5 Honest Questions for Discouraged Leaders

Dear Discouraged Leader,

Being a leader isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But it isn’t the hardest thing in the world either.

You’re not alone. Leadership is hard at times. In fact, if you’re really leading, there’s rarely a season that isn’t filled with challenges.

Just as you solve one problem, two more pop up. You solve them, and out of the corner of your eye, spot the next one.

I get it.

After seeing leader after leader struggle with discouragement and want to quit long before their calling ran out, I wanted to write this note (HT to Casey Graham).

None of us really feel like the most successful person on earth. I don’t. You don’t.

And even though things are going well at the moment and I have so much to be thankful for, I spend too many days wondering whether I’m missing something or feeling like we should be making more progress than we are.

You know what it’s like. The weight of …

• Budget and expenses
• People who promise the moon but never even deliver the earth
• New people who say they’re in and then walk out
• Your leadership feeling like it’s always under a microscope
• Not being where you thought you would be at this point in your leadership or life
• Uncertainty. Constant uncertainty.
• Team members you’re struggling with and just don’t know how to deal with
• Knowing your organization isn’t perfect and wishing it would be but knowing it won’t ever be
• Lack of gratitude; in others and in you
• Feeling let down by others
• You letting yourself down
• Seeing other people’s organizations and speaking and believing they have it easier than you do

And on and on and on it goes.

This is the side of leadership they never teach you in college.

So I want you to know something. The discouragement you feel inside is real and coming from somewhere. Think about this and let this sink in for a while today:

The happiest and healthiest people are those whose expectations meet reality.

What do you do with that?

Here are five questions every discouraged leader would do well to ask themselves before they give up or give in.

1. What Do I Expect My Organization to Give Me?

No organization will ever give you ultimate peace, fulfillment, joy, purpose or anything like that. Not even a church. If you are expecting that from being a leader, you won’t find it.

If you are constantly discouraged or frustrated about your organization, it might be because you are hoping it will give you something only God can give you.

And when you look to people or things to give you what only God can give you, you’re signing up for misery.

2. Who Do I Hope Will Affirm Me?

This is a big one.

We all look for affirmation from people.

Here’s something someone told me a long time ago that I really don’t like because it’s really so true: Never expect the people you lead to affirm you.

It’s not fair to them. And ultimately it’s not fair to you.

Your job is to lead them, not to get them to try to affirm you.

Hey, if it comes, awesome. Consider that a bonus. But if you keep looking to them for their praise, you’ll end up sliding down the slippery slope under question three.

3. Who Am I Trying to Please?

You will never please your employees or the people you serve fully. It’s impossible because we are imperfect people and they are as well.

If you are trying to please other church leaders or get recognized, you will be miserable. You can never keep up with anyone else’s expectations. And you’ll let yourself, your family and ultimately God down.

If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead. Your insistence on pleasing everyone will mean you ultimately please no one.

Not to mention yourself.

4. How Honest Am I Being With Myself and Others?

If you stuff your leadership failures and missed expectations instead of dealing with them, you will implode or explode one day. Your discouragement and mine often comes from stuffing things we should just admit and deal with.

If you have a problem with another person, be completely honest with them. If you are mad at somebody, tell them.

If somebody let you down, let them know. If you have let yourself down, tell a friend.

Lying and pretending leads to misery. Just say it. I have done this numerous times and it’s terrible up front, but so freeing in the end. And you know what?

Most of the time you end up saving the relationship.

If you won’t be honest with others, you also won’t be able to truly lead them.

5. What Lie Am I Believing?

Gurus make it seem so easy, don’t they? Go to their conference or buy their product and all your problems disappear. Did you ever buy into that lie at some point?

Chances are you thought leadership would be easier. Well, that’s just a lie.

Identify the lie you are believing and you will crush some of the discouragement. The lie that marketers sell you is really killing your spirit. We only need to look at the Scriptures to discover that leadership was rarely easy.

Your discouragement isn’t just discouragement. It’s a symptom of something deeper going on. If you want to create a healthy culture in your organization, you can’t live mad all the time. You can’t be frustrated 24/7. Take a step today and answer these questions honestly.

I believe it will help you beat your discouragement and get back on the growth track.

It’s a lie to say leadership is easy. It’s the absolute truth, though, that humble, determined, committed leadership is worth it.

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This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com.

Carey Nieuwhof