Dealing With Strong Personalities

It’s not always easy but it can be a tremendous blessing

Soon my wife and I will have been married 48 years and if we’re still together without one of us being strangled, it’s that we seldom hang wallpaper together.

We have two different philosophies about putting up wallpaper. She seems to think that everything must match. All those tiny flowers must fit together perfectly.

My philosophy is: “the faster the better. I’ve got other things to do. Who pays attention to those silly flowers anyway?”

Do you see a potential for conflict here?

It’s often true, if you want to ruin a relationship, try to work together. I’ve seen it with pastors, people at work, friends … in marriage.

Why is that?

Understanding the Problem

The easy answer is pride. We desire to be first. We feel threatened, out of control and don’t want anyone over us, especially someone we know well. Sometimes that’s the problem, but usually there is more to it than that.

Leaders like to lead. They like responsibility. They love shepherding others towards a goal.  It’s not just pride. Leaders point the way.

But when you have two or three strong leaders in the same group… can you see a potential for conflict there?

It gets more complicated. It has to do with our giftings and calling in life. We see the world through this lens. That gives us different priorities. For instance:

I wonder if  two men ever lived who were more spiritual than Paul and Barnabas. While Barnabas mentored Paul, they worked well together. But eventually they got into a ginormous disagreement. (Preachers don’t “squabble.” They “maintain a different point of view,” though it may sound like a nasty argument to the untrained ear.

Barnabas wanted to take John-Mark on a missionary trip with them. Paul couldn’t see it. Mark had run home to mama with his tail between his legs the first time then took him along on a trip. That left them in a bind and Paul wasn’t going to chance that again.

Barnabas believed in second chances.

Who was right? Paul was. This second missionary journey lasted about three years. Paul’s team traveled over 2700 miles, more than half of it on foot. He got the tar beat out of him in Philippi, survived a riot in Ephesus and overcame lots of other challenges. If John-Mark had taken such a trip he would probably have scurried home again, never to return to ministry.

Wait, though. Maybe Barnabas was right, because by most accounts, God used John Mark to give us the third Gospel in the New Testament. Paul later said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

How did he go from reject to, “helpful to me in my ministry,”? Because Barnabas did for him what he had done for Paul before, and no doubt many others. Paul grew churches; Barnabas grew men of God.

Each one of them came at the ministry from a different angle. Both of them were right because they followed God’s calling for their lives.


The solution for pride is repentance at the Cross, but make sure it’s pride you’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s calling or gifting that’s motivating us. How do we deal with these differences?

–Try to understand ministries that are different than yours. Paul and Barnabas would have saved a lot of hurt if they could have said, “Okay, Barnabas, you’ve got a calling to build leaders. My primary calling is to evangelize and plant churches. At this point in time, these won’t work together so let’s shake hands and each one of us will do what God made us to do, but in different places.

–Talk before working together. In the heat of battle things are not always going to happen the way you talked about, but at least you’re not surprised. The better you know the other’s motives– even when you don’t understand their actions– the more likely you are to give them the benefit of the doubt.

–Give leaders a leadership role. Someone must be the last word, but if a leader feels he has something important to do and great latitude to do that, he’s often fulfilled, even in an supporting role. If it fits in the overall program let the leader develop it, even if he might fail. He’s got to have some credit if it works and responsibility if it fails. That’s part of the excitement of leading isn’t it?

–Program different giftings into the whole. NO ONE has everything. The wise man finds others who are strong where he is weak and lets that person complement him. They honor each other. RESPECT other giftings and make place for them. That should be the way it works in marriage. Let her do what she’s strong in doing. Let him do what he does well. And, there where they are both weak? Pray a lot. A lot!

When Good People Clash

How do you lead a person who has a strong personality? (Or a wife who has strong leadership abilities?)

–Discussion is good, but it’s not enough. Being understood is important, but we all want to think our contribution really is valuable. This is essential. We need to feel our life is making a difference.

–Give her a job that challenges her capacities and lets her grow. Don’t just use people to fill holes to further your goals. Choose people who will grow in that context. Make sure each one has work that’s important to the job and that he/she considers it important. A great leader conveys the importance of the job to each one who works with him.

— Affirm and honor him before others—the Church, your mutual friends. We need to feel that others respect and value us and what we do. Show respect, publicly and privately. Don’t criticize him behind his back. When he needs to change, have the courage to deal with him face to face.

–Can we listen when our wife speaks to our need for change? Pastors for our associates?  Bosses, for our colleagues? Do we affirm our wife’s abilities and successes or do we feel threatened?

–A strong leader must also learn to follow. His natural bent is to lead but if he can’t follow, he isn’t qualified to lead. Otherwise he’s just bossy. If you haven’t learned submission, you have no right to ask others to submit to you.

–Learn—sometimes we learn more from a bad leader than from a good leader. A good leader helps, develops and challenges those who follow him. A bad leader makes life miserable or frustrating.See what’s not working in others and DON’T reproduce it.

–Try to grow together. Iron really does sharpen iron through contact. Talk. Hold each other accountable and be submissive enough to listen and consider. Help him see his weak points and his strong points. Let her help you see yours. Don’t quit when you bump heads, but back up and see what’s going on.

So, if you do all that you’re ready to put up a tent with your wife, work with your boss and I’m ready to put up wallpaper with Phyllis. Wait, stop! Scratch that wallpaper. For that we’ve got to add one more element–divine intervention.


“One of the greatest needs of good leaders is the gift of discernment when it comes to people. Knowing who surround yourself with and knowing who to leave standing outside the gate.” missionary Jimmy Abrams

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