Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Travis Collin's book, Tough Calls: Game-Winning Principles for Leaders Under Pressure, (New Hope Publishers, 2008).

As a leader, you’ll often encounter difficult situations that demand tough decisions.  The way you make those choices will powerfully affect you and all the people you lead.  So don’t hesitate to step up and make tough calls.  With God’s help, you can make them successfully – reflecting the character of Jesus in the way that you influence people.

Here’s how you can make tough calls with confidence:

Take risks. Be willing to take whatever risks you sense God leading you to take, even if in doing so, you make mistakes. Realize that each time you take a risk or make a mistake, you open up an opportunity to learn something valuable. Don’t allow excess caution to limit your progress as a leader. Move forward boldly.

Be fair. Say what’s true, do what you say, and live out your convictions with integrity and consistency. Treat everyone as fairly as you can. Ask God to make your life’s purpose clear to you; then make base your decisions on that sense of purpose. Refuse to sacrifice your values on the altar of expediency.  

Be patient. You’ll need to be patient in order to fulfill God’s purpose for your life. Don’t lose your cool when circumstances aren’t moving along as fast or as well as you wish they were. Remember that God has better timing than you do. Ask Him to strengthen you while you wait, and decide to trust Him.

Reverse course when necessary. Admit reality when you’ve made a wrong decision and need to change it. Be willing to acknowledge when the results of your choices didn’t go as well as you planned, and be willing to rectify your mistakes. People will trust you when you demonstrate that you know you aren’t perfect and that you’re committed to finding the best course of action.

Expect battle scars. Face the reality that you will likely find yourself in the middle of battles when you’re trying to lead the process of change. People get stressed when they have to leave their comfort zones, and they may very well lash out at you as a result. Anticipate having to go through pain as you make tough calls. Be willing to pay the price that true leadership demands.  

Make changes wisely. Whenever change is necessary, help lead people through it. Be sure not to either initiate change without being sensitive to tradition or oppose change for the mere sake of tradition.  Instead, assess whether or not your organization is ready for something new by asking these questions: “Can we try it? Is anything keep us from giving it a test run and an objective evaluation at a certain time?”, “Does everyone have a voice in it?”, “Are we letting people grieve their loss?”, “How’s my heart? Am I motivated by my personal agenda or a genuine desire to serve others?”, “Am I willing for people to leave the organization? And if they leave, how devastating will it be?”, “Am I willing to stay?”, “Have we created a desire for change?”, “Are we approaching change overload?”, “Am I, as the leader, willing to take the heat from those who don’t like the change?”, “What are influential people in the organization saying about this change?”, “Is this change just a pet project for me, or will it actually facilitate the fulfillment of our mission?”, “Is there a reasonable likelihood that eventually this change will be seen as a successful move?”, “Have I communicated the vision sufficiently?”, and “Am I willing to make significant sacrifices to see this through?”. Remember: Although change is difficult, it’s also often necessary. Trust God to guide you and those you lead through the process of change.

Develop poise. Respond to crises rather than reacting to them. Refuse to be provoked by even the worst of situations. Maintain your dignity and effectiveness as a leader by staying calm under pressure and being gracious toward your critics. Don’t neglect the important job of confronting people when they’re out of line – but do so in ways that don’t embarrass them or heighten the tension. Ask God to give you the self control you need to make decisions base on timeless biblical truth rather than just your own changing emotional impulses. Work to calm storms, defuse volatile situations, and absorb complaints from disgruntled people to spare your organization from harm. Practice spiritual disciplines like daily prayer, Bible reading, and meditation to stay closely connected to God and get fresh infusions of poise whenever you need them. Figure out what hot button issues tend to make you angry. Then pray for the self-control you need to be poised when people push those buttons. The more you practice responding with poise in minor situations, the better you’ll be able to respond with poise in major situations.

Don’t take criticism personally. Don’t view criticisms as personal attacks; keep your sense of identity and worth rooted in your relationship with Jesus, which won’t be affected by any circumstances. Remember that you have nothing to prove to anyone and are free to follow your values, no matter what. Also keep in mind that people’s criticisms may actually have nothing to do with you; they may be experiencing inner turmoil that’s causing them to be critical.  

Don’t be sidetracked by other people’s expectations. If the demands that people try to make on you are unreasonable or don’t reflect your own values, resist the pressure to conform to their expectations. Don’t compromise your values just to please other people. Live to please God – no matter what others think. Do what’s right despite pressure to do otherwise.

Respond to criticism wisely. Criticism is inevitable, and the way you respond to it will do much to either help or hurt the effectiveness of your leadership. Realize that criticism can actually be a good thing when it motivates you to examine yourself and make needed changes. Don’t let criticism hurt you, but remain sensitive enough to care about the issues it raises in your life. Try to understand the context of the criticism you receive, and figure out the motives of those who criticize you. Be willing to genuinely to listen to criticism. Answer criticism when it’s appropriate to do so, such as when you’ve made a mistake that you should correct, or when the health of your organization is at stake.  

Deal with conflict wisely. Conflict is inevitable, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen. It’s better than plateau and decline in your organization. Conflict can be good for your organization by helping you and those you lead look at issues in new ways and think through solutions to problems. Ask God to help you discern the difference between mean-spirited, disruptive conflict and healthy, constructive conflict. Confront people who are simply trying to cause trouble and levy consequences on them, but encourage appropriate debate and disagreement that can lead to making your organization stronger. Take full responsibility for your own part in conflicts. Do everything you can to resolve conflicts and make peace.

Encourage respect among members of your team. Give the people you lead plenty of opportunities to have frank and uncomfortable discussions with you in private, but emphasize that in public, you all honor each other as a cohesive team. Encourage vigorous discussion about important issues and let the corporate wisdom shape decision making. Involve everyone in your process of making tough calls. But let people know that, after the final decisions are made, they must accept them or move on. 

Protect your family. Don’t let the pressures of your leadership position spill over into your family life in harmful ways. Shield your family members from unnecessary stress. 

Be kind. The people who follow you will work best with you if you’re consistently kind to them. Ask God to give you the confidence you need to feel secure in who you are and what you’re doing. That confidence will help you be kind to others.

Move on after failure. Learn from your failures and try again after them. Invite God to redeem your mistakes and ask Him to help you overcome your setbacks.

Seek strength from the Spirit. Check in with the Holy Spirit often to guide your decisions. Before making a decision, weigh risks and options; evaluate motives; and consider timing, consequences and issues. But then be courageous enough to make the tough call, and to live with your decision.  


Adapted from Tough Calls: Game-Winning Principles for Leaders Under Pressure, copyright 2008 by Travis Collins.  Published by New Hope Publishers, Birmingham, Al., www.newhopepublishers.com.                 

For more than 25 years, Dr. Travis Collins has helped people around the world discern and live God’s call for their lives. After accepting a Virginia pastorate in 2002, he implemented a call discernment program for the church members. This program helped two members discover God’s call for them to go into full-time ministry. Experienced as both a pastor and a missionary in Venezuela and Nigeria, Travis has written extensively for church leadership, preaching, and mission journals. He is a graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and earned his master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Travis and his wife, Keri, are the parents of three children: Landon, Brennan, and Grant.  He and his family live in Richmond, Virginia.