Discouragement is a part of life and leadership for you and the people you lead. As leaders, we can become so focused on achieving the task in front of us that we fail to recognize the struggles of people on our teams. A challenge for me is to see that caring for people is as much the role of a leader as the achievement of a task. That’s hard to admit because so much of what we do is people oriented, yet in an honest self evaluation I can point to specific times where I know that achieving something has been more important than caring for people. It’s an area where I am striving to grow, and it is in that spirit of growth that I want to share some things that I’ve learned along the way about leading people when they are discouraged.
Step into the role of listener and encourager
I’ve often talked about how communication is the primary function of a leader. What we don’t think about is how listening is a primary function of communication. When we choose to listen, it shows people that we care and creates an environment where discouragement is allowed to exist instead of looked down upon. This is a really important step because when we discourage discouragement, it causes people to shove it down or ignore it rather than let it out, which only perpetuates and builds the original discouragement. An “only positivity can exist here” type of leadership is never effective in the long run because it communicates that people aren’t allowed to be real.
Avoid problem solving
Leaders seek to solve problems. It’s an exciting part of leadership and for many leaders, the search for a problem to solve is what keeps them coming back for more. The reality is that you won’t be able to solve every problem, and another person’s discouragement is not a problem for you to solve. The exception here would be if the discouragement is directly connected to you as a leader or a decision that you’ve made. In these cases, leave room for yourself to be wrong and for a process or decision to be adjusted for the good of the people you lead. If that can’t happen, when you’re a good listener and provide the environment for discouragement to be heard (even if it is about you), it will pave the way for all involved to move forward seeking health even if decisions, directions, or processes can’t be changed.
The job still has to be done
Leading people when they are discouraged doesn’t mean we give them a free pass to avoid their work. It does mean that for a season you as a leader might need to take on some additional responsibilities, delegate some to other team members depending on the situation, or provide more flexible deadlines, allowing your team member to have additional time to complete tasks. In many circumstances, if you are fulfilling the role of listener and encourager from point one, then this person will be able to keep functioning in their role as they normally would have.
Discouraged does not equal disqualified
When you lead a group of people you must realize they are all in different places emotionally and spiritually. This doesn’t make them “less” or “unqualified” to be on the team or perform their role. It makes them real people, and in a real moment of self evaluation you know that you’ve been in different places on the emotional and spiritual spectrum as well. We’ve talked a lot here about the grace and care we need to extend to other people in a leadership role, but I want to end by challenging you to extend the same grace and care to yourself when you’re discouraged. By letting it out and finding someone who will hear what you’re dealing with you will pave the way to walk through it and to better care for others you lead.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find weekly encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.