When Leaders Fail Us

We see this play out in our world every day. We put our faith in someone and trust their leadership. We invite others to share in our experience. That is, after all, how community is formed. But what happens when that leader falters and fails us? The steps that follow are paramount in how we survive.

Our political leaders fail us all the time. Campaign promises are rarely seen through to fruition. They fade away just as fast as our memory of the first time we were caught up in the whirlwind fades. In many cases, we have almost come to expect disappointment. On the big stage of politics, we are disappointed, but we find our way to a new and better choice and hopefully move on.

But what happens if the leader is in a position of intimate trust such as a family or our church or our counselor or coach? When we entrust the deepest parts of ourselves to someone who says “you can trust me” we expect to believe them and therefore we are willing to be led by them. This is especially true when we bring with us the trauma of physical or emotional abuse. We cling to our need for the loving support which also puts us in a precarious place of being extremely vulnerable.

Healthy distance is paramount in any professional relationship. As conversations and revelations become more intimate, the danger and risk increases of being caught in the crossfire should the leader falter.

We see it all the time in the headlines. Spiritual leaders, physicians, doctors, and therapists fail their clients and followers. The impact is far reaching. It damages not only the individuals involved, but also the entire community. When it is intimately personal, it becomes difficult to even share the story. As observers, want to believe there are two sides to every story, but is that always true?

It is at this point we circle the wagons. Sides are chosen and we try to decide who we believe and who is being truthful. What were the circumstances? Could this have been prevented? What if you are an outlier and take the least popular side? It is easier to do when the wounds are not visible to the eye.

In every position we place ourselves in, we should have a plan for terminating that relationship. How long must we follow someone before we find our independence and  take those lessons and use them to better our lives? If the relationship keeps you bound to that person instead of taking what you learned and forging ahead, perhaps it is worth stepping back.

We should be able to put our faith and trust in people to help us. But we need personal checks and balances and we need to establish boundaries. If someone attempts to seduce us to cross those boundaries, that is a red flag. But even the healthiest among us can also falter. No one should ever take advantage of another person’s vulnerability. It happens all the time, though. And we are always shocked and surprised by it.

Credentials are important in professional relationships. Is this person truly trained to deal with the issues you bring to the table? We are complex people with complex problems. Yes, people can be insightful without being credentialed, but what happens when you fall into shark-infested waters? Do they have the skills to rescue you?

I do not have the answers. Today I am just wrestling with the questions.