There is no avoiding that leaders play a defining role with whether or not an organization functions with a resilient hope. Leaders are the most important players in this regard; and surely part of their responsibility is precisely that they would both know how to encourage and that they would tend to that which cultivates a shared hopefulness within the organizational culture. And yet, leaders also need to have the capacity to acknowledge their own discouragement. You can go for a while with a front or façade of hopefulness. But it is only a matter of time before it becomes clear that it is just hype or that the words of hope and encouragement are hollow.
Thus, I suggest the following: that leadership is about both acknowledging that we get discouraged and, second, that it is about tending to our emotional well-being and that this is evident, in part, in that we are encourage-able.
We live and work in a discouraging world; in our work, regardless of our vocations, we will have multiple points of setback. If we believe in what we are doing, and are working towards something of value and worth, we will get discouraged. Getting discouraged is not in itself a problem. When someone says they never get discouraged, I wonder either where they live – must be nice – or, I realize that they are not really working towards something that truly matters. If you are working towards something of worth and value, there will be setbacks. You will get discouraged. The question, really, is this: will this discouragement settle in? Will it take root? If discouragement is allowed to settle – to get into our bones and bloodstream – we are no longer merely discouraged: we are cynics. The cynic is someone who lives perpetually from a disposition that is not only useless but, more, is actually toxic. It makes the situation worse. Thus, while being discouraged is not in itself a problem – it actually may be a sign that you are doing something that matters and is therefore worth doing – we cannot allow discouragement to settle within us, to set up camp in our hearts. Hope is an imperative for any good work that we might be called to do – in the arts, education, business or in civic or religious leadership. This means that we need to not only encourage one another but also be able to be encouraged – always tender hearted enough to have our hope renewed.
Whether it is a hike in the foothills with a spouse, an evening with good food and conversation with friends, working on a project with a granddaughter, an early morning birding expedition or meeting up with a friend mid-morning or mid-afternoon with an appropriate beverage in hand or, without doubt, as significant as anything, the Christian liturgy – the common worship and prayers of God’s people: the ancient hymns, the creed said, the Scriptures read and proclaimed, the Psalms said and read and sung, and, most of all, the Eucharist – the gathering of God’s people at the Communion Table . . . we need to be encourage-able.
The point is that that lest we fall into a cynical state of mind, we need to be encouraged. We do not need pseudo encouragement; we do not need flattery or platitudes. We do not need premature assurances that God is in control when all the evidence around us is to the contrary. And yet, what we know is that even though pseudo encouragement is empty and thus of no help, we do need to be of the company of those who know what it means to move from discouragement to renewed hope.
Thus, I say: tend your heart. Effective leaders are emotionally self-aware and, further, they know what it is that nurtures the soul and is a means by which their hope is renewed so that, in turn, they can be a means of grace and encouragement within the organization where the serve.