People Pleasing


Yesterday was President’s Day.  It doesn’t mean much to people anymore. It’s a holiday invented to honor our supreme national leader (and give government agencies the day off).  I was reminded, however, of something that President Abraham Lincoln said:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

These words, by poet John Lydgate, were used by President Lincoln to talk about the demands of leadership and meeting people’s expectations. Recently, I have had a lot of expectations to consider.  Due to stressful circumstances in my life, I have been forced to look at who I am and how I do things. This isn’t something that is new. In fact, this is how people grow in maturity. We adapt. We grow. Yet, in this phase of my life I am realizing that the path isn’t always clear. The “grey areas” of life seem to grow and I have been stuck wondering, “where do I go next?”

This is when people give me their thoughts and ideas, and I am brought to wonder how I-and if I-should meet the expectations of those looking into my leadership. The more people I ask, the more opinions and directions I am given and the more convoluted the way seems to be. Who do I listen to? Who do I ignore?

Here are a few questions that run through my mind as I seek to meet the expectations of some, and try to lead them all:

  1. Who are my “Arm Lifters”?  In Exodus 17 Moses and the Israelites are in a battle with the Amalekites. Moses is told by God to go onto the hilltop and raise the staff of God above his head. When he does this the Israelites are victorious over their foes. But holding your hands over your head is hard to do for an entire battle–and Moses wasn’t a young man. So, Aaron and Hur sit Moses down on a rock and lift his arms for him. The hold his arms up. We all need people like this. These are the people we need to listen to and trust.
  2. Am I being asked to go against my character or nature?  Sometimes people expect you to be someone else. In this world of cult of personality it’s easy for someone to put the expectations of another leader onto you. “That church has 1000 people” they may say. Or, “this author has a different approach”. I’m not saying that these are bad things (how could I?). What I am saying is that some of the expectations that leaders encounter are due to unrealistic expectations that are put on them because of some persona incognito. We must ask ourselves if the expectations being placed on us are unrealistic for who we are and what we know we can accomplish.
  3. Why do I want to meet these expectations?  Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book The Power of Other, talks about the human’s desire to please others. That sometimes our drive to please them causes us to make compromises in who we really are.  As a leader it is important to understand why you want to meet an expectation of the people you lead. Do you desire to be accepted? Are you trying to please them so they will do your bidding later? Our motivation to meet expectations should be considered. Sometimes leaders have to make decisions that will be unpopular, but they are the right decision. Sometimes we move people to a place that isn’t easy. A strong leader knows what is motivating them to meet the expectations of others.

President Lincoln was wise to point out the obvious. We CANNOT please everyone…not for very long that is. So, we must know why we make decisions. Why we listen to some, and ignore others. Why we stand for something that others might not. That is leadership.

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