Influence

 the shape of leadership

Leading Your Team Through Setbacks

Adversity can become the launchpad for future success

Rodney W Wardwell II on December 18, 2018

One thing that’s inevitable in leadership is that you will face setbacks. Goals sometimes go unmet. A Sunday service is flat. Growth doesn’t happen like you hoped. An outreach flops. People around you make poor choices. And as the leader, you must realize that people are looking to you for direction during these moments. They are watching your reactions and listening closely to your every word. They will follow the example you model, doing exactly what you do. Why? Because you are their leader.

I’ve been in leadership long enough to know that good leaders can weather adversity, but great leaders can use setbacks to propel their teams forward and find success.

Keep It in Perspective

Setbacks are often setups for great comebacks! So, how do we lead our teams through moments of failure? As the lead pastor of a young church plant, I have faced plenty of challenges and disappointments. I have found that how I help my team navigate failure is almost as important as whether we win or fall short. Here are three keys to leading a team forward, even in the face of adversity:

1. See people on your team as people and not just cogs in your ministry machine. It’s easy to become so focused on a task that we forget our team members are human. Our staff recently read Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. This book reminds readers to see people as more than just a means to an end. People on our teams are more than workers who help us accomplish tasks. They are people with passions, emotions and dreams. Remembering this should change the way we treat them.

When your team faces a setback, it affects every member. However, someone on the team likely feels the weight of that defeat more than the rest. Perhaps that person spearheaded the effort. Or maybe the issue directly affects his or her department. We must recognize these dynamics and foster a work environment that will help everyone on the team heal and move forward.

While failure isn’t fun, it also isn’t final.

2. Remember it’s your job to relieve the tension from a team member whose efforts come up short. It’s not healthy to pile on more pressure. I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their mistakes. There is definitely a time and a place for that. However, human nature and our insecurity often push us to keep reminding someone they failed the team and to constantly hang it over their heads.

The leader sets the tone. The team learns what is appropriate by watching what the leader allows or doesn’t allow. In almost 20 years of ministry and working with teams, I have not found anyone who could work well in an environment where people fear their leader.

I think it’s almost impossible to thrive on a team where you are afraid to fail. If the leader constantly holds people’s feet to the fire, the team will never be able to take risks because everyone will be too worried about the consequences and confrontations failure would bring.

It’s up to us as leaders to remove the pressure of failing and to help our team understand that while failure isn’t fun, it also isn’t final. We have to help those following us see that setbacks are normal, because they are. It’s what you do with the setbacks when they happen that really matters.

3. Something we often tell our team is that we allow failure, as long as you are willing to talk about it. The real difficulty comes when we’re too embarrassed to deal with it. Failure can hurt our pride and cause us to limp off by ourselves like a wounded animal. That’s what the enemy wants.

After all, 1 Peter 5:8 tells us the devil is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He wants to capitalize on our weaknesses to defeat us! On our own, we are no match for him. But something powerful happens when we come together, bearing one another’s burdens and encouraging one another in faith.

Keep Learning

Failure is one of life’s greatest teachers. Every week in our staff meeting, we not only celebrate our church’s wins, but we also openly discuss our failures, our mistakes, and the things we could be doing better. Every person on the team owns both the mission and the mistakes, and we are all determined and committed to become better together.

I truly believe that if we, as leaders, can learn to steer our teams through times of setback, God will use our imperfect efforts to accomplish more than we ever imagined.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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