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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!