If you talk to most leaders long enough to get a real answer to ‘So how’s it going?” you will quickly discover that a surprising number of leaders are disheartened.

Even discouraged.

You know what thousands of leaders facing many different situations have in common?  They’re discouraged. 

Sure, the problems are specific (and they provide fuel for the subjects I try to address on this blog), but underneath so many of them is a single issue: so many leaders are demoralized and dejected.

Add ministry to leadership and it gets even harder. I’ll be the first one to admit that a large part of the battle in leadership is this: overcoming discouragement.

If you don’t develop a strategy, you won’t stay in leadership long.

So the big question is, how do you overcome the tough seasons?

How do you overcome discouragement in leadership? Here are 7 things that have helped me.

shutterstock_1856330061. Remember your calling

Most of us didn’t get into ministry—or even leadership—without some sense of calling.

I know for me, personally, my call into ministry was definitely something I sensed from God, not anything I dreamt up myself (I outline some of the story behind my call to ministry in this message).

Even if you volunteered for ministry and don’t have a dramatic call story, your gifting is evidence that God has equipped you for ministry. And the truth is, we’re all called to ministry, whether we work at a church or not. (That’s why it’s so critical for the church today to rethink what it means to be called to ministry.)

God got you into ministry. He’ll get you through it.

Remember that. It will grow your trust in God.

2. Shift the weight

There is a weight to leadership that every leader feels. And some of that is healthy. If you don’t feel the pressure of leadership, it can be a sign that you’re not engaged.

Things become unhealthy, though, when you bear all the weight of ministry.

Jesus promised that you don’t need to do that. If you’re truly leading in him, you still bear a burden, but it’s a light burden.

How do you do that?

My rule in leadership is this: Take full responsibility for all you can do. And then trust God with the rest.

It’s Christ’s church, not yours. Remember that.

It relieves so much pressure.

3. Do what an emotionally intelligent person would do

Some days (and in some seasons) my emotions get the best of me. And when they do, I want to revert to the behaviour of a 3 year old, not the behaviour fitting my stage of life.

How do you combat that?

Well, quite literally, on my worst days, I ask myself “What would an emotionally intelligent person do?” I imagine what they would do, then I do everything I can to do it. Try it. It works.

Emotional intelligence is all about developing a self-awareness of how your attitudes and actions impact others, and leveraging that to further the team and others. Self-aware leaders are always aware of key things that other leaders simply aren’t.

As Daniel Goleman points out in his classic book, Emotional Intelligence, emotionally intelligent people rarely let their state of mind bring others down. They’ve developed behaviours that compensate for their emotional state so they don’t drag other people down with them.

4. Find some quick easy wins

Leadership can be frustrating. Often you’re working on long-term initiatives that present more hurdles than breakthroughs. And in ministry, the business of life-change can be very difficult to measure.

Sometimes you just need to win at something as a leader. If you can’t see a win in your day job, then go win at something else.

What do I mean? I mean something really small by which you can measure immediate progress:

Cut your grass.

Wash your car.

Clean off your desk.

Take a great friend out to lunch.

Go for a walk, run or ride and count the calories with your favourite fitness app.

The point? Do something you know will succeed and that can be seen.

Your car was dirty? Now it’s clean. Your grass was long? Now it’s cut.

That’s so unlike the progress you can measure in most senior leadership jobs.

Small measurable wins will give you the emotional satisfaction you need to go back and tackle the things you’re not sure are going to succeed or that are inherently difficult to measure.

5. Call a friend

Sometimes you just need someone who understands.

The challenge is many leaders don’t know who to call.

You shouldn’t always complain to your employees or board, because they work with you. And seeking affirmation from the people who work for you can be a critical mistake.

When I’m deeply discouraged, I often call a friend who:

Can understand because he has led in a position like mine before.

Doesn’t work with me directly so it doesn’t create a funk in the organization.

Honours confidences.

Often, even 15 minutes with someone who understands and empathizes helps so much.

Don’t have any close friends? Just remember, loneliness is a choice; it’s not inevitable.

6. Get some rest

I would love to figure out who actually said this, but someone observed that 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep.

So true.

If you’re discouraged, get some rest. Shoot for eight hours straight. Take a nap.

I’m convinced that sleep is a secret weapon the most effective leaders keep in their arsenal.

As I wrote about at some detail in my book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations that Can Help Your Church Grow, since my burn out 12 years ago, staying on top of sleep has been one of the most important things I do to stay fresh and effective in leadership.

You are at your most kind and optimistic when you’re most rested. You’re also at your best in leadership.

So rest.

7. Don’t quit

People make stupid decisions when they’re discouraged. Don’t be one of those people.

Never make long term decisions in a bad season; make them when you’re in a good season. And if you’re not in a good season, wait.

I am also fully convinced that far too many leaders quit far too early.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon: often in my leadership, I have been most tempted to quit right before a critical breakthrough.

I almost quit writing this blog two or three times before I started blogging regularly 36 months ago.

I almost quit early in my leadership when we were 95% of the way through the changes we were making the opposition got so loud.

I felt like quitting my marriage when we were in a particularly dark season. (But we pushed through and now have an exceptional marriage that seems to keep getting better.)

Then I look back and think “I’m so glad I didn’t pack it in.”

Remember. You are most tempted to quit moments before your critical breakthrough. So don’t quit.

Some Soul Fuel

Need some deeper soul fuel?

My next book, Didn’t See It Coming, releases later this year. You can read Chapter One on overcoming cynicism for free here.

Hope it helps!

What About You?

What do you do that helps you push through a discouraging season in leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Effective Ways to Battle Discouragement In Leadership

18 Comments

  1. Milton Smith on August 29, 2019 at 10:02 am

    I want to personally express my gratitude for the article. I am a long-term pastor facing challenges that are very difficult. Thank you for your wisdom and a willingness to share it with a wonderful fellowship of “called men” like myself. I believe God say ‘a word in due season.’

  2. Tammy Boice on June 13, 2018 at 11:12 pm

    This post was a great reminder of things that do really help when we eat discouraged! Thank you pastor!

  3. Michelle on June 5, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Great post. We all go through seasons of discouragement, no matter how optimistic we are. I try to keep a happy face, but it doesn’t always work. Learned my lesson on number 5 when God called me away from my last church. Thanks for all the great advice, as always. Love your blog and glad that you didn’t quit working at it!

  4. Susie Barnes on June 3, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    What a post full of practical things to do! Thank you! I used to run away from everything when I was under extreme pressure in my life! I’ve been in full time ministry now for 15 years. So thankful God taught me to ask Him to help me not give up many years ago! He always helps me. I also agree about sleep and the small wins! So true! Every Leader needs a win! Thank you Carey you are so real! I love that you share your heart in such practical ways!

    Blessings!!

  5. Charles Thomas on June 3, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Hi, Carey,

    I’m a church planter and I get it when you talk about discouragement. Ministry is the hardest thing I have ever done and yet for me, it’s remembering that God has a plan for my life. I don’t wont to miss the life God has for me nor the accomplishments awaiting me that He has planned. Yet, fear, uncertainty, doubt, and times of dryness cause moments of confusion where it is easier to dismiss the dream and go back to what you know to do before you answered God’s call.
    Then I think back, reflect, ponder and pray…God help me! Often times its all I know to do.

    Charles

  6. […] helpful post by our friend Carey Nieuwhof that we have adapted for business leaders. This was originally posted on Carey’s […]

  7. Rachel on June 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    I so needed this! God is faithful to bring people in my life to encourage me. Thank you for taking the time to write things out so that we can continue to grow and learn.

  8. Andrew Scarborough on October 11, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Carey you always bless me when I read these! Thanks so much. I (and I’m sure many others) really needed this this morning. Appreciate you- Andrew

  9. Dave Morley on October 10, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Good stuff Carey, I am always encouraged and challenged by your insight. Needed this one since I am going through one of those phases now.

    I did have a question though; did you really mean that 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep?
    Discipleship or discipline?
    Dave

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      It was a discipleship quote. I think it’s intended to be funny, but there’s a bit of truth in it.

  10. Lisa Mischkot Martin on October 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Our staff and Elders hired a leadership consultant who evaluated our EIQs. The results were fascinating. I went through a very rough patch in ministry last year. The results from all the testing helped me see not only where I needed to improve but also what I am doing really well. It wasn’t an easy process, but if I was going to continue to lead in ministry I needed to have a deep, interpersonal, awakening. Self-awareness isn’t enough. Leaders need other leaders for accountability.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Lis…thanks for your honesty. And yes, couldn’t agree more. There’s freedom on the other side of the pain!

  11. Jason Coache on October 10, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    Encouraging. Needed. Timely.

    I’m a church planter in the launch phase. Yesterday was a 16 hr day. I needed this. After intense (even great days) my spirit feels depressed and discouraged. Thank you for this post. Thank you for the simple reminder not to do something stupid when discouraged!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Hang in there Jason. You’re doing a great work!

  12. Matt Brown on November 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    This is so good Carey, thank you!

  13. 5 for Leadership-November 7th - Gary Runn on November 7, 2015 at 9:37 am

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  14. Chase McGarity on November 3, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    I needed to read this Carey, thanks so much! And thanks for taking a selfie with me at the NP 1-Day Conference! You rock!!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      Awesome Chase. Loved it! Great to meet you.

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