You will lead through a challenging and difficult season. You are a leader in your context precisely because challenging seasons will come to your organization. We can even say that in some sense, leaders aren’t really necessary if there aren’t challenges and difficult seasons. The truth is leaders are both revealed and developed in times of trial.

Napoleon famously stated, “The role of a leader is to define reality and then give hope.” When facing a major challenge or a difficult season, wise leaders offer both reality and hope. To offer only hope is to fail to tell the truth or build urgency, to offer solutions without building understanding that there is a problem. To offer only truth is to demoralize a team, to burden a team with a problem with no opportunity to push forward to the future.

Leaders must continually define reality and give hope, but this is especially critical during a challenging time.

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1) Define reality

In his classic work Leadership Is an Art, Max Depree wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” Depree is vividly clear: define reality, serve people with a sense of obligation, and then thank them for their service. But the first responsibility is to define reality.

In a difficult season, people need to know the reality of the brokenness. They need the full truth, for the team cannot respond to information they do not know, to a reality that is kept from them. Understanding always precedes commitment, and if you want people to commit to overcoming the challenging reality, they need to understand what they’re up against. Though you may feel you are being nice, you really aren’t serving people well by keeping the truth from them.

2) Give hope

While people need to understand the challenges or pain of the current reality, as a leader you cannot leave them there. You must paint a hopeful picture of the future. Rudolph Giuliani is credited for being the first to say, “Hope is not a strategy,” and he is right. Giving organizational hope is more than just promising things will be better; it also means offering a wise plan forward that’s been embraced by godly leaders in community.

As Christian leaders, we must point people ultimately to Jesus. Our hope is in Him. Jesus is better and sweeter than any failure or any win. He is better and sweeter than the pain of the season we are in. And He is better and sweeter than the joy on the other side of the pain. As our hope is in Him, we are able to remind those whom we serve of the maturing work of trials and the glory of our ultimate future.

Hope in our maturing

John Owen reminds us that “Storms produce growth.” Not only does Jesus hold us through life’s storms, but He also matures us in the midst of them. A challenging season makes a stronger team, a more sanctified team, and a better team of leaders. The axiom, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” is true. Leaders thus remind their teams, “We will be a more developed team on the other side of this.”

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Hope in our ultimate future

Moreover, we eagerly wait for the day when all these difficult seasons will be gone. We join with creation in standing on our tiptoes expectantly looking for the day when Christ returns to make everything right and new. On that day we will know full well that our trials pale in comparison to the glory being revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

When you find your leadership tested, when you find yourself in a challenging season, define reality and give hope.

About The Author

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as one of the Vice Presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including Creature of the Word and the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.