5 Reasons You Still Feel Disoriented, Dissatisfied, and Depleted (The Challenge of Crisis Leadership)

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Ah, to be out of crisis. You thought it’d feel different as a leader, didn’t you?

But as Craig Groeschel has aptly pointed out, leading out of crisis can prove more difficult than leading through crisis.

If you’re like a lot of leaders, you’re probably scratching your head wondering why you’re still feeling simultaneously disoriented, dissatisfied, and depleted.

COVID took its toll, and while it’s waning and (hopefully) on its way out, the challenge you feel in leadership is far from over.

I recently did an informal poll of 100 leaders inside The Art of Leadership Academy. 54% said they felt the same or worse than they did a year ago. 44% said they felt less tired and more encouraged or much better and more encouraged.

That still leaves over half of leaders struggling though.

The question is why.

Understanding the reasons you feel the way you feel can be the first step in improving the way you feel.

If you're like a lot of leaders, you're probably scratching your head wondering why you're still feeling simultaneously disoriented, dissatisfied, and depleted. Click To Tweet

1. COVID might be waning but crisis leadership isn’t

Even in states or countries where the lockdowns were short-lived, the crisis hasn’t been. Turns out society was a tinderbox just waiting to ignite.

COVID itself has been an unbelievably difficult crisis to face. It’s easily one of the hardest challenges this generation has faced, if not the hardest challenge.

But even in states or countries where the lockdowns were short-lived, the crisis hasn’t been.

Turns out society was a tinderbox just waiting to ignite.

And ignite we did.

We turned a pandemic into a political fight. Tensions over racial injustice erupted. Supply chain issues, The Great Resignation, inflation, war in Europe, revelations over deep and systemic abuse in the church, and anger over anything and everything created a series of cascading crises that have hardly been resolved.

As leaders, we’re facing all of that ahead. What we thought was a stable base has turned out to be quite unstable—far more volatile than almost any of us imagined.

Unfortunately, the skills you developed in crisis will be desperately needed in the future.

As much as you wished things would get back to normal, normal is gone.

In front of us are more disruptions and some other things no one’s even imagined yet.

And yet here’s the opportunity: If thoughtful, sane, and adept leadership has ever been needed, it’s now. We need you now.

If thoughtful, sane, and adept leadership has ever been needed, it's now. We need you now. Click To Tweet

2. You’re grieving a lot of change and loss

Ministry is a series of ungrieved loss. So is life.

What’s making all of this difficult is that you’re navigating a lot of change and loss.

Change is hard in the best of times, even for leaders. And this is not the best of times.

Add loss into the mix, and it gets discouraging quickly.

For many church leaders, attendance is still meaningfully less than it was three years ago and revenue is leveling off or declining after an initial surge. People have left, and they’re not coming back.

And while any loss in leadership can feel personal, some of the losses you’ve experienced are personal.

Some of the people who left used to be your friends.

While any loss in leadership can feel personal, some of the losses you've experienced are personal. Some of the people who left used to be your friends. Click To Tweet

Others left when they got angry with you. And in some cases, some people you felt you could always trust let you down.

That hurts. A lot.

One of my mentors, Terry Wardle, taught me that ministry is a series of ungrieved loss. So is life.

Think about how much loss you’ve endured in the last few years. The list above will barely get you started.

From every lost friendship to the death of someone you know, to personal illness, to things as simple as a lack of progress on a key issue…all of it is loss.

I used to be terrible at grieving losses. Then during my season of burnout, it was like a dam burst. I spent a month (August 2006, to be specific) crying every day, sometimes for an hour at a time. Often inconsolably.

Since then, I’ve tried to remember to grieve as I go.

For driven people, sadness often comes out as anger, irritation or frustration.

When I find myself feeling that way, I pause to ask what’s going on. And (I know this sounds so woo-woo, but trust me, it works), I let myself feel the sadness. Often it’s not tears, but it’s just coming to terms with the fact that yes, I’m sad. Yes, that’s a loss. And no, I’m not immune. 

And when it lifts, I move on.

Grieve your losses. And there is a lot to grieve right now.

Ministry is a series of ungrieved loss. So is life. Click To Tweet

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3. Your emotions are still catching up

One dynamic over the last few years is there have been a lot of false finish lines.

It’s laughable now, but people thought schools, businesses, and churches would be closed for two weeks and we’d get on with our lives right after that.

Then people looked with fresh hope to 2021 to provide relief. It didn’t. Nor has 2022 for the most part.

The false finish line has turned into no finish line, and that creates a unique dynamic for leaders.

When a crisis hit, it’s natural as a leader to ignore your emotions and ‘steel up’ for the task ahead. While everyone else feels the pain, you lead on.

What happens, though, is your emotional reaction to everything you’ve been through starts to emerge. They can’t stay squelched forever.

So you get a little break in the clouds but for some reason, you feel no relief. Instead, you feel despair, exhaustion, anger, apathy, or hurt.

And what’s weird is you can’t think of anything at the moment that’s driving it. Because your present circumstance isn’t causing it. It’s simply the emotions you suppressed for too long.

Your emotions have to come out, and when you’ve denied or delayed them, they leak out.

This is why so many leaders are still feeling disoriented, dissatisfied, and depleted.

Your emotions have to come out, and when you've denied or delayed them, they leak out. Click To Tweet

4. People are still deeply divided

A divided culture needs a united church.

A divided nation needs a united people.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the people you lead are not all right. At all.

The divisions that have opened up in society are deep, and the current news/social media insanity that’s happening worsens it daily.

This complicates leadership because suddenly almost any and every issue becomes charged or debatable, which makes it hard to get anything done.

Which is just one of the reasons unity matters so much.

One of the key tasks of leadership is to unite people around a common cause. That’s what leaders do.

A divided culture needs a united church.

A divided nation needs a united people.

That’s the role leaders play. And my guess is, deep down, you wish your church, organization, or company was more united. And while leadership has always been hard, this particular moment makes it harder than ever.

While uniting a divided people is a difficult task, it’s not impossible. Here are 5 keys to uniting a divided people.

A divided culture needs a united church. A divided nation needs a united people. Click To Tweet

5. You haven’t found a sustainable pace

Time off won’t heal you when the problem is how you spend your time on.

When a crisis hits, it’s understandable (and inevitable) that you’ll work longer hours.

The challenge is that several years in, a lot of leaders have still not found a sustainable pace. To make it worse, many leaders were overwhelmed long before the crisis started.

The cure for an unsustainable pace is not a vacation or Sabbatical. The cure for an unsustainable pace is to find a sustainable pace.

To put it simply: time off won’t heal you when the problem is how you spend your time on.

If you’re looking for help with that, check this out.

Time off won't heal you when the problem is how you spend your time on. Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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