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Ten Principles for Exercising Power and Wise Boundaries

Posted on November 10th, 2014

I have been working hard in these months writing The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Zondervan, 2015). The following is a sidebar from a chapter on power and wise boundaries that I trust you will enjoy:

  1. Do an honest inventory of the power God has granted you.
    To be faithful we need to be profoundly aware of the various sources of power God has granted us. We are at risk to use it poorly if we ignore or minimize our power.
  2. Unresolved family of origin dynamics that are buried alive resurface when joined with power. The workplace and church are key places where our triggers and “hot buttons” will emerge.
  3. Enlist wise counsel to monitor dual relationships. Mentors, therapists, wise elders and mature friends give us perspective and counsel. It is critical we know our limits and defer to others discernment.
  4. Watch for early warning signs of danger. People change. We change. The church changes. What works now may not work fifteen years from now. Have honest conversations about the risks, drawbacks, and challenges before you.
  5. Be sensitive to cultural, ethnic, gender and generational nuances. The cultural differences around power, authority, age, history is vast. Be a learner. 
  6. Release people (paid and volunteer) in a Christian way. First, determine if the person’s role can be redefined. Secondly, see if they can be reassigned. And finally, it may become clear they need to be released. Once that is determined, be honest, fair, caring and clear about their strengths and stress points in this present role.
  7. The burden to set the boundaries and keep them clear is on the person with greater power. Even though a person in our ministry may manipulate a situation, the greater burden falls on us. Why? God has entrusted us with greater power.
  8. Be friends with friends, a pastor to parishioners, a mentor to mentorees, and a supervisor to volunteers/employees. Monitor and avoid dual relationships as much as possible. Ask yourself, “What role is dominant for me in this relationship? Who am I for this person in the relationship? Who are they for me?”
  9. Meditate on Jesus’ life as you encounter the suffering and loneliness of leadership. It is lonely and a suffering to exercise the self-discipline needed to exercise your power in a way that liberates others. Take extra time to monitor the movements of your heart in reading the life and passion of Jesus.
  10. Ask God for grace to forgive your “enemies,” and yourself. You will make mistakes and hurt people. Jesus prayed all night and called Judas. People will feel betrayed by you; you will be betrayed. I have yet to meet a Christian leader who has not experienced betrayal like Christ. “A servant is not greater than his master.” 
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