Sometimes people won’t take the steps that they are capable of taking. I had a friend who was considering serving as a deacon in his church. I thought he was very capable of doing it. However, he didn’t think that he could. He was afraid to take that step. We had a conversation, and I asked him, “In the Bible, what does God say every time He calls someone to do something?”
He answered, “Get at it?”
I said, “No. He says, ‘I will be with you.'”
That’s what God does. He encourages those who have fear to take the steps they can take and promises them help on the way. That’s also what He told the leaders of the church in Thessalonica to do for others. “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).
Last time, we looked at the last two phrases, which I call the first two tools. The first is patience. We need to remember that leadership is a process. People need time to get moving in a particular direction and to grow. The second tool is giving people steps. The goal often seems too daunting. They need steps that will help them get there.
Encourage Them to Take Steps
However, what if people won’t take the steps they can take? We need to encourage their steps. “Encourage the disheartened,” as Paul says. But how do we do it?
1. Remind people of things that they have already done. When my son was 12 and my daughter 9, we hiked Mount LeConte. Mount LeConte is the big mountain that you can see from almost everywhere in our county. We actually ended up hiking about 14 miles that day. They did it, and they did it well. If I had asked them, though, “Can you hike 14 miles?” They probably would have said, “No.” But this showed them that they had more in them than they thought. From time to time thereafter, they would think they couldn’t do something that I knew they could. I would point to Mount LeConte, “Remember hiking Mount LeConte? You’ve got more in you than you think.”
2. Encourage them with similar examples and stories. An example of this was a conversation I had with a young woman I talked to while giving her an Uber ride. She was really interested in other cultures as I am, and we talked about our encounters with other cultures.
I suggested that she should learn another language. I told her that this is a game changer in engaging with other cultures. She told me that she was discouraged about learning another language based on her studies in psychology. She said that she had learned that people could never really become fluent in a language they learn later in life.
I was puzzled by this because it did not really fit my own experience, so I told her about my daughter. She started studying Spanish in earnest two years ago. She got so good at it that she eventually went to a university in a Spanish speaking country and did all her classes in Spanish. She navigated life in a place where English speakers are very few and far between.
After telling this story, I could see the from look on the face of this young woman that she was very encouraged by this story. I didn’t need to tell her anything more. I didn’t need to tell her to go try it because my daughter did it. The example in the story opened up new possibilities that gave her hope.
3. Encourage people with the resources available to them. For me, this means the promises of God. He says, “I will be with you.” But God has also given us many other resources that can help us. The same friend I mentioned above did become a deacon, and he also went to Uganda to serve a ministry to the fatherless there. He worked in landscaping, and he realized that what the ministry in Uganda needed was a skidsteer, which was not easy to come by over there.
He decided to raise the $60,000 himself to buy the skidsteer and then ship it over to Uganda. When he started working on it, he was amazed at how many people wanted to help. People in the community gave to the work. A chainsaw store not only gave money to the project, they donated a bunch of chainsaws. My friend realized that he had more resources than he thought he had. That’s how awareness of resources can encourage people to take steps.
Once people have these types of experiences, it’s worth point them out to them many times after that. This will help build a mentality that will make it easier for them to take these types of steps in the future.
Confront Wrong Steps
Sometimes people are taking steps, but they are the wrong ones. As leaders, we have to confront the wrong steps if we are going to help people move in the right direction. But this can be really hard for people to do. People often deal with it by saying nothing, passive-aggressive sarcastic remarks, or exploding after holding it in a long time. All these are leadership by reaction rather than moving with vision and deliberation.
In some ways, confronting wrong steps is not as hard as it seems. I remember listening to Patrick Lencioni talking about meeting with a group of executives. They all complained about one guy and what he did. He said, “Have you talked to him about?”
They answered, “No. We just haven’t had the time.”
“Haven’t had the time?” He said. “You get up, walk down the hall, sit down, and talk to him about the issue. It takes about 5 minutes.” He was exaggerating a little bit, but I have found that this is often the case. It’s not as daunting as we fear it will be.
On the other hand, there are skills to learn. If this is an area you struggle with, I highly recommend that you check out Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. You can read my summary of the book here.
However, here’s some insights I gleaned from them and others on how to have these difficult but important conversations.
1. Begin with curiosity. Often, we enter with a judgment already in mind. There may be more to the story. Ask about it. In the Bible, in James’ letter to the church, we receive this good advice, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). This should form the outline of our approach.
2. Maintain safety and respect. Don’t show contempt in the way you talk, and do your best to make it safe for that person to share their perspective. Show that you honor that person as a human being. This is not easy, but when safety or respect recede, it’s very difficult to have a profitable discussion.
3. Get people on the same side of the table. Jesus was a master at this. He would often not address an issue directly. He would give a parallel and say, “What do you think?” This would help disarm what were often very difficult conversations. It would put him on the same side of the table of someone who had been hostile towards Him.
Let’s say that it becomes clear that money is being given to church and is going missing. The treasurer is the main one who oversees the money. Instead of accusing the treasurer, you can say, “Here’s the evidence that I see, but here’s the trouble I’m having, you’re the person who oversees this. Can you help me understand what is going on here?” It’s amazing how disarming this can be and how forthright people can be when they are on the same side of the table. A friend of mine used a similar method when confronting theft in a large corporation. He was always amazed at how quickly people would actually confess. This is not just a trick, though. We are genuinely interested in helping people move forward, even if it means admitting wrongdoing, and this is a good way to help people talk about it.
People may buy into your vision and the way to get there, but they have many struggles that keep them from moving forward. Remembering it’s a process. Give people steps, encourage their steps, and confront wrong steps. When people get stuck, these are some categories that can help you think through how to help your people move forward in whatever endeavor you are involved in.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider these tools of leadership. I hope you can use them to become a better leader and help the people you care about. If you liked this article and want to read more, you can subscribe to my blog in the righthand column (laptop) or scrolling down below (mobile), or you can like my page on Facebook. Just look up weswhite.net or click on the link in the sidebar. Blessings to you!