My Life

Okay, it’s not always that bad. But, being a leader requires navigating our way through those opinions.

Picture yourself standing at a podium or sitting in a boardroom. You look out over the the audience of people you are responsible to lead and inspire and you realize, behind every face lies a swarm of expectations they want you to satisfy.

My (decidedly unscientific) hunch tells me that for every pair of eyes I see, a dozen or more agendas and opinions and past experiences crouch eager to interject themselves.

How do you deal with it? What have you learned about navigating the changing and conflicting currents of the crowd?

This is the first of two installments to help you pilot these precarious waters. It focuses on whose approval matters most. Part two will focus on the well of courage that will help you deal with the conflict and fallout that can occur.

Part One :: The Audience of One

Here’s the deal. None of us can function as a leader if our goal is to placate as many people as possible. Many have tried and died on that pyre.

The number of ideas and experiences fermenting within any group are far beyond what could even be counted let alone accommodated. Shoot, how many husbands and wives don’t agree when there are only two people trying to navigate the subject of money or their kids or even just their vacation? If two people struggle to find common ground, how much more will 100 or 500 or 1000?

If we try to keep everyone happy we will be held hostage by anyone and everyone who even feigns to disagree.

The answer is not so much methodology, but a deeper posture of life and leadership. It is that internal challenge to choose whose approval matters most to us.

Os Guinness introduced me to this concept years ago in his book, The Call. In his words he described the need to live for the Audience of One rather than the applause of the many. In my own words, I’d say, every leader has to decide whose approval he lives for and whose approval he cannot live without.

Or, to state it in the harsh reality of the negative:

Choosing whose approval matters most actually means choosing whose disapproval we are willing to live with.

The crowd is fickle. It flows with the theme of the day. It is swayed by power brokers and the squeaky wheels. Chasing the applause of the crowd will mean running around like crazy trying to put out brush fires. It will drive you crazy. And, more often than not, trying to please everyone will pull you in opposing directions leaving no one satisfied. You will never know where you stand nor whether you have done enough.

Or, you can choose to find your security and your approval in the One who reigns over all. One who promises to guide and instruct and comfort. One who offers to provide wisdom with great generosity. One who loves you with an eternal love and cares as much about you as he does about the great work you do. His approval lasts for eternity.

The thing is, we have to choose.

I get it. Having the support, the approval, the applause of those you lead feels really good. It strokes my ego. It sounds like a job well done. But at the end of the day, it isn’t as important as knowing that I have done everything in my power to live and lead before the Audience of One.

I don’t always succeed! But I know what I want. I choose to live for the Audience of One.

He carries the job of Messiah, not me. He relieves me from a role I was never intended to fulfill. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I can only face the disapproval of the many when I stand secure in the approval of the One.


  • Whose approval seems important to you this week?

  • Whose disapproval has become too great in the calculus of your decision-making?

  • What is it about the applause of the many that you might need to surrender?

Come back for part two, to be posted Oct. 15th.

Photo Credit: Magne on Unsplash


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