In Making Marriage Beautiful, Fuller Seminary professor Dr. Jeffrey Bjorck explains, “At its core, disappointment is an initial response to learning that our expectations will not be met. Choosing to remain in a place of disappointment constitutes a failure to accept and grieve the loss of those expectations. By not accepting the losses, we perpetuate unhealthy disappointment.” Unhealthy disappointment can lead to micromanaging, cynicism, constant criticism, and, ultimately, burnout. This makes handling disappointment in healthy ways critical to healthy leadership—but it’s not always easy to do.
Dealing well with disappointment has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn, not just as a leader but as a human being. I tend to hold myself and others to impossibly high standards. There are many problems with this mindset, first and foremost a notable lack of grace.
God regularly reminds me that disappointment points back to me. I perpetuate unhealthy disappointment when I refuse to let go of control and assume everyone should lead like I do. The body of Christ is amazingly diverse and should not conform to my expectations. The challenge for me is to recognize disappointment quickly, name it, and then work to discern what it’s trying to teach me. Here are some of lessons I’ve learned for dealing with disappointment.
1. Work on self-awareness.
We can’t have realistic expectations of others if we don't have realistic expectations of ourselves. That means I need to be self-aware and admit my own limitations and areas of sin. I, too, have gone over time when teaching (more than once!), missed meetings, and resorted to sarcasm rather than honest dialogue. By routinely confessing my heart sins to another human being, I confront this reality. To help with this, our leadership team regularly has corporate times of confession. If I am struggling with someone on my team, though, I will confess any related sins (for example, impatience or judgment) to someone who is one step removed.
Confession is not the end goal—repentance and increased maturity are. After confessing, I work to change any ungodly, ingrained habits or thought patterns. This also includes evaluating whether my expectations of myself and my volunteers are actually realistic.
2. Train volunteers.
Sometimes feelings of disappointment reveal areas where our volunteers are undeveloped. As we are able, and as our volunteers are willing, we may need to develop and mentor them. If they have taken a spiritual gifts survey that indicates aptitude in teaching, we cannot assume we can simply hand them a topic and expect a stellar delivery. It might takes months or even years of mentorship and practice before we see real evidence of that gifting. Having realistic expectations requires that we understand what our volunteers are capable of.