With her usual disarming honesty, Cathy Madavan shares about the ups and downs of being a leader


It’s a funny thing but, in my experience, many of us recoil slightly at the notion of being called a ‘leader’, although we are often fine with being called a facilitator or an organiser. Indeed, even if we’ve been effectively running the show for years, we still might not see ourselves as a leader, especially if we don’t have a particular title or role. Is this more of an issue for women than men, I wonder?

I’m not sure, but, personally, I’ve always been willing to give stuff a go, and being married to a pastor meant people viewed me as a leader (of sorts) long before I came to that understanding myself. Now I realise that God wired me up to think strategically, to put systems in place and to motivate and encourage others – and not just because of my husband. The truth is, there are many types of leaders and many contexts that we might influence, but leading others is always both a privilege and a challenge. 

1 Leaders are learners

We’ve probably all experienced a less than brilliant manager or a leader whose abilities were questionable. I have certainly been disappointed by a few role models over the years, both outside and inside the Church. But, while this is true, I have also come to realise that in life and leadership we are all basically making it up as we go along, and no politician, boss, small-group leader or pastor simply downloads the perfect abilities and disposition for every situation when they apply for (or volunteer for) a position. Perfection isn’t our goal, but learning is. If we stay teachable, then we will continue to grow.

2 Leaders are not indispensable

It might involve swallowing a decent slice of humble pie, but one day we all discover that the world will go on quite nicely without us! I’ve sometimes been so reluctant to give up the reins to a project or ministry, thinking nobody else could fill possibly step up to fill the gap. But they almost always do. And, quite honestly, they often do it better than me. It’s good to be committed to our responsibilities and it’s not always easy stepping back or letting go. But, at the right time, moving on provides an opportunity for those we have trained to shine.


3 Leadership is costly

There are tough days, weeks and seasons as a leader: unrealistic expectations, long hours, lack of appreciation or encouragement, neverending to-do lists, insufficient support or resources…It’s not easy. And then there are the darker days of betrayal, unfair criticism or disappointment. Very few people see the real cost of leadership. There may be great highs and breakthroughs to enjoy as a leader, but the lows are real too.

4 Leaders need friends

Upon reflection, I’ve concluded that isolation is one of the biggest dangers for a leader. It is so easy to believe we are the only one facing certain challenges, or we are the only one who feels like an imposter. Perhaps we feel we can’t be authentic and share who we are and how we are to those around us, in case they see us differently. While a wise and mature leader won’t leak every thought and insecurity to everyone, they will also have safe spaces and valued friends to be real with. I honestly don’t think we would have got through the tough seasons without dear friends, and it’s great to have people to celebrate with too!

5 Leaders are followers

Okay, so you might not be an A-type leader-diva with a red Ferrari, an entourage and a written rider about the kind of sparkling water you want in the office, but we all still need to be reminded of something from time to time: as Christians, wherever we have any influence, we are firstly called to be followers of Jesus who came to serve rather than to be served. We are not called to control but to love. Honestly, the best thing any of us can do today is to pray we become more like the servant leader we follow.