How you overcome setbacks in leadership

Self-doubt was a consistent companion to the leaders we read about in the Scriptures. Moses asked God if someone else was better suited for the job. Jonah attempted flee across the sea only to be swallowed by a big fish and spit back up on the same shore he departed from. At one point, Jesus called Peter Satan and told him to get out of his line of sight — that had to hurt. Yet, each of these leaders’ story ends in faithfulness and a completion to the calling.

Leaders are not people who never fail. Rather, leaders are people who fail forward. They continue the pursuit of the vision in spite of setbacks.

But every leader has at least one story of a fall that hurt more than the other falls. And for some leaders, this fall is significant enough to make them believe quitting is the best option.  Doing anything worthwhile is difficult. But what do you do if you have a serious fall or setback as a leader?  

What about your calling?

If your leadership tank is running on empty, or you’re thinking about booking a one-way ticket on a Cruise to get away from your current situation, here’s four scriptures a leader can focus on to recover from tough times.

Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

   for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;

   great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

   therefore I will wait for him.”

Leaders, remember that  God not only loves us, he has compassion for us that never fails. God’s love is simply too great for us to be consumed. Sometimes I struggle to let yesterday stay yesterday. I have no ability to change it, but I want to bring it back up over and over and again to somehow punish myself. But guess what? God’s compassion never fails and it is new every morning. And when God’s compassions are new every morning, I get to treat today like it’s a new opportunity to lead.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

We are made new daily! Yes, even if you made a leadership mistake yesterday, today you are new. Did weariness get the best of you yesterday? Did you speak to someone in a way you didn’t mean to? Maybe you lost the chance to lead yesterday? Take heart in this: you are a new creation. Does this mean that what you did, or how you behaved is gone? Of course not. But you are a new model of you today, As much as this means to you and me, it means just as much to someone else you lead if you let them be a new creation today.

Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

19 See, I am doing a new thing!

   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

   and streams in the wasteland.

Some leaders look downward, at each step. Other leaders watch the horizon for what’s next. Part of a leader's role is to look ahead, to be watchful for the new things God is doing. God so poignantly makes clear to the Prophet Isaiah, he does NEW things, even when we as leaders aren’t looking for it! We can experience frustration through change instead of hope. But God intends for us to have hope in the new and exciting things he is doing, we should expect change! If you find yourself frustrated with change, maybe it’s time to look for God making a way in the wilderness and streams in your declared wasteland. This is what God does.

Matthew 4:19-20 (MSG)

18-20 Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.

One of the most dangerous forms of work is regular work —work that has become repetitive and routine. When work becomes regular, it demands less of our soul than it did the day before. We no longer need God’s presence in our work because it’s too familiar. There is a difference between work that is in your sweet spot and work that becomes regular. Working in your sweet spot makes you feel more alive, whereas regular work is what you dread getting up for on Monday morning.

Leaders don’t like to admit that leadership can become regular work too. But guess what? Jesus wants to transform that regular work you’ve been doing as a leader into a more meaningful work — just like he makes regular fishermen into new kinds of fishermen. Notice what the fishermen had to do to become this new type of fishermen. They had to put down the way they had been catching fish. Did you catch that? They stopped working and started following Jesus. Jesus does the work here.Sometimes our tireless efforts can blind us from following Jesus and stop us from allowing him redefine our work, making it even more meaningful.

Leaders are drawn to action and not every day is going to be perfect. The next time you’re feeling like waving the white flag, remember: God’s compassions are new every morning, you are a new creation, God is doing a NEW thing and God wants to transform our regular work into something extraordinary.