What’s Your Pain Tolerance? Essential Questions for Leadership

I meet monthly with a group of pastors to talk about ministry, leadership, family systems stuff and more. (We also catch an occasional Nats game.)

Today our facilitator shared this handout which inspired much discussion:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 5.55.25 PM

The most effective leaders strive to be in quadrant B: high “pain tolerance” in self and in others. Pain tolerance in this case means willingness to experience discomfort in order to move a system forward, fostering growth and needed change.

I’d argue that quadrant C and D leaders are rare—if you have a low pain tolerance for yourself, you’re not likely to want to attempt the work of leadership. But many of us probably cluster in quadrant A: willing to endure plenty of personal discomfort, but less willing to inflict it on others. We squirm when we have to hold people accountable and support them as they risk and grow.

Being a pastor undoubtedly compounds this quadrant A dynamic: we are tender-hearted types who want to comfort the afflicted. And news flash: everyone’s afflicted. (Philo reminds us to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.) So quadrant A leaders can come up with every excuse in the book for letting people off the hook.

And yet, for us Christians anyway, transformation is the name of the game, and that means some pain. Flannery O’Connor writes, “All human nature resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful.”

What do you think? And where do you see yourself in this diagram?

Source: Leadership in Healthy Congregations


By the way, are you signed up for my monthly-ish newsletter? Next week’s edition will include a preview of my latest book in progress, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. Sign up.

5 thoughts on “What’s Your Pain Tolerance? Essential Questions for Leadership

  1. Bob Braxton

    Somehow I doubt the reason folks leave is for one to be a church of high expectations. My parents had very high expectations (AND I am firstborn). My explorer Scout adviser had high expectations (Eagle Scout work). Early employer (bosses) had high expectations. More than any of those, high expectations for myself (harder on myself than on others). I agree about the difficulty of holding someone else accountable.

  2. Roy Howard

    I love the O’Connor quote right here because of the ironic way she presents grace as the way of pain. Most people have a sentimental view of grace and rarely associate it with the pain of growing mature.

  3. Jan

    “Compassion fatigue” — yes, I have felt that from time to time, and fit perfectly in that A box. I guess that’s why I seek mini-vacations from reality by sitting in a chair on a sunny beach w/ some brain candy (aka “beach trash” novels) in my hands, w/ no more cares than how soon is the tide going to reach my chair! From Wendell Berry: I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water.
    I strongly urge others in the caring professions to find their own places of rest, such as has the wood drake, and claim some much needed respite. Nicely stated, MaryAnn.

  4. Chrysanne Timm

    Where may I find the source you included? Leadership in Healthy Congregations? It would be very useful for my DMin research.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *