How To Lead When It All Hits The Fan

Four steps to leading well when life gets tough.

  • I had a former student killed on her college campus by a vehicle pulling into a parking spot, a complete freak and tragic accident. Her funeral was a few days later.
  • The day after my daughter spent the night throwing up, I spent the night throwing up.
  • We had to take our minivan in for some work that took longer (and cost more) than we anticipated, leaving us without a vehicle that could carry our whole family.
  • Found out someone I’ve been working with for years has been having some pretty heavy struggles he now doesn’t know I know.
  • Power went out at work, totally derailing an entire day of meetings and tasks.
  • My wife got a migraine that took her out for the count for a day.
  • Onboarding a new staff member.
  • Study, prepare, write, and refine a 30-minute sermon…ironically covering busyness and stress.
  • Finalize a change in responsibilities with some team members I oversee and communicate that to the 50 people the changes impact.
  • Have clarifying but very tense conversations with some leaders reaffirming a decision made in the past that was not taken well by a few involved parties.
  • Have “covering the bases” conversations to change a different decision made a few months ago, now that we have more information.
  • Thanks to our viral bonanza, every piece of laundry in our house needed to be cleaned, dried, folded, and put away.
  • Host high school students doing job shadowing.
  • Run staff meetings and have one on ones with my team.
  • Meet with my direct overseer and a quarterly meeting with our organizational leader.

Set key priorities.

You need to know before things fall apart where your priorities lie. What is the most important thing? What are the non-negotiable things in your life that need to happen, no matter what?

Evaluate your options.

What are some things you can ask that will help you decide if this is something that is currently a priority in your life?

What happens if this doesn’t happen this week?

Who will be impacted if this doesn’t get done now?

Is this a situation where “best” isn’t necessary? In other words, is it okay for this to just be “okay”?

Which would be worse, to have to do this later or to grit through it now?

If I still do this, what doesn’t get done?

Can someone else do this, and if so, how well?

These are helpful questions in any situation, but I have found them to be especially useful when I’m trying to lead in days or weeks of struggle.

Recognize the obvious.

What’s obvious? There is no such thing as balance. I think we can so easily get caught in this idolization of living a balanced life that we forget that there is no such thing.


When things hit the fan and life gets too stressful, there are things that no longer make the cut…and that’s okay.


When life hits the fan, here are the things that help you chart the course ahead.

1. Set key priorities.

2. Evaluate your options.

3. Recognize the obvious.

4. Be realistic

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