Leading Through the Doldrums


Doldrums - 1I once thought I had nothing to say about leadership, that I had nothing valuable to contribute that had not already been said by others.  That may still be true, but today I felt the need to voice some thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain.  They are probably nothing new in the conversation, but somehow I think that when common themes continue to be discussed amongst those who are on the front lines daily, who live moment by moment at the crossroads of leading or quitting, they may gain the strength to keep going one more day because they realize they aren’t alone.

You see, those who find themselves in the position of leading often find themselves feeling lonely, overwhelmed, and inadequate.  Many contemplate quitting.  Why? In many cases, it is because they have lost sight of why they are doing what they are doing.  They may have lost sight of the vision; of where they are supposed to be taking their team.  Worse yet, they may never have had a vision. In either case, without a vision, they are leading nowhere. They are simply keeping their ship afloat in the doldrums.  They get stuck managing the minutia that has no other purpose but keeping the boat from sinking.  Without vision, there is no hope of things ever being different, no sense of purpose. No hope.  No reason to keep going.

Doldrums - 2Vision casting is important.  We must help the team we lead keep focused on where they are going.  However, I have known some leaders who are so focused on the vision that they do not understand the daily needs of those they lead.  Without team building and working together with them through the daily routines and issues, the people feel abandoned. They lose respect for the leader and the team falls apart.  If a person in leadership focuses so completely on the future vision that they do not see the ominous iceberg in the water, they are leading the ship to sure destruction.

Good leaders know this.  They know they must find the balance, and keep the ship moving towards the goal even while maneuvering what is right in front of them.  This is hard work.  The pendulum swings to one side or the other often, but when it gets stuck in either direction too long, everyone on the team gets lost, the leader becomes frustrated, and everyone wants to quit…if they have not already killed the organization.

Keeping our eyes on the daily, the immediate, the real, is important. Seeing how all the little pieces of daily-ness affects the whole team, in the middle of each moment, is crucial to the life of the organization.  Without a sense that the leader cares about those very real issues of the moment, those they are supposed to be leading will feel abandoned to the elements.  Therefore, as a leaders we must live in the trenches with the team, understanding and leading through the doldrums, while continuing to keep the long-range vision before them.  We must be able to show them how the daily “stuff” is related to, or can be directed towards, the overall goal and purpose of the organization.

Doldrums - 3The problem is that the daily-ness can seem to just take over some times.  Things can be so hard; the immediate crisis so large, that all anyone can see is the problem.  They spend all their energy responding to the moments, and the reason for their existence is forgotten. That is when the doldrums can come.  The favorable winds stop blowing and the ship seems to lose all forward momentum as everyone is focused only on the here and now. Sometimes those seasons last a long time and everyone can lose hope. Before they know it, a good leader, who has tried to be in the trenches with the team, can find they, too, have lost their focus on the horizon. They lose a sense of purpose, feeling like that one moment or crisis is all there is. And that’s when they become overcome with a sense of failure or inadequacy.

What am I saying? Doldrums happen.  We have all faced them.  They can come from circumstances out of our control, and they can come as a result of getting caught up with the daily-ness and losing site of the vision, or they can come from focusing so much on the vision that we have alienated the team.  The doldrums can be overwhelming and cause us to feel like we are failing. But quitting isn’t usually the right answer. Getting out of the doldrums is!  Ask for help. Seek fresh insights from other leaders.  Seek forgiveness from those we may have abandoned or misled. But don’t just quit.

The next question?  Is there a right time to quit and let new leadership take over?  I would love some insights on that question.

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Janet Johnson; wife, mother, grandmother, pastor, educator, mentor, leader, boss. These are a few of the names that have been given to me. But who am I? I am a servant of God, determined to make a difference in the world by investing in the welfare of future generations. I passionately live out that determination by leading and training others to be the best teachers and parents they can be. I have spent my life in this endeavor, leading and training teams of educators in both volunteer and small business settings, all with the goal of developing excellent educational opportunities for children and youth.

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