As a leader, especially a church leader, discouragement is something with which I am well acquainted. In some ways it is the commodity we trade in, you work hard to keep those you lead encouraged, so momentum continues. You spend even more time trying to lift UP those who are down or beat up. I try hard to take the pulse each week from each of our highest impact people and be sure I am speaking into their lives the kinds of truths that will keep them fueled up emotionally for the challenges they will face as they lead.

That’s probably why when I walked into one of my favorite local businesses recently and noticed the proprietor was down a bit, I asked, “you doing ok?” He just looked up at me and without breaking eye contact reached down below the counter and handed me a piece of paper, and said, “read this.”

What ensued was a snotty email from a former customer outlining in no uncertain terms why they have chosen to take their business elsewhere. Things like, ‘you turned corporate’, ‘it’s all about pushing us through the doors’, and the final straw, ‘when I got charged for a honey packet I knew my old favorite had died.’ I read it and my heart sank for my friend. Not because he lost a customer, that will happen. No, my heart sank because I knew what must be going on in the mind of the proprietor. Emotions and thoughts vacillating between, ‘never charge for honey again’ to ‘screw that guy’. Neither of which are rational or even good strategy. But real nonetheless.

I responded gruffly and admittedly a bit condescendingly. I’ll have to apologize. I said, “why are you holding onto this email?” “It won’t bring him back!” I continued, “Throw this garbage away and focus on the people filling this place.” Ironically enough, I had waited 5 minutes to get to the front of the line and by that time the line had grown nearly out the door. His energy and courage was sapped. All that hard work felt like it was in vain and here he stood shaken in full view of the people who are still loyal and committed.

In moments of discouragement, I believe, a true leader rallies his or her teammates. She or he calls out the elephant in the room, then focuses on moving forward in unity. Sure, there is likely something to be learned from some nasty emails, but at what cost? More importantly, I believe while we learn from mistakes, yes, we do not become champions by learning from mistakes. We become champions by winning. So focus on the wins. Free honey packets are not going to grow my friends business. The growth of my friends business is far more complicated a beast, so any lack of focus can hurt him, bad.

As a leader you DO NOT HAVE TIME to focus much of your energy on “making fewer mistakes”. You need to focus the bulk of your energy on defining and achieving the “win”. You never know the motives or the outcome of those nasty emails. That guy was going to a new business not because of honey, but something else, so solving the honey problem won’t bring him back. So take it in stride, delete it quickly and move on doing the things that earned you success and championships in the past.

Here are some questions that will help you refocus if you are spiraling:

  • What’s the win look like for you this week or this month or this year? Can you articulate it clearly?
  • What steps will you need to take personally and as a team to get there?
  • What fatal flaws could keep me from getting there?
  • How will you celebrate that finish line, WHEN not IF, you arrive?

“Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged, be strong and courageous, for the LORD is going to do this to all of your enemies (Joshua 10:25 NLT).”