A Letter To The Discouraged Leader

Dear Discouraged Leader,

I know you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Like you don’t have a clue where to start, and you’re not sure if you’re doing it right.

You saw how your predecessor did it and you feel like you could never reach that level. You keep trying to keep your head above water, but every time you do someone hands you another 5 pound weight.

Image by Kevin Walsh

Image by Kevin Walsh

Despite all of that, I have something to tell you: you’re doing better than you think.

I talk to leaders of all ages, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that the ones who feel most discouraged have 2 things in common:

1. They’re new to their leadership role.

2. They’re comparing themselves to another leader.

New to leadership

Being new to leadership is always daunting. But just because you’re new to it doesn’t mean you’re bad at everything to do with leading. Sure, you’ll make mistakes and you’re probably making some right now, but it’s not all negative. Most people have more capacity to lead than they think. Of course there are leadership gifts that give some the edge, but a lot of leadership is in the head and heart.

Being new to leadership makes you doubt all your good qualities. All I’m saying is don’t. Live into your own skin. Find out what makes you a good leader.

Are you empathetic? Leverage the mentoring leadership style of Tony Dungy. Are you a visionary? Surround yourself with people who focus on the details.

And one more thing. Stop leaning on being new as an excuse. I don’t say that to be mean. I say it because it’s holding you back. It’s stopping you from doing the hard work of starting.

The biggest thing that keeps many leaders, especially new ones, from starting that hard work is comparing themselves to another leader.

Pale in comparison

When you got into the leadership role you’re in now, you didn’t envision most leaders as being your peers, did you? No, you matched yourself up against the Jack Welch-types of the world. I don’t mean that literally, I mean you compared yourself to your mentally constructed version of a prototypical leader.

And you pale in comparison.

Of course you do! No one meets the ridiculous standards you came up with. No one. Even those people you think have it all. Inside, many of them are as doubtful as you.

You’re not that other leader, so stop trying to be. Being yourself actually plays to your strengths because people crave authenticity in a leader. They don’t want someone else channeled through you. They want you.

And chances are you’re doing way better than you feel like you are. Look, you just have a different leadership style than whoever you’re comparing yourself to. If I compared myself to someone like Michael Hyatt, I would come up woefully short.

But guess what? That’s not me. That’s not the kind of leader I am. And that’s OK.

Here’s the thing: you only pale in comparison to the impossible standard you’re setting. You can lead in a million different ways. You just need to find what works for you.

Some final encouragement

Look, I know it’s not easy. I’ve been in these same situations before. I’ve found myself in scenario after scenario where I felt out of my league and beyond my capacity. And many times I was.

But I grew into it. And so will you.

If you’re hanging in there and making it work, odds are you’re doing a much better job than it seems like in your head. I was talking to someone in this situation just the other day. She was in a position where she felt she wasn’t doing what she needed to be because she didn’t even know what those things were.

When she talked me through it though, she sounded like she was doing just fine. It was a perspective thing.

So let me encourage you just like I tried to do with her. You’re doing just fine. You’re better than you think. You’re more of a leader than you think. And the world needs you to be.

Question: What advice would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Grayson Pope is the Director of Community at Mecklenburg Community Church. He’s also a husband, father and blogger. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. You can also pick up a FREE copy his latest eBook here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thanks so much for having me today Joe!

    • Grayson, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for sharing a valuable letter to leaders. It’s something we all need to hear.

  • Good words, they ring to with me.

    • Andy, glad they rung true with you. @graysonpope:disqus shared some great insights on being encouraged as a leader. Hope things are well with you.

    • So glad the words spoke to you, Andrew. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Good points here. I know I’ve been guilty of comparing myself to unrealistic expectations that I had put on my self. Asking God to help me see things through His eyes helps me take a step back and evaluate things differently. I ask myself, Am I doing what God wants or man? What does God have to say about my performance?

    These questions help give me proper perspective. When I still have doubt I turn to scripture and seek TRUTH, not my imagination or my feelings.

    • Thats great advice TC. Those questions reveal a lot.

      • It’s always a good idea to go back to the word of God and ask what it is we should be doing. Re-centers us and gives us the push to get back on the right path.

  • Great letter and very inspiring. I especially like the advice about starting, that’s where most leaders fail!

    • Thanks Kimanzi! The beginning is definitely the hardest.

    • That’s true Kimanzi. I put off starting my blog for so long I’m kicking myself.
      If I had known what I know now, things would have been so different.

  • This is really a great way to encourage someone and boost up his moral so that he can believe in himself and accomplish all the task which he thinks might turn out to be impossible for him.

  • Great advice Joe. When a person does their of those two things it can cause them to stop leading effectively or where they are at.

    • Dan, that’s true. Grayson hit on two leadership killers. How do you avoid those traps?

      • I try and focus on my purpose and calling. Though it can be difficult at times due to wanting to be further along than where I am now.

  • Arny

    You hit those 2 common themes right on…

    new leaders are scared

    and they compare to someone else…
    Good lesson today Joe.

    • Thanks Arny. Grayson did a great job in communicating what discourages leaders and what they can do to avoid it.

  • Thanks for this great reminder, Joe.

    • My pleasure. @graysonpope:disqus did an excellent job encouraging discouraged leaders.

  • Here’s something I realized in school which is semi-related. I took a course on electronic music and we would compose pieces to play to the class regularly. Inevitably, everyone would be disappointed with what they did because they were comparing their piece with what they envisioned in their head. However, the class just heard the piece. So most of the time the class would love it – because they didn’t see the standard of perfection that you had in your head. They just saw reality.
    Great post, Grayson.

    • Loren, that’s a great point. We picture something in a perfected state but people aren’t wanting perfected. They’re wanting enjoyable and good enough. We need to move beyond perfect to shipped.

  • One of the best ways for new leaders to become better leaders is to do “reverse interviews.” Take trusted, key players who know what’s going on out to lunch and ask, “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?” You can also take other leaders from other organizations out to lunch and ask the same question. The insights and wisdom you’ll gain from both groups is amazing!

    • Kent, thanks for the insight. Using this tactic could be valuable to a discouraged leader. They may see things aren’t as hopeless as they thought or a new idea could pop into their head.

  • Very timely, as I navigate through several changes in the Ontario healthcare sector. Staff already experiencing change fatigue, and we really haven’t even started major changes.