Unleash Your Potential

blog Feb 15, 2024

By Todd Bishop

Over the last three decades of leadership, I have watched leaders come and go from every sphere of life. Many finished well; others were finished. Somewhere along the way, we either lose our edge, or we sharpen it. The key to lasting in leadership is sharpening your edge. Ecclesiastes 10:10 reads, “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.” However, for a blade to be sharpened, it must come in contact with something hard, something grittier and tougher than itself.

I want to explore four “hard things” that every leader must face in their leadership journey if they want to be sharpened: confrontation, crisis, criticism and change. These dynamics are both external (i.e. they happen to us) and internal (i.e. they happen within us), and our response to them can spell the difference between success and failure, growth and stagnation, confidence and disillusionment.


I don’t mind confrontation. It’s true. But I don’t like it either! Some leaders confuse the two statements. Just because I don’t mind doing it does not mean I enjoy doing it. As a lifelong New Yorker, confrontation is just part of life. Most people don’t understand New Yorkers. They think we are unfriendly, but we are just direct. It saves us time. We are busy. The challenge is that most leaders are quick at direction but slow at correction.

If you can’t self-confront, you will never self-correct. That’s just a fact of leadership. Leaders have to look within themselves to see what they need to change in order to become better leaders in their sphere of influence. Therefore, one’s hunger—or lack of hunger—to self-confront is a challenge. Every leader has the daunting tasks of examining their leadership, confronting their issues, and making the necessary changes. The leader that is able to do that will continue to unleash their leadership. The leader who does not self-correct will self-destruct!

John C. Maxwell was asked one time, “What has been your greatest challenge as a leader?” His response silenced the crowd: “Leading myself.” He went on to say that it has always been that way for him. I have discovered that if we can’t lead ourselves, we will probably have a difficult time leading others because what we fail to confront in ourselves, we will fail to correct in our organizations.

Confrontation and correction always start with us.

In my early days of leadership in a local church, I had a very difficult time confronting others when they had done something a little off. It was a challenge. To be honest, I still face that challenge from time to time, but more often than not, I just speak directly to the person I need to. Most of my team can receive correction from me because they know I am also constantly correcting myself! Every leader who desires to lead well and lead long has to master the art of confrontation and correction. It’s nonnegotiable.

Leaders or employees in any organization that cannot handle top-down confrontation should not be in that business, church or company. Here’s my simplistic advice—let them go! You never want to feel like you are walking on eggshells around staff members. Some staff members might think they are above correction because they are “this” or “that.” The moment a team member pushes back on your correcting their poor behavior, it may be time to show them the door because if you are self-correcting, but your team is not, you are actually self-destructing.

We have to be okay with confrontation. A friend of mine once said (not an original to them quote), “If you want to make everyone happy, go sell ice cream.” Leaders don’t just sell a product, offer a service, create a sermon, or cook food. They offer an experience. That experience can be measured according to the people called to lead.

I know confrontation is hard, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. So, start by confronting yourself. Seriously, do some self-inventory. Once you finish that—Oh, wait, you will never finish that!—you can start confronting what you see in those you lead. Remember, what you fail to confront, you fail to correct.


Every leader knows that when things are going really well, other things can be overlooked and ignored, and most people won’t realize it. But when crisis comes, everything gets magnified and exaggerated! One crisis becomes “the sky is falling”—even though it is not.

In their 2015 Outlook on the Global Agenda, the World Economic Forum reported, “A startling 86 percent of respondents to the Survey on the Global Agenda agree that we have a leadership crisis in the world today.” That was in 2015. Imagine what that survey would reveal today! The largest crisis we have is actually how leaders handle crisis! A leader who does not have the capacity to manage a crisis will be reduced to managing nothing.

Crisis exaggerates things, but it also reveals things. That’s why in the middle of the challenges of work, business, and corporate growth, we cannot fall into a leadership crisis. We must still be able to manage our people and our purpose in the middle of every difficulty we face.

Every leader will face a financial crisis. When the profits are up, or the tithes are good, everything is good. But what happens when you face a bad quarter or lost income? I’ve learned that the problem with money is money. You either have it, or you don’t. When you have it, there is no need to worry about how you will pay your staff—until you don’t. Or you invest it in R&D or marketing only to realize your team frivolously spent it. No matter how good a leader is, there will be a season when they face a financial crisis!

Every leader will face the crisis of staffing. Managing, hiring, or firing staff can be one of the most stressful things that we do. Dealing with people is challenging enough. Keeping those individuals on mission is an even greater task. Great leaders hire the wrong people and fire the right people. Why? Because we are human. It’s an area of crisis every leader will experience—staffing issues.

Every leader will face the crisis of communication. As someone who has his hand in marketing, I learned years ago that you cannot overcommunicate. The two most famous women in the world are Miss Communication and Miss Understanding. Yes, every leader will need to manage them, or things will always look worse. Andy Stanley has said, “Vision leaks.” That simply means I have to communicate, communicate, communicate. When I think I have done it well, I need to do it again.

Every leader will face the crisis of change. Change in life is inevitable. Change in leadership is too. Things are changing at the speed of yesterday. Technology advances and social media influence have created immediate change—most of which is probably not healthy, but we won’t know that for years. In leadership, I have discovered if someone is unwilling to change, they will become unable to lead. Change is not a crisis to be avoided.

If a leader can navigate crisis, they will be able to lead well and long because crisis exaggerates everything. Under the microscope of pressure, everything is worse than it really is. Leaders will never be able to remove problems, but they must learn to manage them. It’s one of the most important traits of a leader. After all, if we can’t lead through crisis, then crisis will lead us out of our positions.


I believe that we have developed a culture of people who can’t take a joke, any criticism, or an insult. All of those things are part of leadership. Pastor Paul Bartholomew, a great man I had the honor of serving alongside, once said, “A leader cannot have a glass jaw because sometimes you have to take it on the chin.” That is so true.

If you really want to unleash your leadership, there are going to be times when you have to just “suck it up.” Not everything is going to go your way. To be honest, most things are going to take twists and turns you do not expect. Often, you just have to put your shoulders back, stick out your chest, and push through what leadership has brought you to.

I have experienced several opportunities to “suck it up” in my nearly three decades of leadership. I have had to apologize for what I did not do. There were moments when I took potshots from people who were supposed to be friends. At the end of the day, one of the greatest tests of leadership is the ability to take some hits.

I have several friends who, at the first sign of difficulty, run in the opposite direction. They cave in. They quit. But remember, leadership is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is not always about who is the fastest. Many times it is more about who is faithful. In fact, too many leaders choose flight over fight. But as a lifelong New Yorker, I am going to slug it out until there is no breath left in me. I am going to suck it up and keep swinging.

Leaders will face seasons when they just have to put on their “big person pants” and do what needs to be done. Haters are gonna hate. That’s why we have to keep pushing forward—beyond the difficulty, beyond the pain—to do what God has called us to do in life and leadership.

Criticism is just part of the leadership journey. We are all going to face it more than we want to. Some of that criticism is going to really sting or hurt deeply. When it comes to critical words spoken to you or about you, it is imperative to look within to see if there is a shade of truth in them. Sometimes the criticism hurts so much because you know it is somewhat true. Despite the criticism, we must “suck it up.”

There will be people on every side of you that are trying to pull you down. Rise higher. Stand stronger. Expand your belief. God has more before you than hell has behind you! Keep being you. Keep leading well.

I have a leadership mantra that is not for everyone, but it is simply this: “Screw ’em.” At some point, you have to just keep doing, being, and becoming everything you were designed to be. If people didn’t create your destiny, then they can’t destroy it. That’s why you have to suck it up and keep going and growing! You don’t need anyone’s approval to walk in God’s authority. Keep doing you, and suck it up no matter what. There is no difficulty that you will face that can take you out—unless you let it.

Now, get out there, and show the world who you are and what you can do! Be the leader God called you to be! Stand up and stand strong. The greatest of leaders will suck it up and continue to walk in their calling and destiny.

Leadership is not easy! Yes, everyone likes the titles, but they have a difficult time with the tests. Everyone loves the idea of leadership until they stand in the shoes of leadership. That’s why you have to suck it up. You cannot lead long if you won’t stand strong. Circle that. Highlight that. Better yet, post it on social media. You cannot lead long if you won’t stand strong.

It’s time to just suck it up!


As our church started growing, my wife and I were not able to do everything that we did when we first started the church. At fifty people, it was easy to call people, but at five hundred, it became nearly impossible to lead the same way. One of our closest friends decided to leave the church. They did not say anything to us. They just picked up and left. They may have ignored us, but they told others, “They are not the same people as when we first came to church.”

My response was, “That’s good. If I am the same leader five years later, then I am not the right leader.”

You see, what brought you to where you are is not the same thing that will take you to where you need to be.

I am not talking about character change. I am talking about style, not substance. Our character should always be full of integrity! I am not talking about cutting corners, but true, personal growth!

You see, as your business or organization grows, you will have to grow too. Your style of leadership may have to change. “Nooooooooooo!” You may be screaming right now. In a small business, it is easier to be a hands-on leader, but if your company grows into a Fortune 500, you have to be a stronger delegator. Every level your leadership goes up will require you to elevate your leadership. If you do not, you will become the lid to your organization, nonprofit, or church.

If you are not the same leader as you were five years ago, throw yourself a party.

Change is required for any business or leader to continue to innovate! Your personality may be able to grow a business to a million in revenue. However, an ability to raise up other leaders will be necessary to build that ten million dollar per year company. Style, attitude, approach, staff, and more will be needed if you want to grow to the next level.

I have had to change how I lead over the last four years. As our church started to hit a leadership lid, I began to blame everything and everybody else. But that did not change a thing. Then I started to look within. My wife and I co-lead our church, and I realized that her leadership style is better than mine when it comes to sustaining continual growth. Her philosophy is simple, “I tell people what I would like, and they have the responsibility to accomplish it.” Then she gives them the freedom and finances to do it. Me? I was a control freak.

Since then, I have become much more trusting and permission-giving, and we have watched our church grow in ways we could never imagine. I had to change. If I had stayed the same as a leader, there would be no one to blame but me. We still would be at the same place we were four years ago.

Here’s the reality: just when you think you have mastered your level, you will need to adjust again to reach the next level. In fact, leadership is the constant ability to adapt and grow as your organization does. Don’t be the lid to your leadership.

Change is a priority for continued growth. No one can just cruise into every new level. At some point, every leader has to make a decision to keep pushing the limits. After all, growth is not accidental; it is intentional!

Where do you need to make adjustments? Every leader either adjusts or becomes irrelevant. One of the most iconic female singers of all time is Madonna. Her music spanned over three decades. Why? She made adjustments to the style and substance of her music. You may or may not agree with me, but I promise you that she has been iconic.

Here are the Ps that need to constantly change in order to get to the next level:

  • People—There may be moments when you need some new people in your life to rise higher.
  • Places—Leaders know that not every place is the right place for them.
  • Paper—A leader’s attitude toward money and actions with money will constantly need to grow.
  • Priorities—For every level of leadership, you will need to evaluate your priorities and goals.

Do you want to be sharpened? Don’t avoid the confrontation, crisis, criticism and change that will be required to make it happen. Leverage these “hard things” for learning, unleash your leadership and grow to the next level!


You can order Todd Bishop's book, Leadership Unleashed, here.

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