Leading In The Midst of Disappointment

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Truly we are living in the midst of unique and challenging days. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it very real difficulties, trials and suffering. Death, disease, unemployment, anxiety, and depression are all real challenges right now.

One of the lesser-talked-about challenges of these days is disappointment. As we are encouraged to stay home, and so much of our regular activates and schedule have been cancelled or shifted, I continue to hear stories in which people are facing the reality of disappointment. These are only some…

  • My daughter missing her kindergarten friends and still not understanding why she can’t go back to school and see them.
  • Friends of mine have had to cancel or attempt to reschedule planned trips in which they were looking forward to spending intentional time with their spouse or family.
  • Ministry teammates had to cancel their trip to visit and encourage dear friends who are missionary partners overseas.
  • Couples are having to cancel, postpone, or change wedding plans.
  • Local high school and college seniors are going missing out on special days and events with their friends that they had looked forward to for years.
  • Pastors and leaders are trying to care for those they shepherd and lead with limitations in communication and presence.

I was recently listening to a podcast in which the hosts discussed this reality. In their conversation they addressed the disappointment many student athletes are feeling in knowing they can’t complete their season with their teammates. One of hosts remarked something to the effect of, “Yes – but in the grand scheme of everything going on those kinds of things aren’t really that big of a deal.”

I’m sure the host meant well. There is a partial truth in his statement. In light of many of the great challenges and difficulties of our day, a high school student not finishing basketball season with their teammates does not seem to have much significance. However, it does have significance to the student who is having to wrestle with very real disappointment of something that mattered to them being taken away.

In the midst of these unique days it would be unwise of us to minimize the very real disappointments the people around us are facing.

The gravity of some challenges ought not to cause us to ignore the disappointments of others. 

If we are going to lead well, whether in the home, workplace, or church – then we must take steps to lead well in the midst of disappointment. We can do that by…

  1. Creating Space to Be Present

A core, necessary practice of leadership is being present. And yet it seems it has never been harder for leaders, especially in the church and workplace, to do this. Leaders and employers are having to be increasingly innovative and virtual in order to connect with people. 

In the midst of this, leaders should consider “creating space” in virtual meeting times to check in with team members and staff. Churches are utilizing technology – phone calls and video conferencing (like FaceTime Zoom), to have leaders check in on the people of their church. Many of them are facing very real challenges and disappointments, such as job loss, new stresses and strains at work or home, and even family members or friends that have been tested positive for coronavirus. This crisis is pushing the church to be innovative in order to be present.

For companies and organizations that usually have team members in a physical space together (such as an office building) the regular “water cooler” time that was valuable for connectivity and conversation is no longer available. I recommend that when you do meet virtually, to create space within your meeting time for you to be present and hear how your people are navigating some of the very new, unique challenges and disappointments in their roles and jobs.

For families there is a temptation to take the mindset in which our goal is to “just survive” as we navigate new rhythms of homeschool and working from home. However, in the midst of overseeing school projects and trying to fill our kids’ attention with activities, parents – may we create space for conversation in which our kids can express themselves. We can ask our kids how they are doing, feeling, and who and what they miss from school, their sports team, etc. May our kids understand that we are not only with them physically, but are available to them relationally.

2. Listening Well

Often when someone we lead expresses the disappointment they are feeling there is temptation for us to want to “help” by sharing some type of advice or anecdote that we hope will somehow miraculously qualm the tensions and pain that people are feeling. I must admit that is can be bad habit I’m trying to kick myself.

It would be wise of us to listen well. In a time where people are now together less, there is also less opportunity for individuals to share and express the tensions and disappointments they are feeling. Let’s not take away what little capacity they have left to be heard by not stilling ourselves and listening well. This is true for those that we lead – our families in the home, friends at church, and peers in the workplace.

I recently told a friend and co-worker, “We are currently facing the crème de la crème of situational leadership.”Each day leaders, pastors, and employers are having to face new information and make difficult decisions. I’m convinced we will make better decisions and will leader people better when we take the time to be present and listen well.

3. Affirming & Empathizing

There is an oddity to these days. There’s no book called “How To Navigate The Disappointments Felt During A Pandemic For Dummies.” I know this because I checked on Google and Amazon. However, none of us want to feel odd or emotionally isolated because we’re not sure how to process unique disappointments in a unique time. 

As we listen – a simple, “I hear you…”“I understand why you feel that way”“I’m so sorry to hear that” helps people to be heard and cared for. May we empathize with others when we feel some of the same disappointments or challenges of having to navigate such unique circumstances. Our empathy may not change the circumstances, but it often helps people to not feel alone in them.

A word of caution for the Christian: When someone is very much struggling with disappointment, we must be careful not give an ill-timed spiritual or scriptural anecdote. We might mean well, but this kind of response at the wrong timemight only add to someone’s pain. Rather, may we first be committed to being present and listening well.

Let us heed the words of Proverbs 25:20 (ESV), that says: “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.”

4. Not Forgetting About Grace

Small Group Leader. Parent. Pastor. Educator. Leader.

Whatever role you are in – don’t forget about grace. 

First – Don’t forget to give yourself some grace. As a pastor friend of mine said recently, “This is once in a lifetime crazy.” The reality is that none of us are going to make perfect decisions or are going lead others perfectly in the midst of these unique days. So, when you don’t – give yourself some grace. 

Second – Give others, including those that lead you, some grace. I repeat: “None of us are going to make perfect decisions or lead others perfectly.” Don’t put that expectation on those that lead you. Every day our church leaders, employers, educators, government officials, and other leaders are having to approach new information, challenges, and decisions. Sometimes, we might not agree with their decisions. Christians — may we lead well in the way we respond when we don’t agree with others. If ever there was a time for a Christ-like example of this, it is during our time.

Third and finally – rest in His unchanging grace. 

The God who created the heavens and the earth… Who commands the sun, the winds, and the rain… And made a way for salvation, even when there seemed to be no way…

His grace is sufficient.

It was sufficient at the cross… It will be sufficient for eternity… And it is sufficient for these unique days.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

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