Here’s a fact of life: Tough times will come. Deal with it. “BUT HOW?!” you ask. Good question. If you have any spiritual insight and appreciation, you’ve probably already come up with the right answers. Prayer. Grace. Dependence upon God. Trust. Faith. Courage. Boldness. Etc. These are the exact answers that you should give, because that’s what the Bible teaches. As a leader, you should combine these theological realities with commonsense leadership qualities. Here are four simple qualities to cultivate in order to make it through the hard times.
- Grit. Grit is nothing more than raw, unadorned, unflattering toughness. There’s no glory in grit. It’s ugly, sweaty, and irritable. In the crucible of a crisis, grit is the quality that makes all the difference. Grit helps you stay calm. It helps you stay rock steady. The tough times will really test your leadership ability. If you lack grit, you lack leadership. Thankfully, grit can be learned. You don’t gain grit by reading self-help books. (I checked, and didn’t find any on Amazon.) You gain grit by going through the tough time.
- Creative problem solving. A tough time is a problem. Problems demand solutions. You’re the leader, so you’re responsible for leading the problem solving. If you understand problem solving, the whole process becomes easier — maybe even fun. Follow these five steps: 1) Realize you’ve got a problem. 2) Try to understand the nature of the problem. 3) Get all the tools and information you might need to solve the problem, including people, research, resources, etc. 4) Plan your solution and put it into action. 5) Take a look and see if it worked. If it didn’t work, start over at step one. Problem-solving seems straightforward, but each step of the way requires creativity. Those five steps sound a bit textbooky and bland. In reality, problem solving is anything but a textbook experience. In order to forge through the hard times, you’ve got to develop that snap for creatively solving problems, not just following the steps in a textbook. It pays off.
- Optimism. We’ve been drenched in the rhetoric that an optimist is just a happy but clueless person. The happy part is fine. The clueless thing is not. Optimism is much more, and it’s an essential quality for any leader who wants to get through the tough times with all of his or her limbs intact. Let’s unpack this optimism thing so we can get away from the happy-go-lucky caricature. Optimism is confidence — not just giggly hope plastered with a smile. Confidence may not have a smiley-face, but it has the steely-eyed determination that a solution is forthcoming. Optimism is also a decision. Optimistic leaders decide that success is in the offing. That’s something to smile about, sure, but for the here-and-now, it takes some grit. Optimism sees through the tough time and into the success of the future. Optimism also recognizes the blessing of the trial. Nobody looks for trials, but nearly everyone looks back at the trial and realizes that they grew, and matured, and somehow profited from it.
- Compassion. Leading, by its very nature, is about more than yourself. If you expect to be an effective leader when the going gets tough, you’ve got to keep your eye on your people. They are going through the tough time, too. Tough times are hard on people. They may be grieving, uncomfortable, angry, or struggling. Empathize with them. Listen to them. Understand them. In a word, have compassion on them. This is exactly how Jesus viewed his followers (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). Action must always follow compassion. Compassion isn’t a feeling. It’s a doing. You’ll make it through the tough time if you have compassion. If you don’t, someone will fall apart along the way.
If you haven’t experienced tough times in leadership or life, you will. When the times come, cling to the bedrock of theological truths. These will stabilize and guide you. At the same time, hone your leadership ability through the tough times by growing your grit, problem-solving skills, optimism, and compassion.