Hi my name is John. I’m a recovering people-pleasing-aholic.
My first twelve years of ministry had a significant undercurrent of people-pleasing attached to it. The subconscious desire for everyone to like me led to bad scheduling decisions, inner conflicts over how to please those who had competing interests, and an unwillingness to speak my mind. People-pleasing became a toxic addiction. Worse yet, I had no clue I was addicted.
If you’re a leader, especially a ministry leader, you’re in the people business. If you don’t like people, leadership is not the right place for you. If you score low in likeablilty (the ability to produce good emotions in others), you’ll score low in leadership. John Maxwell states, “Leadership is influence.” Likeability in many ways determines how influential you will be.
The problem is, the line between producing good emotions in others and trying to always please them tends to get fuzzy. I discovered too late that some people will never be pleased, which drove me, a formerly compulsive people-pleaser, into places of despair and even some sleepless nights.
Unchecked people-pleasing will lead us to the following unhealthy places:
Being unable to say “no”
No is not a curse word. If you’re a people-pleaser, the thought of saying no can make you nervous or even nauseous. Our hesitancy with no often leads to calendar chaos. We commit to projects we have no time or energy for. We habitually say yes to meeting requests that infringe on family dinners or our kids’ sporting events. Notice I said habitually, not occasionally. Sometimes being a leader gets in the way of family time, but if our role interferes with family the majority of the time or all of the time, it’s likely we’re hooked on people-pleasing.
Now here’s a disclaimer: “No” is not always the right answer. Lazy people say no all the time. Permission to say no is not a license for being a boat anchor. It’s not an excuse to bury your God-given gifts. But many leaders find saying no difficult when no is the appropriate response. For some, “no” seems counterintuitive. They wonder, “Am I not supposed to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself to me?” Answer? NO!
Being unable to say what needs to be said
People-pleasing muzzles truth. If we desperately want people to like us, we’re often afraid to have difficult conversations with them due to fear of losing their approval. Our fear-based dishonesty stunts their growth as well as ours. Not only do we not say what we should say—we often do say what we shouldn’t say—because when we want to please everyone, our mouth tends to write checks we can’t cash.
Being unable to do what needs to be done
If you need everyone to like you, you will lead in slow motion. I want everyone to like me—but it’s not necessary they do. Leaders periodically make unpopular decisions . . . the firing of a staff member, the ending of an ineffective program that is near and dear to the hearts of some people, etc. People-pleasing addiction paralyzes a leader. He or she is held hostage to their fear of being not liked. And so, what needs to get done often does not.
WHAT ARE SOME CONTRIBUTORS TO OUR PEOPLE-PLEASING HABIT?
A diminished sense of value
When we work for our identity, people-pleasing becomes more tempting. We try to get from people what can only really come from God—an unshakable sense of worth. If you’re a Jesus-follower, it’s critical to understand you have His approval before you ever lift a finger in a leadership context. The more we draw our sense of worth from our relationship with Jesus, the less hold people-pleasing has on us. Time alone with God seems to be the place where I discover how much He values me. Meditating on Scriptures which speak to His unconditional love for me helps too.
A lack of strong mission clarity
If we’re unsure about the destination God has assigned to reach, if we lack clarity about what we’re gifted at and passionate about, we’re more likely to change course based on the opinions of those we’re so desperately wanting to please. Getting back in touch with our God-ordained assignment, calling, and responsibility loosens people-pleasing’s grip on us. Use mission—both personally and professionally—as a filter to help you decide what you will and won’t do. God holds you accountable for what He’s assigned to you, not for what He hasn’t assigned to you.
Compulsive people-pleasing and leadership are like oil and water. They don’t mix well. If you struggle with no, with saying what needs to be said, and with doing what needs to be done, chances are people-pleasing has you caught in a choke-hold. Get yourself free by tapping back into where your real value comes from, and what your primary mission is. Invite a trusted friend and/or mentor into your life to journey alongside as you work through your people-pleasing addiction.
The less people-pleasing controls you, the more effective (and happier) leader you’ll be.
I’m rooting and praying for you!