Spiritually Healthy Leadership Blog Post Cover, a forest with a bridge and a quote superimposed on Sabbath practices.

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.

  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • 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. Spiritually Healthy Leadership Blog Post Cover, a forest with a bridge and a quote superimposed on Sabbath practices.

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

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)

Rest

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.

How do you remain spiritually healthy?


The Wrap Up

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

 Want the entire series as a Kindle book? Go here.


Sources:

(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.

(4) Source: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/unused-vacation-days-trnd/index.html

 

Phone booth with calling quote from Frederick Buechne

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? Phone booth with calling quote from Frederick Buechne

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.

The Wrap Up

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

 Want the entire series as a Kindle book? Go here.

Podcast Cover art, Justin talking into microphone

Books of the Business Owner

It has been said that leaders are readers. This week, we are giving you the books of the business owner. Dr.’s Juanita Webb, Scott Thor, and I will each give you our top 5(ish) books that have shaped our life, business, and practice. Podcast Cover art, Justin talking into microphone

Taking Shape

Each of these books has shaped us in some way. From hobby books to professional literature, we cover ancient literature, the power of story, and leading effectively. 

What are your top ‘go-to’ books. Leave a comment and let us know!

The books we cover:

  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason
  • Forged in Crisis by Nancy Koehn
  • Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
  • The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero
  • Halftime – Bob Buford
  • The Kaizen Way – Robert Maurer
  • The Simple Path to Wealth – J.L. Collins
  • Atomic Habits – James Clear
  • The book of Proverbs
  • Radical Candor: How to be a Kick-Ass Boss – by Kim Scott
  • Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the
  • Patrick Lencioni (There were several of his books mentioned. Read all of them!)
  • Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey
  • David vs Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – by Malcome Gladwell
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard – by Dan and Chip Heath

About Justin

If you’re new to the podcast, welcome!

My name is Justin, and I’m an Elite-Mindset and success coach. Throughout my career, I’ve been a pastor, educator, and serial entrepreneur. I help entrepreneurs, business owners, and world-changers attain elite mental performance through burnout prevention, habits, and compounding daily wins.

About the Mastermind

The Bakersfield Mastermind is a collaboration between Dr.’s Scott Thor and Juanita Web.

To hear Scott’s interview, go here.

Listen hear Juanita’s interview, go here.

To watch video replays, go here.

 

Want to connect with Justin and reach your own full potential and elite mental performance? Email him.

Professionally dressed woman asleep on couch exhausted with book in hand, asleep face down.

This is a continuing series. Today’s post is An Introduction to Burnout (Part 2). In this series, we are examining leadership burnout and the steps you need to implement as a leader to avoid (and recover from) burnout.

An Introduction to Burnout (Part 2)

In his book Ministry Burnout: A Special Problem, John Sanders writes about the elements leading to burnout. While he is specifically addressing leadership in the church, the reality holds for every position of leadership. Initially, John’s list contained nine elements. I’ve adapted and combined some as it relates specifically to general leadership health.

As a result, in a follow-up to my last post, we need to examine these six stressors that can lead to leadership burnout. In this article, we will examine the first three causes, and a follow-up article will examine the last three.

While none of these by themselves lead directly to burnout, a combination of these six events can. Be wise and pay attention to what is going on in your soul and get professional help if you need it.

1.) The leader’s job is never finished.

I remember sitting on my bed, gasping for air. I was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. The weight on my chest would lift and I found myself unable to breathe. My wife, in her best attempt to reassure me, held my head as I half-gasped-for-air-half-cried.

The mounting pressure from weeks of over-commitment was getting to me. I was building my coaching business, often investing thirty hours a week into my then part-time venture. I was still on staff at a church, working sixty hours a week during the Christmas season. I was also in the midst of doctoral school and we had just had our third child. Weeks of poor sleep, nutrition, and exercise left my body debilitated.

As I created a list of all I still had yet to do, it all became too much. As I sat on our bed, wondering whether to call an ambulance, I eventually fell. Honestly, I’m still not sure if it was falling asleep from exhaustion or passing out from lack of oxygen. Either way, I took a four nap, whether I wanted to or not. 

I’ve learned a lot from that moment. Though the leader’sTired man with arms over his head exhausted at his computer facing burnout job is never finished, I now find that a much more welcoming prospect. I now give myself the freedom to admit that since the job won’t be finished, I might as well take some time off and enjoy what’s going on around me.

If you find yourself mounting with fear and overwhelm at the prospect of all you have to do, this can be one indicator on the road to burnout.

2.) A lack of clear results.

There are few things a leader can find more frustrating than this. Investing countless hours into a project, spilling blood, sweat, and tears, only to be given ambiguous results. How disheartening!

When I first started coaching, I agreed to give someone free coaching. I thought it would be a win-win. They’d get some (hopefully) great coaching and I’d get to practice and implement some of the theories I’d been working on.

Instead, it was a lose-lose. With no monetary investment, he never had need to change. He said he wanted coaching and really wanted to grow but never put in the effort. On the outside, he claimed to want a promotion. Internally, his lack of desire and discipline proved why he’d never get it.

I also lost. I invested 60-90 minutes into an individual for almost two years before I humbled myself to call off our arrangement. I got zero usable feedback, unclear results, and a bad taste in my mouth.

If we’re not clear about the results, and if we don’t measure the right things, our frustration can quickly lead to burnout. Unfortunately, working with people can be a prime breeding ground for unclear results. This is why I’ve implemented a wide array of team-oriented goals in coaching.

Now, not only do we measure tangibles like product production, sales, marketing, and bottom-line numbers; we also measure relational and interpersonal goals. We examine personal satisfaction. I help my teams put measures on metrics that are often left undefined. Through team-building leadership assessments, you need to find a way to create positive experiences and measurables that provide motivation and encouragement for your team.

3.) Workplace repetition

As I stood on my college campus lawn thirty minutes after graduation, I wondered what life held next for me. Suddenly, it wasn’t cool to be unemployed. Instead of a college student, I was a college graduate. I was recently married and we found ourselves without income. When my brother asked me what was next, I said, “I dunno. I guess now I just work until I die.” Had I followed my own advice, that probably wouldn’t have been that long of a cycle.

In the workplace, leaders often face a similar dilemma. Think of your own workday. I’m guessing there are a number of tasks you can count on occurring on a regular basis. Jane is 15 minutes late, Bill shows up at your desk around 10:30 to unnecessarily distract you for thirty minutes, your boss needs a last-minute report that should’ve been done weeks ago, and you get stuck in traffic by missing the elevator and having to wait another five minutes.

On top of that, you seem to make the same thirty copies every day. It’s boring. It’s dull. It takes little if any brainpower.

It’s unfulfilling.

That, ultimately, is the real danger, but the repetition can be a sign of impending burnout. Showing up every day, repeating the same tasks, feeling the same soul-crushing boredom, leads to discontentment. Discontedness leads to apathy. Apathy gives birth to burnout. You know you were created for more and aren’t living to your full potential, so you slowly start to die inside.

Engaging in the same tasks, especially the unfilling ones, can lead to burnout. Find ways to stimulate your brain, engage your body, challenge your senses, and enhance your prospects by breaking through the routine and trying something new.

4.) Stagnant Relationships

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. This unattributable proverb gives us great insight into the impending doom of burnout.

The unhealthy pervasive “Alpha” mentality in today’s leadership style has ingrained the idea that exceptional leaders must go it alone. This is never the case. Instead, great leaders have always had others close to them. They use these relationships as feedback, guidance, additional wisdom, course correction, diversity, strategy, and companionship.

David Heenan wrote about great Co-leaders in the late ’90s. He highlighted men duos like Jobs and Cook, Gates and Ballmer, and Hellen Keller with her teacher Anne Sullivan.

If you ever listen to a talk I give, we’re probably going to talk about the pairing of Lincoln and Grant. As a fan of history in general, these two men in particular have inspired me. Here, it is their unwavering commitment to each other that matters most. Their letters, starting out formal, by the end conveys a sense of warmth and deep friendship. If Lincoln had had his way, Grant would’ve been in the audience with him the night of his assassination.

In all of these, the point is the same: your level of success, and your ability to resist burnout, is directly related to the amount of deep and meaningful relationships you have.

When we have stagnant relationships, we begin to rely solely on our own power. We convince ourselves of the false belief that others don’t matter. We begin to distance ourselves from those that love us most, we simultaneously isolate our hearts from the thing it needs most: human interaction.

If you examine your life and notice that it is either void of significant relationships or that they have become stagnant, be forewarned: burnout is soon to follow.

5.) The Pressure of a Public Image

Leading others is somehow both a tremendous joy and an unbearable burden. It brings us unimaginable happiness and gives manifestation to our deepest insecurities.

That pressure can get to you. When you as a leader constantly feel the need to maintain your public image, burnout can happen.

While there are many causes and reasons for this, in my work with executives I’ve noticed one factor more than others. The number one cause I’ve seen is that the person becomes defined by the position. The belief that you alone can lead, you alone are called, you alone are capable, you alone are good enough presents an unbearable burden on your soul. Unable to maintain that image for long, you further isolate yourself from those around you. Professionally dressed woman asleep on couch exhausted with book in hand, asleep face down.

Pair that self-imposed isolation with other items on this list, and burnout will quickly follow.

6.) Failure

This final item, much like the preceding one, becomes an issue when it becomes wrapped up in identity. When you start to see the subtle shift in your psyche between, “I experienced failure” and “I am a failure,” trouble is on the horizon.

Failure is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Many times, it should actually be encouraged more than it is. We learn more from failures than we do successes. I recently gave my oldest son his first pocket knife. After walking through safe handling techniques, how to open and close it, how to hold it, store it, and use it to cut effectively, I handed him the knife. I concluded the lesson by saying, “But I also know that the only way to learn sometimes is the hard way. So you’ll probably cut yourself and we’ll put a band-aid on it. You’ll learn not to do it again.”

I handed him the knife. Within fifteen seconds he had cut his thumb open. The next day, cut open a different finger.

Since then, he hasn’t cut himself. He learned. The hard way. Through failure.

It was a painful but effective lesson.

But when we begin to tie up our identity into our failure, we create a vicious cycle, much like we saw above. We experience failure, feel like we alone must fix it, isolate others, fail again, and our leadership trends downward.

Very few, if any, of these six causes to burnout happen in isolation. Most often, they are paired with others on the list. The relentless nature of leadership lends itself to moments of frustration, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Healthy leaders will fight against that. In future editions of this series, we’re going to examine ways to stay healthy and fight these temptations.

 


The Wrap Up

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

 Want the entire series as a Kindle book? Go here.

An Introduction to Burnout (Part 1)

Over the next several weeks, I want to provide an overview and examination of leadership burnout. With the world quickly changing in 2020 and 2021, burnout has unsurprisingly been on the rise. Here are some things you need to know.

A Basic Understanding of Burnout

In May of 2014, with the last speaker winding up his talk in the main auditorium, I sat just outside the building in tears.

The past week had been eye-opening. As I sat with my wife trying to process everything, I came to a realization: I was all alone. An introduction to leadership burnout

At the time, I was serving as the pastor of a small church in a large city. The past year-and-a-half had seen me transition from a one-year contracted associate to the lead person when the other pastor stepped down. The church was dying, marred by years of unhealthy leadership and unsustainable practices.

I had reached out to other leaders and superiors at other churches and was told there wasn’t much they could do. Their resources and energy was going to be spent elsewhere.

I started doctoral school to try to find answers. What I found, were more questions. The passion in my soul to help others was not happening. Instead, I seemed to be facing mounting frustration, fear, and failure.

Is this how all leaders feel? I wondered.

Discovering Burnout

Burnout, at least in the course of my own educational journey, was never talked about. I took classes in dynamic leadership, speaking, counseling, Greek, Hebrew, and social justice. Never once was burnout mentioned.

In May of 2014, I wasn’t burnt out … yet … but I also knew I couldn’t continue with “business as usual.”

I reached out to a professional counselor I knew. He was a professor at the school where I did my master’s program.

“How do you all avoid burnout?” I asked.

His response changed my life.

“We talk about it. We talk about it a lot. From early on and throughout the program we frame it as an ethical mandate and don’t give people a choice. We tell them from day one that they have an ethical mandate and responsibility to themselves, their clients, and to God to be healthy in all areas of their life.”

What is burnout?

Burnout is a psychological condition resulting from chronic work-related stress and has three central factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment.1

The trouble with burnout is not only the personal aspect of damage it can cause but the relational and financial aspects as well. Burnout is difficult to pin down because it can occur at any time and with little warning.

There are two primary foci that need to be addressed to create a long-term sustainable solution to burnout in leadership. One focus is the personal sphere, something that encompasses the totality of our humanity. Later in the series, we’ll talk about the pictured pyramid (pictured below) and how we can use it to effectively fight against burnout.

The second area affected by burnout is the cultural dimension of work. This is what is so often overlooked.

Maslach and Leiter in their book The Truth About Burnout highlight the great disservice that is done when burnout is discussed only in terms of the personal sphere:

“The conventional wisdom is that burnout is primarily a problem of the individual. That is, people burnout out because of flaws in their characters, behavior, or productivity. According to this perspective, people are the problem, and the solution is to change them or get rid of them. But our research argues most emphatically otherwise. As a result of extensive study, we believe that burnout is not a problem of the people themselves but of the social environment in which people work. The structure and functioning of the workplace shape how people interact with one another and how they carry out their jobs. When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work, then the risk of burnout grows, carrying a high price with it.”2 (Emphasis retained)

The Wrap-Up

To effectively address burnout, we must talk about both the cultural and personal aspects it entails. We will do this in future blog posts.

If you or someone you know is facing burnout, please get help. Email me to set up your first appointment.

Looking for more ways to fight against burnout? Here are 50 self-care tips.

References:

1: Miner, M. H. (2007). Burnout in the first year of ministry: Personality and belief style as important predictors. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 10(1), 17-29. doi:10.1080/13694670500378017

2: Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (1997). The truth about burnout: How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.