What Makes Powerful People Cry

Depressed and dejected looking businessman.I recently learned what makes some of the most powerful people in the world cry.

Dr. Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College, has interviewed 550 of the most successful political, business, and nonprofit leaders in the United States. This group included two U.S. presidents, cabinet members like Collin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and numerous Fortune 100 CEOs.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Lindsay when he spoke at a leadership conference hosted by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. In the process of describing the seven key qualities that top leaders typically possess (which are detailed in his book, View from the Top), he mentioned that about one-third of these 550 people cried during their interviews.

What do you think would make an exceptionally successful and powerful person cry?

In almost every case, it was this simple question: “Has your professional success cost you something personal?”

In the process of climbing to the top of their fields, most of these people made major personal sacrifices. As Dr. Lindsay discovered, many of them now look back with such deep regret that they are moved to tears when they think of the relational costs that they and their families paid for their worldly success.

As I reflected on the question Dr. Lindsay had asked, I felt a similar wave of regret over some of the professional decisions I’ve made that cost me something personal, usually with my family. Long work weeks, frequent travel, missed experiences with Corlette, Megan and Jeff … costs that can never be recovered.

If I’d been alone as I reflected on these costs instead of sitting at a table with eight strangers, I probably would have cried too.

But within moments I thought of a parallel question that made my heart glad.

“Has my personal success ever cost me something professionally?”

Yes, it has. For the sake of my family, I’ve declined speaking invitations, not written new books or served on additional boards of directors, referred interesting mediation requests to others, and turned down attractive job offers.

But there is a huge difference between these two sets of sacrifices.

I regret many of the personal sacrifices I’ve made for the sake of professional advancement, and if I could live my life over, I would reverse many of them.

But I cannot not think of a single professional sacrifice I made for the sake of my family or friends that I now regret or would do differently if I could. Although some of those choices were hard at the time, I can now see that they cost me nothing of lasting value and actually gave me great personal and relational gain … which I treasure even more since experiencing cancer.

As our ministry grows, I will continue to be challenged to make either personal or professional trade offs. I need God’s wisdom and grace every day to make choices I will look back on with gladness rather than regret.

So do you.

Whether you’re a business manager, a pastor, a teacher or home-schooling mother, a student or an artist, you too will be tempted to treat your vocation as an idol, which is manifested by giving excessive time to your work at the expense your most precious relationships.

So ask for God’s grace to help you keep your priorities in the right order, to have only one God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to commit to giving your family and friends one of the best gifts you can offer them every day … more of you.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • Why are we all so frequently tempted to sacrifice relationships for the sake of our work? How can our work become an idol? (See Getting to the Heart of Conflict)
  • Has your professional or vocational success cost you something personal? Anything you regret?
  • Has your personal (relational) success cost you something professionally or vocationally? Anything your regret?
  • How does the gospel of Christ provide both a motive and a model for prioritizing our relationships over our work? (see John 3:16: Phil. 2:1-11)
  • You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. What specific actions will you take in the coming year to keep your relational and work priorities in the right order?

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like. If you wish to adapt the questions to better suit your group, please include a parenthetical note (Questions adapted with permission of RW360) and send a copy to mail@rw360.org.

© 2018 Ken Sande

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