As a leader, people look to you for comfort and strength. How you respond to something matters. You set the tone. If you complain about something that’s not fair then they’re going to feel like it’s okay to complain.
I love being a dad. I love the idea of walking with these kids as they discover the world. I love the opportunity to see things from such a different perspective. I even love my two boys jumping/attacking me at all hours of the day. However, what I don’t love is . . . crying! It drives me absolutely crazy. For the most part, I have to accept that it’s the only way they know how to communicate at such a young age. However, I did discover a phenomenon that greatly reduced the amount of crying at our house when our kids were small.
As my two very curious, adventurous boys would take on the world, they would often fall. Where this traditionally would follow with much crying, I noticed something interesting. A split second after they fell they often looked to me to see how I reacted. My reaction often prompted whether they would cry, or be able to dust off and move on. It’s a great responsibility, but one that is part of the job description of any leader whether parent, minister, project leader or the like.
As a leader, people look to you for comfort and strength. How you respond to something matters. You set the tone. If you complain about something that’s not fair then they’re going to feel like it’s okay to complain. There’s nothing worse than trying to work toward a common goal with a team of complainers. Regardless of our personal insecurities, doubts or worries, we need to look strongly toward the common goal we’re trying to achieve as a team.
When I was a pastor, I once lamented about some difficulty to a friend and fellow minister. I was complaining about how things were stacked against me and very difficult in the job I was trying to perform. He looked me in the eyes and said: “You’re the pastor of this area and that makes you ‘The guy.’ Taking on the majority of weight and difficulty in this area is part of being the guy. It is why we have you here at this role. If you don’t think you can handle it then it does no good to stay in this role. However, if you do feel like you’re the right person for the role then part of the job is accepting that there is going to be much difficulty in what you’re trying to achieve and you have to bear the largest weight of that.”
So, to keep from crumbling from that stress and weight, you have to have things in place to allow you to keep a “stiff upper lip” under difficult situations without completely losing your authenticity. It’s crucial to have a system for self-care so you don’t completely implode or burn out.
Have calibrating questions.
I found that having a system to weigh what to communicate and what to hold back helped me maintain healthy authenticity. Essentially, creating boundaries around what is acceptable and unacceptable or appropriate and inappropriate. An example of this kind of thing might be how I interact with my kids. Certainly, I want to be authentic with my kids and help them learn resiliency when dealing with difficulties. At the same time, I don’t want them to live in anxiety, and to communicate every difficulty that my wife and I experience. The same can be true for the people you lead. Being authentic without sharing every difficulty that comes across your desk. So, figuring out when to share difficulty and show them how to resolve it versus when to keep a calm and steady exterior while inside I’m freaking out was very important. Here are a couple of my calibrating questions:
- Is communicating this adding any value to the person I’m communicating it to? Conversely is communicating this causing any harm to the person that I’m communicating it to?
- Why do I want to communicate this? In other words, is there an ulterior motive like feeling better or offloading some of the pressure or something equally unhealthy? Is this a matter of being authentic or is it really a matter of not wanting to be in misery alone?
Today is not forever.
It’s difficult to endure the weight of leadership while projecting comfort to those around you if you think there will be no relief. The reality is, tomorrow is a new day.
It is important to note that sometimes the system we are leading in is toxic. In an unhealthy work environment or system, we might be set up to fail. One example of this dynamic is being in a job where you have all the responsibility and none of the authority. In this situation, it is the environment that is toxic. It would be prudent to remove yourself from the job and find a healthy work environment. This can be difficult but it does allow us to change the opportunity of tomorrow.
We must remember that today is just today. Every day is an opportunity to grow and to work through the difficulties we face. It can become easy to get stuck in a perpetual negative attitude if we lose sight of this. Today is not forever.
If I’m doing God’s work, He has to do the heavy lifting.
The job of a leader brings a great amount of weight that we must bear, however, we must always remember that we live and work in community. Besides those that may be leading above you, we must always remember that ultimately, we’re working under God. He is bigger and stronger and much more capable than we’ll ever be to carry the ultimate load. Often, we find it difficult to bear the weight because we are trying to bear the ENTIRE weight. This isn’t our job. It’s not our job to save people or to be perfect. It is God‘s job to save and our job to introduce people to God. We must remember to let God do the things that only God can do.
Similarly, I’m not responsible for anyone but myself. In other words, I can only do what I can do.
Once I separate what is my job and what is God‘s job then I have to make sure I remember that as a leader. I have an impact on those around me, that doesn’t mean that they’re my responsibility.
Hal Runkel, founder of ScreamFree, would put it this way: I’m responsible TO those I’m leading but I’m not responsible FOR those I’m leading.
I can’t control how people behave or what they think. I can provide dynamic environments and clear messages and invite them to the greater power of God. I can’t control whether they accept the invitation, engage in the environments, or hear the message. Leaders who take on these responsibilities often find themselves insecure, negative and burned out.
I’m not created to live life alone.
We’re created by a relational being to be relational beings, and we’re never healthier than when we’re in healthy relationships. It will be very difficult for me to stay hopeful and positive in situations that are difficult when I don’t have a community to walk with, shoulder to shoulder. I need people in my life who I can talk to, do life with, and lean on that aren’t directly connected to those I’m leading. This isn’t to say I live a fake life with those I am leading, it’s just to say that I need people I can look to just as others look to me. I also need those that I can walk shoulder to shoulder with without any responsibility between us other than living life together.
I must have activities in my life that help me restore, repair, and to grow.
This is completely separate from my leadership role. I must have times when I rejuvenate and rest. I need time and space away from my leadership role and the weight that I must carry. This could be a periodic vacation from your responsibilities. It might be a place you can go that is completely disconnected from the community you lead. It might also be something you do that you really enjoy that brings you life. Whatever the case, you need a way to stay connected with who you are outside of the leadership role and the demands of that role.
As a leader, people look to you for strength, comfort, and direction. A negative attitude can completely undermine your credibility in that endeavor. Keeping your mind healthy, being able to separate what is on your shoulders and what is not, and making sure you have times to rejuvenate are essential if you’re to be an effective leader.
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