Leadership and Friendship—Are They Mutually Exclusive?

With whom can you be yourself—totally raw and without filters—without expectations? Someone recently asked me this question. Several names came to mind, but I realized my list was short. This person advised, “You need these types of people in your life, people who will listen to you without expectations or judgment, with whom you can climb down off the mentorship and ministry pedestal.”

Regardless of the world in which you work or serve—corporate, construction, education, marketing, medical, ministry, research, restaurant, the arts, or the home—being a leader can make finding raw-and-without-filters friendships difficult. Why is that?  

First, leaders are visionaries. They lead the charge. They think outside the box. They have a view of the future that keeps them forward looking and forward moving. James Kouzes and Barry Posner, bestselling authors of The Truth About Leadership, explain, “The truth is that focusing on the future sets leaders apart” (Kouzes, 46).

Leaders run towards seemingly unattainable goals.

Leaders take on new assignments before others. They go first. They cannot ask someone else to do something that they themselves will not try to do. All of this means leaders often run alone. A.W. Tozer, well-known preacher and author, wrote, “Most of the world’s greatest souls have been lonely” (Sanders, 118). I can only assume Tozer was writing from his own lonely leadership experience.

Leaders pay a necessary price of loneliness.

Second, leadership will get you laughed at often. J. Oswald Sanders, author of the timeless classic, Spiritual Leadership, explains, “No leader lives a day without criticism, and humility will never be more on trial than when criticism comes” (Sanders, 119). In full view of others, leaders live with daily critique of their actions and decisions.

Darren Hardy, former CEO of SUCCESS Magazine, warns entrepreneurs and visionaries to “beware of the crabs.” A fisherman may have difficulty catching one crab, but catching an entire cage of crabs is easy. In his book, The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster, Hardy explains, “Because if one crab realizes there’s nothing keeping him in the trap and tries to leave, the other crabs will do anything they can to stop him…pulling him from the side of the cage” so that he cannot climb away (Hardy, 64).

Human behavior is not so far from that of crabs. They may not use physical force, but their comments, critiques, ridicule, and sarcasm potentially pull you down and away from your dreams (Hardy, 65).

Does this sound familiar? Are you experiencing crab-like attitudes from your peers, employees, bosses, family, or friends? How does that ridicule affect your leadership? Are you allowing it to affect your dreams?

Hardy cites a long list of leaders accustomed to ridicule (Hardy, 71). Included on his list are:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.: Baptist minister and Civil Rights Movement activist.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Sixteenth president of the United States and abolisher of slavery.
  • The Wright Brothers: Inventors and fathers of modern aviation.
  • Frank Gehry: World-renowned architect whose designs defy traditionalism.
  • Jesus of Nazareth: Messiah of the world.  

Take note that three of the five listed were laughed at and hated to the extreme—to the point of assassination and crucifixion.

Leadership can cost you deeply.   

Yet despite the loneliness and criticism, friendships are necessary for leaders.Tom Rath, New York Times bestselling author of Vital Friends, concluded that different friends play different roles in your life, and that having friendships at work is “vital to happiness and achievement on the job” (Rath, 71). He believes that, ideally, you need friends who fulfill these eight vital roles:

  • Builder: Pushes you towards the finish line without competing against you.
  • Champion: Advocates and promotes your cause, singing your praises along the way.
  • Collaborator: Shares your similar interests and ambitions in life and work.
  • Companion: Willingly sacrifices for you in good times and bad. They always have your back.
  • Connector: Networks and connects you to resources, people, and business associates.
  • Energizer: Gives you a boost, a laugh, and always knows the right thing to say to make you relax and smile.
  • Mind Opener: Encourages you in your visionary pursuits, expanding your horizons at all levels.
  • Navigator: Gives guidance and advice, keeping you pointed in the right direction.

While it is possible for one friend to fulfill many vital roles, it is impossible that one friend fulfills all roles.

Who are your vital friends? What vital roles do they fulfill? Do you have missing vital roles to fill? What vital role(s) do you play in others’ lives?

Leaders must still live in community.

Yet ultimately, leaders must look to the one capable of fulfilling all vital roles. Sanders explains, “The leader must be a person who, while welcoming the friendship and support of all who offer it, has sufficient inner resources to stand alone—even in the face of stiff opposition to have no one but God” (Sanders, 118). Only the Lord is capable of perfectly satisfying all vital roles in your life. He waits for you only to ask him, and he will do it. Do you have this type of vital relationship with the Lord?

Leaders must look to the one who is capable of fulfilling all roles.

Reflection and Action Items:

  1. Make a list of those friends who fulfill these eight vital roles in your life, those with whom you can climb down off your pedestal of leadership.
  2. Contact these friends and thank them for how they contribute to your life.
  3. If you have vital roles that are empty, prayerfully consider who may fill those roles.
  4. Seek the Lord for his ultimate leadership in your life, because only he is capable of perfectly fulfilling all your needs.

This blog article was originally published on September 12, 2016.


Hardy, Darren. The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster: Why Now Is the Time to #JoinTheRide. Lake Dallas, TX: Success, 2015.

Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Rath, Tom. Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. New York: Gallup Press, 2006.

Sanders, J Oswald. Spiritual Leadership. Commitment to Spiritual Growth Series. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.

Photo courtesy of Lightstock.

Karla D. Zazueta is an architect-turned-discipleship-leader serving alongside her pastor-husband in Hispanic ministry both locally and abroad. She's also a mother to one furry feline and one adorable little boy. Karla has a M.A. in Christian Leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary and a B.S. in Architectural Studies. She is the author of Discipleship for Hispanic Introverts. She was also a contributing author to the book, Vindicating the Vixens, with the essay "Mary Magdalene: Repainting Her Portrait of Misconceptions."

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