I may not always learn new things, but when I do, it’s because I stay curious.
My blatant rip-off of the most interesting man, may not be a quote that makes me famous, but it does provide the foundation for the growth needed in life.
Curiosity is a habit and a mindset that keeps leaders humble and gives them the ability to assess a situation, appreciate perspective, and continue towards growth.
“I know how to do it!”
I’ve heard that phrase more than a few times from my kids, only to watch them struggle with tying their shoes, washing the dishes, folding their laundry, or any other number of tasks.
It’s a common problem, right?
As much as I’ve seen it in my kids, I’ve also noticed that problem in myself.
In my almost ten years of professional coaching, I’ve come across similar problems in people. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve coached who were unhappy in their jobs and looking to make a career change.
And when I assume I know what the answer is, I’ve always been wrong. When I’ve remained curious and allowed the client to dictate the direction of the conversation, not only do they come to a better conclusion, but I learn something new in the process as well.
My ability to stay curious benefits both me and my clients.
As leaders, staying curious benefits us, and those we lead.
Leadership curiosity manifests anytime we set aside our preconceived notions and explore possibilties with our teams.
In short, we stay curious when we ask questions.
What would that look like?
Who do we know that can help?
How can I serve you?
Where can we find the answers?
What makes this important?
Are we willing to fight for this?
The more questions we ask, the more curious we are, the better the end result will be.
Leadership curiosity includes our team members, equips them for the journey ahead, inspires action, and leverages critical thinking skills.
A lack of motivation could mean that our goals aren’t clear enough. A bigger problem is that we don’t reward ourselves for a job well done. As Shawn Achor highlights in his TEDTalk (and amazing book), by failing to reward ourselves for achieving our goals, we subtly teach our brains that our work doesn’t matter. In other words, by failing to reward our progress we learn that progress doesn’t matter.
Our brain says, “What’s the point?” and gives up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” create clear, simple, and compelling goals.
2.) Be a Part of a Community
It’s hard to go it alone. Whether you’re an entrepreneur growing a business, a spouse improving a marriage, or a coach in athletics, you can’t do the journey of life alone.
A community provides support, encouragement, perspective, and wisdom. It gives us strength when we are weak and positivity in a world filled with the negative.
A community of like-minded voices gives us the endurance and accountability to press on when we feel like giving up.
If you’re struggling with the question “What do I do when I’m feeling stuck?” find others to walk the journey with you.
3.) Hire a Coach
A lot of coaching is accountability. More than the community, a good coach asks reflective questions, highlights understanding, deepens insight, and inspires action.
Great coaches help you see through your own bias, false beliefs, internal narratives, and weak spots. They equip you with the tools to overcome those rough edges. They leave you accountable to your action plan.
Just last week I was working with a client who didn’t complete all of his growth homework for the week. After talking about it, we discovered that it was an important goal, but not the most important.
Instead, before hiring another employee (his task he gave himself for the week) he needed to free up time in his calendar (his new task). With more free time, he would be able to get new business, get caught up on billing, and have space to mentor and onboard effectively. Completing these tasks would ultimately do much more than “hire an employee” and instead give him the capacity to build his business.
That’s a much more effective use of time!
Coaches can shorten the time it takes to learn tasks, complete projects, and accelerate to succes.
The mental health of a leader encompasses everything they do to stay at peak performance and elite levels of people development. Leadership mental health is the foundation to sustainable excellence.
Beginning in Coaching
I fell in love with coaching because it gave me something tangible to work towards. Fresh out of my master’s program and stepping into a new workplace, it was actually required that I have a coach for the first year of employment. They paid for it, I benefited from it.
Little did I know that at 24, it would be a life-changing experience.
My first coach, Jeff, helped me see the bigger side of life and leadership. Leaders struggle and leaders fall. Because of this, leaders can’t bear the weight of responsibility themselves.
Good leaders surround themselves with others. Those that will both listen and challenge. Strong leaders embrace the chance to be pushed and to be bettered.
Most of all, leaders take their own growth seriously.
The Faces of Mental Health
Mental health, like a diamond, has many faces to it. Here are several of the types of mental health I talk about with my clients:
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it does provide us with healthy ways to get started – or continue – our journey of holistic leadership health.
One of the most frequent questions I get is, “What’s the difference between counseling and coaching?” Both are in the ‘helping professions’ and both have their place. I’ve experienced both. I’ve benefitted from both over the years. I need both in my life to help me be at my best. So here, in brief, are the differences.
Counseling – The benefit of counseling is that it looks backward in the leader’s journey. Addressing pain points, unresolved issues, family dynamics, trauma, and emotional scars (among other things) counseling provides a safe place for leaders to stop, pause, and reflect on where their life has come from.
Coaching – Coaching is predominately future-focused. Instead of needing details when clients give me their history, they give me the “5-minute version.” I need to know enough to ask good questions, not about where they’ve been, but about where they want to go. Coaching helps individuals get from point A to point F quicker, easier, and more proactively.
Other Investments In Mental Health
Leaders are readers. If you’re not reading, you will never reach your full potential. I regularly send out my current reading lists and those I see on other websites. I challenged myself as much as possible through a wide variety of genres. Thoughtful leaders engage in history, economics, biographies, fiction, and a wide variety of personal development books.
Seminars and Conferences
Learning from others is a great way to get a quick return on your investment. Find a local or national tradeshow, expo, or conference related to your line of work. Attend regularly, take notes, and write key takeaways from your learning. Years ago, I made it a practice to take the conference notes I took and create a three-step action plan after each one. The amount of new information can be overwhelming and this helped simplify it for me and gave me quick wins when I returned to my normal daily routine.
There are two major time wasters in our daily living: our exercise habits and our commute times. I’ve given up music 95% of the time in favor of podcasts. Exercise six days a week gives me ample time to squeeze in an extra book or podcast. Additionally, I spend an average of 10-15 hours driving every week. I can get in an extra book a month on average just by listening to books and podcasts in the car.
Our leadership journeys are often moving at a frenetic pace. Meetings, sales, marketing, investing in others, family time, it can all feel overwhelming. One of the greatest assets you can give yourself is the ability to stop. Breath. Contemplate. Refresh. Retreats are a way to intentionally withdraw from the day-to-day grind and gain some long-term perspective.
This is so important we’re going to dedicate another post to it, but the benefits of exercise extend far beyond physical health. Exercise releases chemicals in our brain that make us happier, gives us an energy boost, reframes our perspective, provides inspiration, increases productivity, and stimulates growth.
Growing leaders must be all in on their own health, as this series has shown. Mental health is a critical component of that. This includes both traditional approaches to mental health, as well as positive habits that increase our brain capacity and stimulate our own growth. Leadership mental health is a commitment to yourself and to others to continually execute improvement.
Spiritually healthy leadership grounds high-achievers by connecting them with their purpose as they seek to influence the world. In this installment of our “Healthy Leader” series, we examine this idea of spiritually healthy leadership.
Spiritual Health: Connecting With The Divine
I spent nearly a decade in pastoral ministry before fully embracing my call as a coach. Each position led me a step closer in the process, but there was always a sense of, “this is not quite it…” when it came to feeling fulfilled.
Over the course of that decade, I learned a lot about myself, belonging in a community, healthy boundaries, interpersonal relationships, and effective communication. I spent time at every level of leadership.
At every point along the way, and with every “promotion” that was gifted to me (we can talk later about why I hate that term when applied to the church…) I found that I had fewer and fewer people to talk to. My friend list grew smaller, my mentors became fewer, and the circle of close confidants decreased.
When I started working with executives, I found the same was true with them. The higher they were on the ladder, the fewer people they had to talk to. That was, at least in part, their need for a coach. They looked around and realized they had no one to talk to.
Most of the time, I was (or at least felt) alone. The executives I worked with echoed that pain. Maybe you too can relate.
When I wasn’t alone, and people were genuinely trying to support me, we talked about a wide range of topics.
How much work I was doing
The quality of my preaching
Never once, not once in ten years, did someone ever ask: how are you at connecting with God? Is your spiritual life healthy?
A New Direction
That was part of my journey into both my doctoral school program and hiring my own coach. I needed that accountability. Studies, like one conducted by the Percept Group, seem to echo this, with nearly one-third of Los Gatos residents polled identifying “dealing with stress” as their chief spiritual concern. (1)
This in part explains the rise of contemplative prayer and mediation among leaders. There is a recognition that part of the human condition is wired to connect with something beyond ourselves.
I teach an eastern philosophy class. In it, we examine Steve Jobs’ affection for Buddhism and how other great leaders are implementing some of these teachings. These leaders are yearning for something outside of the physical and temporal to belong to.
In general then, here are some practices and guidelines to help you grow and cultivate a healthy spiritual side of leadership.
Cultivating Spiritual Health
Spiritual disciplines offer a historically rooted approach to healthy leadership. Disciplines have always been an important component for people of faith. Through self-sacrifice, we discover deeper meaning, significance, and a sense of calling.
In his seminal work on the spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster notes their importance when he says,
“The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond the surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world.” (2)
There are many forms of spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer, mediation, holy pilgrimages, silence, forgiveness, solitude, and tithing.
The point in each of these is the same: denying some aspect of yourself or your personal will to spend time listening and connecting with God and his guiding power.
“Few things will keep us on course in the exercise of our leadership and facilitate the care of our soul as much as a meaningful prayer when engaged in consistently.” (3)
Many leaders find it hard to take regular time off. The demands of their job, the joy of feeling needed, and the unexpected crises or tendencies of workaholism can make it hard to pull away from the demands of work.
To combat this, the ancient Jewish people instituted a practice called sabbath. More than a day off, the sabbath is a specific and intentional time to rejuvenate and recharge emotionally and spiritually.
This rest includes the need for extended vacation days as well. Workers operating under increasingly stressful conditions are taking what seems to be a smart approach by working more to meet demand. The problem is that the increased workload does not equal increased productivity. In the law of diminishing return, and most studies show this, maximum productivity happens somewhere around 30-35 hours.
Operating in a job of high demand and need it’s easy to feel needed and guilty for taking time off. But a refusal to take time off can exacerbate the problem of burnout. In addition to regular Sabbath rest, leaders must use their full allotment of vacation time. This is not happening, as a 2019 study found. (4)
Staying Spiritually Fit
Spirituality can be a tough subject to talk about. The common American mantra to not talk about politics and religion has hurt our public decorum. Smart employers, and high-capacity leaders, remain vigilant in their quest for staying healthy in all areas of life.
This includes spiritual health, however, the leader defines that.
In future posts, we’ll continue to intertwine areas of health and explore how creative outputs like hobbies contribute to a well-rounded leader.
(1). Source: Ferguson, Jane K., Eleanor W. Willemsen, and MayLynn V. Castañeto. 2010. Centering prayer as a healing response to everyday stress: A psychological and spiritual process. Pastoral Psychology 59 (3) (06): 305-29.
Original Study: Percept Group. (2004). Ministry Area Profile 2004 Compass Report for Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, 219 Bean Avenue, Los Gatos, CA 95030, Study Area Definition: Custom Polygon 1990–2004. Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: Percept Group.
(2). Source: Foster, Richard J. “The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation.” Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, 1. Rev. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
(3). Source: Rima, Samuel D. “Spiritual Self Leadership.” Leading from the Inside Out: The Art of Self-leadership, 138. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000.
How would you answer the question: why on earth am I on earth?
The foundation for all healthy leadership begins with a calling. Leaders have always been called. Sacred scriptures throughout the world emphasize this. However, what is almost always missed is the development of the call story.
There are two levels of calling that need to be identified. The first is a general calling and a specific calling. Each of these plays a unique and significant role in the life of the leader.
The general call is usually the first initial calling that comes with leadership. As a coach, it’s common to see this within the coaching field. Fresh out of coaches training, I was under the belief that I could (and should) coach “anyone and everyone.”
It’s an easy thought to rationalize:
If the coaching principles are true, then I should be able to coach anyone!
And while the coaching principles are true and universal, I cannot nor should I, coach everyone. Coaches always seem to learn this the hard way, usually through a bad client. Thankfully, I had my bad client experience early on. While I knew that in theory, I could coach anyone, practically I knew I didn’t want to coach him again.
Specific calling happens when leaders remain faithful to pursuing and developing a robust answer to the question, “Why on earth am I on earth? What’s my ultimate purpose?
In my own coaching practice, I’ve worked with C-Suite executives, entrepreneurs, managers, religious professionals, educators, and people in the service industry. Each person allowed me to narrow down my specific niche. Now, I can clearly and confidently say that I provide executive coaching for small business owners.
Engaging in Your Calling
Most of us have experienced a general calling to leadership. That’s why we’re plugged into a network like LinkedIn. It’s the place for us to connect with other like-minded individuals.
I’m also willing to venture that many of us have found our specific calling. We know what we were put here to do.
The tension happens in two locations: for those that don’t know their specific calling and for those that do and aren’t doing it.
First, burnout can affect those that don’t know their specific calling. For years, I was stuck in this position. You, or someone you know, might be in this position if they say things like:
I don’t know where my life is going.
What’s my purpose?
I can’t seem to figure out what I’m trying to do.
I feel so lost.
These sorts of sayings are clues and indicators of an undefined and unrefined calling. For these leaders, burnout happens because the mounting frustration of an incomplete vision leaves them overwhelmed. Life for leaders was never meant to stop with a general calling.
All leaders all call for a specific reason, to a specific place, for specific people, to accomplish a significant mission.
The second place for burnout is for those that know their specific calling but aren’t practicing it. You might hear or feel sayings like this:
I feel like I’m made for more.
If I could just get the right opportunity…
I could accomplish so much if I could just get out of my own way.
For those with a specific, but yet unfulfilled calling, burnout can happen because of the increasing resentment of seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Leaders with an unfulfilled specific calling struggle with the fear of failure, inadequacy, or of missing out on achieving ultimate success.
Calling – Meeting The Needs of Others
Frederick Buechner once referred to calling as,
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
And notice, that so far, I have mentioned nothing about jobs, titles, or positions. Those are largely irrelevant when it comes to fulfilling a calling in leadership.
I worked with an individual once who, by all personality tests and interviews, would have been a great church planter. As we worked through his areas of calling and gifting, however, we discovered that he didn’t want to plant a church at all. Instead, he wanted to revitalize old churches and bring new life to established congregations.
Another former client worked his way up the corporate ladder, only to find himself lonely at the top. After reevaluating his career choices, he started down a completely different career field that gave him more flexibility in his home life. He was much happier wearing the pinstripes of a coach to his son’s baseball team than the pinstripes of his three-piece suit.
Calling – What it is … and what it isn’t
Calling is …
discovering, pursuing, and fulfilling the answer to the question, “What on earth am I on earth for?”
knowing intimately your deepest purpose and passion in the world.
a part of everyone’s story.
foundational to establish healthy leadership patterns while avoiding burnout.
Calling is not …
dependent on rank, title, position, promotion, or title.
arrogant, boastful, proud, or demeaning of others.
reserved for a select few “special ones.”
an optional endeavor who want to reach their full potential.