You might be advertising a product that isn’t selling. Or you’ve written a book that’s poorly promoted. Or you’re speaking to smaller circles than hoped. Or you have less online influence than imagined.
My first job out of college was youth director at a church. Part of the job meant planning events. We’d host a Saturday barbecue, or a weekend of rock climbing. These events usually went well. But once in a while—for reasons unexplained—we got a bafflingly low turnout.
Blame it on lousy weather. Blame it on crossed communication channels. Blame it on apathy, boredom, or fickleness on behalf of my students. I’d have Frisbees stacked and waiting. Cheeseburgers would be sizzling on the grill. A full roster of youth staff would be on hand to help out. But only five kids would show up.
Whenever that happened, I felt the normal gamut of emotions—disappointment, anger, confusion, fear. Hey, this event is good for your development. Not to mention that my job is on the line!
Leadership experts say determination is the answer. Rather than bemoan low numbers, make failure a mentor. Study what went wrong, figure out how to do things better or smarter next time, then try again.
I agree. Whining about low numbers accomplishes nothing. The wise leader rolls up his sleeves, gets wiser, and presses on. That’s the solution.
But sometimes—and this is where things get tricky—sheer determination isn’t the answer. You’ve actually done your best. Bases were covered. You gave it your all. Yet, for whatever mysterious reasons, the results were still lower than expected.
In the 1980s, journalist Philip Yancey travelled to India to interview Dr. Paul Brand, the prestigious orthopedic surgeon. Brand had revolutionized hand reconstruction techniques from his painstaking years of working with leprosy patients. In addition to Brand’s work in the hospital, he sometimes preached in the small chapel on the grounds of the leprosy sanatorium.
Yancey noted that Dr. Brand approached his message preparation like he approached every aspect of his career—with utmost sincerity, drive, and zeal. Brand would study for hours on end—sweating and squinting long into the night—to prepare and later deliver a flawless message described as besting any given by the world’s top cathedral orators.
The remarkable thing, Yancey wrote, was that the only people who ever heard these messages were half a dozen leprosy patients.
Did you catch that?
Hours of preparation time.
To speak to six leprosy patients.
Always, what matters is the individual person, Dr. Brand explained to Yancey. It doesn’t matter if you’re speaking to crowds of thousands, or to a room of six. It’s always the individual whose life is touched.
Always the individual.
Perhaps that perspective helps when numbers are low. Maybe not to your boss or bank account. But to your own soul.
Yes, you’re in a position where numbers matter. You need to reach as large a crowd as possible. You’re calling depends on it.
But here’s the encouragement: if you’ve planned a barbecue and only five students show up, those five individuals matter greatly.
Grab the Frisbees, and go big with the five you have.
Question: Have you ever experienced lower numbers than planned? How did you respond?