All leaders experience moments of frustration. Whether it is from not knowing how to handle a certain crisis or from unreasonable expectations, we all experience frustration from time to time. When perspectives clash, conversations grow tense, and people become annoyed, frustration levels rise.
As a leader, you don’t want to be the source of frustration, but the political climate, differing opinions, and general weariness can lead you to wish you could lash out and say exactly what you are thinking.
Frustrations are a Part of Life
As you know, frustration is a part of life. There are simple frustrations. I can get frustrated when I go to the grocery store, pull into the parking lot, and several spaces have grocery carts in them. I immediately say to myself, “How tough is it to return a grocery cart to the place it belongs? How rude to push the cart into an empty parking space and drive off.” Through my frustration I have learned that I do not like to be inconvenienced.
There are more complicated frustrations. I get frustrated when, during a pandemic, people want to politicize wearing a mask, or during a time for learning and conversation about racism, people get defensive and dismissive. How difficult is it to “love your neighbor as yourself?” It is frustrating to think that people who call themselves followers of Jesus have difficulty showing their love and care for the people around them. Through my frustration I have learned I have little tolerance for those who have little tolerance.
What Frustrates You?
You might think my examples are silly, but it is important as a leader to know what frustrates you and what you do to frustrate others. When you experience frustration, it is a time to stop and ask yourself “why am I frustrated?”. Once you understand your frustrations, you can gain a greater understanding of your frustrating behavior. It is only in facing your frustrations that you can begin to change your behavior.
I’m sure you don’t frustrate people intentionally, but here are several behaviors that frustrate the people you love and serve:
Lack of integrity
It can be as simple as not following through on what you say you will do. You are only as good as your word. There is nothing more frustrating than someone saying one thing and doing another. A sure path to frustration, mistrust, and disrespect is not backing up your promises with action.
Indecisive decision making
People thrive on action and progress. They are frustrated when they can’t move forward because you can’t make a decision. Trust your judgement. You have the education and experience to make the necessary decisions. You frustrate people when you can’t make up your mind.
Lack of vulnerability
You frustrate people when you have the attitude that you know more than anyone else. When you have to be right by making other people wrong, you shut down conversations and damage relationships. The people avoid discussing anything important with you. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Keep an open mind and heart. Take the ideas, thoughts and perspective of others as seriously as you want them to take yours.
Blaming others for your mistakes
You are also frustrating when you refuse to be accountable or responsible for your mistakes. You damage relationships, undermine trust, and make people angry. People become fearful of being blamed. They stay in the background and often refuse to participate. Learn to take the blame and give the credit.
When you are looking out only for yourself, you are not only a source of frustration, but you are perceived as self-centered and untrustworthy. You are in leadership to love and serve the people entrusted to your care.
It is frustrating to work with people who are always complaining. Things do go wrong, and everyone complains occasionally, but non stop griping sucks all the energy and enthusiasm out of any group. Keep in mind that people follow your lead. Your attitude is contagious.
Now that you know how you might frustrate others, let’s look at how you can lead with courage and confidence. All leaders experience frustration, but you can lead by being a calm presence and by responding with care and kindness. Below are five characteristics of effective leaders in regard to controlling frustration. I am sure you already use some of these ideas and techniques.
Attributes of Effective Leaders
As an effective leader, you control your frustration, because you are:
You pause and reflect. You are aware of your emotions as well as the emotions of others. Instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind, you think through what needs to be said. Then, even if you need to express anger, you can do so calmly and reasonably. Controlling your emotions is a part of effective leadership, especially in the midst of change.
Aware of others
Things never happen in a vacuum. When you know the context of a frustrating behavior or a frustrating situation, you can resolve it. The more closely you observe the people around you and their intentions, the more you understand them and the bigger picture.
You ask questions for clarity and dig deeper for understanding. You know that you can find a solution to any frustration by tracing it back to its source. You don’t settle for superficial explanations but keep digging to find the underlying cause.
You know how to let people speak without letting your emotions get in the way. You give the other person the opportunity to say what they need to say. It can be hard to do when you want to interrupt, to defend yourself or just walk away. You stop and listen. You let them vent and get it out of their system so, together, you can start working toward a solution.
Responding and not reacting
It is easy to make a “mountain out of a molehill.” You control your own frustrations so that you don’t add to an already rising frustration level. Once you have responded with calm and coolness, it is easier to keep frustrations under control. You are vulnerable and transparent. You focus on the parts of the frustration that are in your control or influence. You don’t make false promises of change.
Controlling frustration is a demanding skill. We admire the people who can keep their cool in tense situations. It takes practice. And sometimes it feels more like on the job training.
So, this week, try an experiment.
Connect with a trusted friend and talk about what frustrates you. Then ask this question, “What do I do that is annoying or frustrating to others?” Practice listening. Don’t be defensive. This is not an easy exercise. Even if you get frustrated you will become a better person and a more effective leader.
Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tom Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation in the midst of your frustration. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.
I’ll be frustrated if you don’t!