Managing Your Own Morale


If you are leading, it is your job to manage your own morale. But how do leaders "keep their heads up," especially in the face of daunting challenges and difficult people?

What Great Warriors Know

Great warriors understand the importance of personal morale. Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard noted, "The more senior you become as a leader, the more you have to manage your own morale."[1]Allen's sentiment is shared by others who have worn a uniform.

In 1916, Winston Churchill was forty-one and serving as Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army.  Speaking to his officers on the Western Front, Churchill said, “Laugh a little & teach your men to laugh — great good humor under fire — war is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.” [2]

In the 19th century, Edwin M. Stanton was the Secretary of War for Abraham Lincoln. Stanton once refused to be introduced to a man simply because he did not like the man’s face. “But,” urged a friend, “he is not responsible for his face." To which Stanton replied:

“Every man over forty years old is responsible for his face.” [3]

Stanton's comment is priceless -- and penetrating. But what does God say about this?

Am I responsible for my face?

We must always test popular notions against Scripture. So what does the Word of God have to say about "managing your own morale"? Consider these words from the Word of God:

  • Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. Psalm 34:5 ESV
  • Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:5-6 ESV
  • And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

In direct and indirect ways God is telling us that "every man is responsible for his face." In one sense, we are all deciding today what we will look like tomorrow.

Y.B.H. (Yes, but how?)

How does a leader keep "a good face" in the face of challenges and the criticism that often accompanies it? How does a leader manage her own morale, especially in those seasons where there is little or no success or on those days when there is little or no encouragement? Here are seven ways you can take action today:

1.  Look To The Lord

"Look to the Lord" is something many of us have been taught from childhood. It is also something we neglect. David said, "Those who look to him are radiant" (Psalm 34:5).

David knew what he was talking about.He spoke those words when he was fleeing for his life. To make matters worse, he was on the run from his own countrymen. To add further humiliation, David had to run to the land of his enemies to find protection. David had reason to be distraught, but he knew the secret for managing his morale: Look to the Lord. Here's what two men of faith had to say about this passage:

The more we can think upon our Lord, and the less upon ourselves, the better. Looking to him, as he is seated upon the right hand of the throne of God, will keep our heads, and especially our hearts, steady when going through the deep waters of affliction. David Smith, 1792-1867
They too, each one of them on looking to their Lord were brightened up, their faces began to shine, their spirits were uplifted. What a means of blessing one look at the Lord may be! There is life, light, liberty, love, everything in fact, in a look at the crucified One. Never did a sore heart look in vain to the good Physician. Charles H. Spurgeon

Look to the Lord. God created the world (Genesis 1:1). He calls the stars by name (Psalm 147:4). He knows when the sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29). He even has every hair on your head counted (Matthew 10:30). God can handle your toughest challenge.

Take action:Find a quiet place and spend fifteen minutes meditating on the greatness of God. Remember that he has you and your challenges in the palm of his hand.

2. Preach To Yourself

If you thought preaching was just the pastor's job you are mistaken. Every Christian leader must regularly preach to himself or herself. This is what we learn from the psalmist. He said,

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:5-6 ESV

In his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones unpacks the meaning and message of these verses for our lives. His insight and application for Christian leaders is fantastic:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you. Your self is talking to you. Now this man's treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. 'Why are thou cast down, O my soul?' he asks. His soul has been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: 'Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you'.

The main art in this matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: 'Why art thou cast down'---what business have you to be disappointed. You must ... say to yourself: 'Hope thou in God'---instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way....

Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: 'I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God'. [5]

There are times when we must grab ourselves by the shirt collar, get in our own faces, and remind ourselves to "Hope in God."

Take action: Defy your feelings. Like the psalmist, make this declaration: "I will put my hope in God. I will trust him even though I don't feel like. I will praise Him!"

3. Unshackle Your Ball And Chain

We are a nation increasingly wed to our smart phones. A 2010 study by Pew Research found that 65% of Americans have slept with their cell phones on or next to their bed. Among young adults, 90% sleep with their phone on or right next to their bed.[6] After surveying 1600 business executives, Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow discovered:

70 percent admitted to checking their smartphone each day within an hour after getting up, and 56 percent did so within an hour before going to bed. Weekends offered no let-up: 48 percent checked over the weekend, even on Friday and Saturday nights. Vacations were no better: 51 percent checked continuously when on vacation. If they lost their wireless device and couldn't replace it for a week, 44 percent of those surveyed said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety." And 26 percent confessed to sleeping with their smartphones.[7]

Our minds need a rest. Certainly we recognize the potential stress that arises from the news, hassles, headaches, and heartaches that ride the coattails of those emails and texts. God gives his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2), so enjoy that sleep. Turn off the phone.

Take action: Start by silencing your phone at night. Then consider turning it off altogether before you retire for the evening. If you need an alarm to wake up, don't use your phone. Perlow suggests that executive teams give themselves permission to stay of their phones: "Agree on a shared unit of predictable time off that you will each strive to achieve -- each week (e.g., an afternoon or evening off, email blackouts, uninterrupted periods of work time)."[8]

4. Check Your Diet

How is your diet? I'm not talking about counting calories. I am referring to your mental intake, the information and messages you consume. Any leader who listens to a steady diet of the Blues, or absorbs the constant negative vibe of 24/7 news media, or devotes too much time to complaining people is heading for trouble. God sounds a warning in Proverbs 25:20:.

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.

Singing sad songs to heavy-hearted person is downright mean. It is like stealing that person's jacket on a snowy day. Listening to sad songs can be equally damaging. What God is saying is this: In the same way vinegar on soda induces a chemical reaction, negative vibes negatively impact our morale. It is as simple as input-output. This is why the Scriptures encourage us to ingest a healthy diet:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 ESV

Managing my own morale means being the gatekeeper of my own mind. Consequently I need to:

  • Listen to great music
  • Watch uplifting movies
  • Read great writing
  • Dwell on inspirational thoughts
  • Spend time in worship
  • Meditate on the Bible

Take action:  Read Philippians 4:8. Take 15 minutes to ponder the eight items Paul mentions. Evaluate your diet? What are your healthy habits? What needs to change?

5. Stay close to people who keep you fired up

Do you know the Hot Poker Principle? When you put a fireplace poker in the flames it is going to get hot. Remove it and it will cool off. In the same way, leaders need to stay close to the people that keep them "hot." The apostle Paul understood this. Unjustly stuck in a Roman prison, he writes:

Please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me. 2 Timothy 4:9-11 NLT

Captain Bob was a retired naval officer and a friend. He understood the importance of keeping people fired up. Before his death a few years back he encouraged me and a lot of other people. Bob once told me that he made it his goal to encourage three people every day. As you can imagine, it was great to be around Bob. He was cheerful, helpful, and above all encouraging.

Bob was my ray of sunlight on a cloudy day. Mark did that for Paul. Who is that person for you?

Take action: Don't wait for someone to come along and put a little wind in your sails. Schedule an hour with a person who encourages you. Click here to read the post, "The Hot Poker Principle."

6. Remember your identity

It is easy to get our activity confused with our identity. The two are not the same. You are not what you do. Paul's letter to Christians in Ephesus provides a fantastic reminder of a Christian leader's true identity. God has:

  • Blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessings (1:3)
  • Chose you to be holy and blameless (1:4)
  • Predestined you for adoption as his child (1:5)
  • Redeemed you from certain doom (1:7)
  • Forgiven you for sins past, present, and future (1:7)
  • Lavished his grace up on you (1:8)
  • Loved you greatly (2:4)
  • Fashioned you as a masterpiece (2:10)
  • Given you peace with God (2:14)
  • Made you a member of his household (2:19)

You can lose your business, your title, your income, your reputation, and your socioeconomic status--and it would hurt. But those things don't ultimately define you. God does. And God not only loves you, he likes you!

Take action: Take a piece of paper and make a list of those things for which you might be inclined to find your identity (titles, degrees, accomplishments, etc.). Then put a big "X" over that list. Those things don't define you. Now spend 15 minutes reading Ephesians 1-2. Meditate on your true identity in Christ.

7. Plan Your Next Pit Stop

Leadership is exhilarating. It is also exhausting. The relentless pace can leave us drained and depressed. Vince Lombardi has said, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." That's why we all need times to slow down.

Like a NASCAR driver, we all need pit stops. We need times to pull off the race track, get refueled and make the kind of adjustments that boost our morale and help us win the race. Jesus teaches us this. To his group of haggard disciples he said: 

"Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Mark 6:31-32 ESV

Rest, physical exercise, and a true day off all contribute to a healthier morale.

Take action: Answer this question: "If you had a free Saturday--a day absolutely to yourself--what would you do?" In your answer to that question are clues to what refuels you. Make sure you plan a pit stop that includes some of those activities.

Your Work Is Not In Vain

I have a little framed verse that sits on my desk. It is from Paul's letter to people living in tough times.

Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV

A leader's work -- when done for the Lord -- is never in vain. That's a promise from God and a great reason to keep managing your morale.

Your turn: What else have you found helpful in managing your morale. You can leave a comment below:


[1] D. Michael Lindsay, "The 'accidental admiral' is our best hope in the gulf." In "On Leadership" in the Washinton Post, May 25, 2010. www.washingtonpost/leaders/panelist//2010/05/the-accidental-admiral.html. Accessed September 16, 2012. Admiral Thad W. Allen served as the 23rd Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 2006-2010.

[2] These words were part of Churchill's code of conduct for his officers. Churchill uttered these words when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, on January 19, 1919. Cited in Martin Gilbert's Winston Churchill: A Life, page 345.

[3] Youth’s Companion (The Face At Forty. The Youth’s Companion (1827 − 1929). Vol 97, Issue 41. Boston: American Periodical Series II. October 11, 1923. I am grateful to Ryan Ross for helping to track down this source.

[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol 1, page 123.

[5] David Martyn Lloyd Jones. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965, pages 20-21.

[6] "65% - Do you sleep with your cell phone?" Pew Research,

[7] Leslie A. Perlow. Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work. Harvard Business Review Press. 2012. Page 6.

[8] "Are You Sleeping With Your Smartphone?" by Leslie A. Perlow. May 22, 2012. HBR Blog Network blog. Accessed September 18, 2012.