What's Your Thorn Tolerance?
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

Did you know your successful leadership has something in common with a power ballad by a 80’s glam band?

You both understand that Every Rose Has Its Thorn.

And failing to understand that is a limiting factor in your leadership.

Let me explain:

Sam Chand, in his excellent book Leadership Pain, writes about the leadership reality he faced as a pastor:

“In any congregation 10% are devils…Those 10% cause 90% of the headaches and heartaches”... “How many devils can you handle? In other words, how many naysayers does it take to steal your joy, erode your enthusiasm and consume your time so that you lose focus on your God-inspired vision?... Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds”

I’m not a fan of calling anyone a “devil,” but I’ve observed the same thing.  In any organization you lead, you will face “devils,” that is, opposition that causes most of your pushback, problems, and potential joy and time stealers.

In other words, to paraphrase the band Poison, Every Rose Has Its Thorn.

Every organization’s rose has its thorn of opposition.

And let’s say that number is 10%.

So your ability to hold and grow the rose of your organization is directly tied to your tolerance of the thorns.

Using the 10% idea from Sam, if you are able to tolerate only 10 “thorns,” then you are only able to lead an organization of 100 people.  Fifty thorns?  You can lead 500 people.  Our city right now is electing a mayor to govern 500,000 people.  This means out next mayor will need to be able to handle 50,000 thorns!

Tolerating does not mean ignoring, allowing culture violations, or giving in.  

It DOES mean that you give up your dream of leading an organization without opposition.

If you are like me, that bothers you.   

For years I allowed the 10% of thorns to dominate my leading of the rose.  The complaints, the attacks, the opposition far outweighed the headspace they should have received.  The small number of critics sounded so much louder than the majority of cheerleaders.

That’s because I believed every rose DID NOT have its thorn.  That is I was a good leader, I could bring everyone along, that we could have a rose without thorns.

One time I was talking in a sermon about how I wanted our church to be “doers of the word, not just hearers” ( I think I got that from the Bible…). A long time member got very upset with that, feeling I was denigrating the “doing” that she and others had done for years.  She emailed my about hos she and “dozens of others” were so offended.  

I felt horrible.  Had I offended so many people?  Was I a bad leader?

I reached out to this woman and set up a meeting in her workplace to hear her out.  After an hour and a half of conversation where I listened and apologized, we ended amicably.  I asked her if she could let me know who the dozens of other people were so I could follow up with each one of them like I had with her.

Her reply?

“I can’t think of any of their names right now.”

The dozens of people didn’t exist.  

I had allowed this thorn of a person to dominate my thinking about the whole rose.   

My attempt to have 100% agreement, alignment, and peace was sabotaging where our leadership was trying to take our organization.  

I had to learn to up my thorn tolerance if we were to soo our rose grow..

A few ways we raised our thorn tolerance:

  • We refused to listen to anonymous criticism.  With no way to respond or interact, anonymous criticism served zero purpose in helping us get better.
  • We led our Board and staff  to understand that complaints or upset people were not the barometers of success or failure.
  • We made sure we brought our leaders on board with the “why” behind decisions.
  • We took time to listen well to opposition, but were also prepared to agree to disagree and keep moving forward.
  • We accepted that people leaving our church was not always a sign something was wrong.  

Your level of thorn tolerance directly impacts the growth and impact of the rose you are growing.  

How is YOUR level of thorn tolerance?

Because every rose has its thorn…

Just like every night has its dawn

Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song

Every rose has its thorn.

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next in their lives, leadership, and teams.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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