In a previous post I suggested 5 indicators that point to leaders who quickly bounce back from adversity, setbacks, and disappointment. I used the phrase “resilient leaders” to describe them. Since every leader will face difficulty, what can we do to become more resilient? Consider these practical steps you can apply in your life and leadership to ‘bounce back’ more quickly.
- Accept that fact that you will face setbacks. While not constantly looking over your shoulder, remind yourself that with leadership comes challenge and hardship. So when difficulties do come, you won’t be blindsided by them. Welcome them as a teacher to help you learn more about yourself.
- Develop the discipline of ‘metacognition.’ Metacognition is a fancy term for, ‘thinking about what you are thinking about.’ Often when faced with a difficulty we get caught up in our negative self-talk, the thought stream in our minds that all is gloom and doom. However, by monitoring our thoughts we can catch this negativity before it overwhelms our thinking and emotions. Read more here about the Monday morning blues and metacognition.
- Give yourself some extra TLC. Often when we face setbacks we drive ourselves even more to fix the problem. Certainly when a “dam” has broken, we must go into emergency mode and increase our efforts. Often, however, setbacks don’t require our immediate, extra attention. In many cases we actually need more emotional reserve and thinking clarity to wisely tackle the issue. These come only when we slow down, tend to our soul, and take care of our body. Extra time off and more rest might actually be your best choice. Remember, Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
- Stay in community. When hurt, it’s easy to withdraw to lick out wounds. However, during those times we need safe friends with whom we can process our pain. In this post I describe what to look for in a safe friend.
- Remember how emotional contagion works. Emotional contagion describes the process by which people ‘catch’ our emotions, both good and bad. When your church or organization faces a setback, make sure your body language, tone of voice, and words don’t send a defeatist message to your team. That can diminish team productivity and morale. While keeping authentic about your disappointment, communicate a hopeful, God-focused tone. They will catch the attitude you intentionally or unintentionally telegraph.
When you’ve faced a setback in your ministry, what has helped you bounce back more quickly?
Malcolm Webber is one of my favorite leaders of leaders. With a PhD and over 20 books on leadership to his credit, he insightfully describes the dangers of a self-appointed leader in his book Healthy Leaders. He draws insight from a self-appointed leader named Korah described in the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapters 16-17. I’ve paraphrased these dangers below and contrasted them with 6 qualities of true God-appointed leaders.
- … resist existing spiritual authority (Nm 16.2).
- … criticize and question existing leaders (Nm 16.1).
- … accuse other leaders of what they themselves are guilty (Nm 16.3).
- … aren’t satisfied with the positions they hold. They push for greater authority and position (Nm 16.10).
- … murmur against leadership that God has appointed (Nm 16.11).
- … ultimately face God’s judgement (Nm 16.31-35).
- … willing submit to existing authority (Daniel’s repeated examples).
- … when issues and questions arise, they appropriately appeal up the chain of command and go to their leaders in private and in person (Mt 18.15)
- … avoid a judgmental spirit (Mt 7.1-5)
- … wait on God to promote them (Paul and Moses spent years in obscurity before rising to significant leadership)
- … only speak well of their leaders whether to their faces, behind their backs, or in the presence of others (Eph 4.29).
- … lead with the eternal goal in mind to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25.21).
Of these two lists, which one most characterizes your leadership? If the first list does, what changes do you need to make so that list two most characterizes you?
Inevitably all leaders face disappointment, setbacks, and difficulty in their roles. As a pastor, I’ve faced my share at times: significant budget deficits, losing crucial staff members, people leaving the church in a huff, programs that didn’t meet expectations, and painful conflict. This side of heaven we can’t avoid the pain that leadership sometimes brings. Some leaders bounce back quickly from such adversity. Some don’t. So what does a “bounce back” leader look like? As you read the following list, ask yourself how many of these qualities would characterize your leadership when you face adversity. The term often used for this ‘bounce back’ quality is called resilience. So we could actually call this list “The Resilient Leader.”
- Don’t lead from perpetual caution.
They take reasonable risks, but don’t “bet the farm” on risky leadership options.
- Admit they hurt when they face setbacks. They are honest about how much it hurts. However, they don’t wallow in their pain. The more we ruminate over our disappointments, the more we actually strengthen the fight-flight-freeze-appease parts of our brain which in turn dampens our ability to think clearly.
- Seek to learn new insights from their setbacks. Often a setback can be a blessing in disguise, for without it we would not be open to new learning. Resilient leaders are perpetual learners.
- Keep a long haul perspective through difficulty. Failure is never fatal nor final.
Rather, it prompts resilient leaders to step back and refocus on their long term goals, objectives, and core values. Read my post here that explains how we can discover our true north values.
- Refuse to let their devotional life slip. In fact, such leaders recognize that in tough times they must draw closer to Him for strength and wisdom.
When you’ve observed great leaders face disappointment and setbacks, what qualities have you seen in them?
Mornings are the most crucial part of our day. And how we begin them sets the tone for the rest of the day. Insightful leaders understand this truth and mentally prepare themselves when they get up. Drew Canole, founder of fitlife.tv says, “How you start your day is how you start your life.”
Consider asking yourself these 7 questions within the first 10 minutes of your morning.
- If I could only get one thing done today, what would it be?
- Have I set aside quiet time with God to pray, reflect, and read His Word?
- Is there any unconfessed sin in my life that I should confess?
- Are there any relational issues with others that need rectifying?
- Am I eating a healthy breakfast with plenty of protein and healthy carbs?
- Am I focusing on the positive, good things in life and ministry or do my thoughts immediately turn negative?
- Do I have a consistent routine like getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, taking a shower at the same time, etc. or is each morning dramatically different?
What we do first thing in the morning will dramatically affect the rest of your day. The Psalmist offers great advice with these words.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. (Ps 143.8, NIV)
How do you prepare for your morning?
Five years ago I began a new adventure…leading a new church in a new country. I accepted the lead pastor role at a great church in Canada, West Park Church in London, Ontario. This church is filled with great people committed to God and the cause of Christ. I’ve loved my time here and although I faced some challenges the first year, it has been a great experience. Before I even started, I spent three weeks preparing for my new ministry and I learned these 4 keys necessary to start well and sustain healthy ministry. I’ve also included 13 questions that help us determine how well we are leading.
I use the acronym PALM to illustrate these 4 simple keys. It describes four practices that not only make a new transition go smoother, but represent leadership priorities I recommend every good leader embrace whether or not he or she is new to a ministry role. I’ll briefly explain them and then pose some questions to help you evaluate how well you are embodying these principles.
Prioritize family and self care. This concept simply means that to lead well, we must lead ourselves and our families well. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say that a healthy ministry flows out of a healthy marriage.
- How would your spouse or kids say you are doing in keeping family a priority?
- How often do you take a day off when you truly disconnect from your leadership role?
- Are you getting enough sleep and exercise?
- Are you saying ‘no’ enough to demands people try to place on your time that you know if you said ‘yes’ would not further your mission?
Avidly over-communicate. This concept implies that leaders must intentionally use multiple means to keep theirs churches and teams informed of what’s happening.
- Do you have an intentional process you use to communicate to others progress in achieving your goals and key initiatives?
- How many tools do you use to communicate? Or, do you count on one method and hope it’s successful?
- How often do you repeat your church’s overall purpose and objectives?
Listen and learn. This idea embodies the principle that good leaders are learners and learning happens when we assume a listening posture.
- In meetings how much talking do you do? Are you mostly telling or asking questions and listening?
- When you meet new people, do you ask about their lives or do you talk about yourself?
- When others are talking to you, how often do you mentally check out as you prepare your response?
Manage change wisely. For any church or ministry to make a Kingdom difference it requires that we effect change. But change for change’s sake seldom moves us forward. However, wisely managed and needed change will make a Kingdom difference.
- How often do you include in the conversation about a potential change those who would be affected by such a change?
- When you bring change, how often do you evaluate after the change to learn how well it went?
- What changes need to be made now in your setting and what are you doing to prepare your church or team for the change?
Leadership brings leaders great fulfillment, especially when we lead well. Consider how you might apply these 4 keys in the PALM acrostic to your leadership setting.
What other keys have you discovered that make for successful leadership?