Rt Rev Stephen Hale.

Board Chair. Arrow Leadership International Development.

We’re living in a moment in history when this maxim is ever before us. In leadership, all of us will face moments when we will be damned if we do and damned if we don’t.


Just think of every world leader at present. All of them have had to make unenviable decisions where the consequences have been monumental. In most cases, the choice to save lives has overridden the option to protect livelihoods, at least in an immediate sense. You could argue they had no choice, but at the same time, it must have been weighty and overwhelming. In doing what they believed to be right, they have caused great harm. If they had done nothing, then the damage would have been more significant.

For most of us, the situations we’re involved in aren’t nearly as vast and overwhelming. Nevertheless, they will be difficult and challenging. In my role as a bishop, I often felt like I was thrust into what I called ‘lose, lose scenarios’. There was a decision to be made, and you knew that in making it there wouldn’t be a lot of joy for you in doing it. Fortunately, not all situations are like this, and many decisions lead to really positive outcomes. At the same time, it is hard to ignore the reality that we will sometimes confront troubling scenarios. Just think of any professional standards situation, and you’ll know it will be painful, and at the end of the day, there will be a lot of angst. This will still be the case if you have handled it as well as you possibly can, and let’s face it, that can be very hard to do.

It is often said that leadership is costly. Making difficult decisions is part of that. And in that mix will be the rare situation when you know that you have no choice. You’ll be upholding a Biblical principle or disciplining someone for crossing a line or exercising fiscal prudence. I once had someone accuse me of being like Pontius Pilate in offering silver coins to Judas (I’ll spare you the details!). Damned if you do and damned if you don’t situations are ones where you know that you have to make a tough call and it won’t win you a lot of fans. Yet the consequences of doing nothing could be far worse. All of us are wired differently so how these tough calls impact you will vary from person to person. I’ve certainly had many sleepless nights when I’ve been in the midst of one of these.

As a general rule, it is vital to not rush into these sorts of decisions, unless there are legal requirements or it’s an emergency. They should be as a consequence of much prayer and consideration. Where appropriate it should be done with the support of your governing body Chair and generally, but not always, the full Board. Decide, having weighed the cost. If it is in the acute category, then it should be done in full expectation that you won’t necessarily get a lot of pats on the back afterwards. In fact, don’t be surprised if you get severely criticised.

The encouraging aspect of our current situation is that people respect leaders who are willing to make principled decisions, even if it is challenging and costly. Courageous leadership is far more impressive than the “business as usual” political grind we see today.

Be the courageous leader – regardless of the outcome and know that Jesus sees the heart behind the decisions.

Stephen Hale

Chair, Arrow Leadership: International Development.