The Isolated Leader: Three Motivations for Peer Community

One of the greatest threats to leadership is isolation.

The threat only grows as a leader rises in his or her status and scope of responsibility. Isolation leaves a leader without necessary data points. These necessary data points keep a leader grounded, humble, and self-aware. Without these points of reference, a leader is exposed to many temptations—the greatest of these temptations is self-sufficiency.

The antidote to isolation is peer community.

Every leader needs multiple sources of community. Peer community is a very critical source. Leaders must be in periodic connection with those of similar leadership responsibility. Only those who have experienced the weight, pressure, and stress of a like-kind of leadership responsibility can offer understanding and perspective.

Peer community typically does not exist within a leader’s normal daily environment.

True peer community cannot take place with those who answer to the leader. Followers will always be challenged to stay completely honest—and every leader needs abject honesty as a regular mirror for his or her soul. Leaders must intentionally seek out peer community. Quality peer community may be close at hand or it may exist a great distance away. But with today’s technology distance cannot remain an excuse to not connect.

There are three primary motivations for developing peer community:

Calling—your invitation to lead.

Calling in the Bible is always an invitation. It is an invitation from God to step into something significant and supernatural. Some callings in Scripture are dramatic and legendary. Some callings are quiet and less well-known. All of these invitations to lead are significant because they have their source in God and they are intended to move God’s agenda forward. I don’t know of a single leadership calling in the Bible that is easy and without struggle. Therefore, callings must be nurtured and maintained. The leader who desires to lead long must have their calling refreshed and renewed by others in community. Leaders must be reminded about why they lead and for whom they lead.

Calling is God’s permission for the leader to have influence over others.


Accountability—your integrity to lead.

Accountability means a leader is known to someone and committed to being transparent about his or her responsibilities. The leader who ignores or refuses a community of accountability will eventually live a duplicitous life. Accountability must be holistic because leadership is an integrated proposition. Often, that which is unknown to the leader, or to others, will be the very thing that destroys one’s platform for leading. Disqualification is often the sad and public result of a leader without accountability.

Accountability is God’s protection for a leader’s sustainability.


Covenant—your promise to lead.

A covenant of any kind is a binding promise between two parties. Leaders are expected to lead. Leaders must lead. And leadership is always a leveraged activity—meaning that a leader’s efforts, and all of his or her decisions, have a multiplied impact far beyond themselves. Because of this principle of leverage a leader can have an impact for great good or great harm. But when willing followers grant you the authority to lead them they expect you to lead them toward meaningful change and to do so with integrity and care. The leader-follower relationship is built around this stated or unstated promise. The leader may carry titled authority but followers will give their best efforts when the leader fulfills his promise to lead well—this leads to what is truly desired by the leader—granted authority.

Covenant is God’s purpose for a leader to fulfill his calling.


King David in the Bible illustrates the liability of isolation and the necessity of connection in 2 Samuel 11. There are three markers within this narrative that show the potential destruction of a leader in isolation.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. (verse 1)

David was not where he was supposed to be and David was alone. This king was not leading his troops into battle, he was at home. He was not in the company of those who could give personal context for him, he was among only those who served him.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. (verse 2)

David was not living a disciplined existence and he was looking beyond God’s provision for satisfaction. Left to himself, without a presence of any purposeful voice of correction, David was self-absorbed and open to temptation.

David sent …

David abused his titled authority to get what he wanted and to cover up his sin. Beginning in verse one and continuing through the next several verses we find the word “sent” five times. Repeatedly, David used his authority to send others to do his bidding … whether they wanted to go or not and whether it was morally right or not. David “sent” for Bathsheba so that he could commit adultery. David “sent” for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to try to cover up the illegitimate pregnancy. David “sent” Uriah back to the battle lines that he might have Uriah killed. Finally, David “sent” for Bathsheba, Uriah’s widow, to become his wife.

When a leader is isolated and without honest community, he or she is on borrowed time. But with a community of peers who can feed and strengthen a sense of calling, accountability, and covenant, a leader can be used of God for great impact and His glory.

The First C–Community

For some time I have been thinking about a paradigm for leadership development. I have not been satisfied with what I have seen in recent leadership literature. Again, this paradigm is not for how to lead–more on that later. But this paradigm is for the purpose of developing leaders.

So far I have thought through five aspects that all begin with the letter “C.” Here are the five–I will take one at a time over the next several days and add some of my insights: Community, Capacity, Character, Competency, and Christ-centered.

Community. This word can be defined in several ways. But what we usually mean as Christians is something closer to the Biblical definition of “fellowship.” The Greek word is koinonia–which literally means participation with, sharing in. It is more intimate and involved than simple proximity or common interests. It is knowing and being known. This type of community is critical in the life of a leader.

There is a natural tendency to greater levels of leadership–that is greater and greater isolation. As a leader rises in titles and responsibilities there are naturally fewer people who are willing to confront the leader and the leader has a shrinking number of peers. Yet isolation is killing spiritual leaders every day. We see the results in the media regularly. A leader becomes isolated physically and emotionally–and before long they fall prey to immorality, financial misdeeds, or some other character deforming deed. And they are soon disqualified from the ministry.

The higher a leader rises the more they must be intentional about maintaining authentic community. But how? 1. The leader must see and understand the Biblical value of being in community. 2. The leader will have to take the initiative to seek out a peer community. 3. The leader must be willing to live in authenticity–realizing that their strength is not in appearances but in a grace and truth community that points them to Christ. 4. The leader must seek the sponsorship of a supportive following that will allow them the time to pursue community. Too many times it is the congregation or those that report to the leader who do not allow the leader the freedom to be in community–they expect perfection and 24 hour, on demand work days.

There are two settings I know where leadership community is being promoted and exhibited. One is my former pastor in Austin, Texas–Rob Harrell. Several years ago Rob joined a group of other pastors in Austin who meet regularly to share their burdens, to pray for one another, and enjoy community. There are now over 60 pastors in Austin who meet in small groups to do the same. David English is another friend of mine who spends his full time promoting spiritual health in men through covenant teams of peers. David teaches on this through observed principles that all men pass through as they go through life. He arranges regular retreat settings where these covenant groups can meet and enjoy prolonged time to enjoy authentic community. All of this to the end that men–and leaders–finish well.

Community in the life of a leader is an absolute must–but not easy. It has to be pursued doggedly for a lifetime.