Calling – Leadership Health and Integrity (Part 1)

A Firm Foundation

The journey of healthy and sustainable leadership happens by building a firm foundation.

The bathroom remodel is nearing completion (finally!).

Over the last several months, it has been a series of two steps forward and one step back.

Exciting progress met by a frustrating setback.

The subfloor was installed fairly quickly and easily.

But then, it took three orders of the shower to get one delivered undamaged, followed by three visits of the plumber to get it installed fully.

But after six weeks, we finally had a shower. So we put up the drywall and painted.

Progress, Setback, Repeat.

That, as it turns out, is much like life.

Slow, Steady Growth

Healthy leadership is a series of growth events. Each is the opportunity to take a step forward. Unfortunately, we also experience moments of setback. 

For every successful meeting or mentoring moment, we belittle an employee.

Every time we set healthy boundaries and engage in personal development, we scream at someone in traffic.

For every trip to the park with our kids or a date night with our spouse, there’s the emotional binge eating for temporary relief.

It’s this continual cycle of growth and progression that encapsulates the leader’s life. It’s also the reason that I started intentionally focusing on seven key areas and aspects of healthy leadership.

Over the next couple of weeks on the blog, we are going to be covering each of these seven areas. In each area, we’ll examine the process of opportunity, growth, and reflection.

First up, let’s talk about calling.

Calling – Leadership Health and Integrity (Part 1)

The foundation for all leadership begins in a calling. God has been calling and shaping people since the beginning of time. Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul are a few examples. All have unique and personalized call stories that led them to live a life of mission.

There are two levels of calling that need to be identified. First, is a general calling. The second moves from general to specific.

General Calling

The general call focuses first on the development of leadership skills.

For me, it came as a freshman in college. Unhappy with where I was, how I felt, what I was looking forward to, and the classes I was taking, I remember the feeling of being alone, unloved, and unimportant.

I had gone to college because it’s what I was supposed to do. However, I didn’t arrive with any real sense of purpose or direction. Having spent a semester as a science major, the only thing that I was certain of was that I couldn’t spend any more evenings in the lab staring at a microscope.

I entered into a time of dedicated study, prayer, and reflection. I looked at transferring schools, changing majors,  and dropping out and getting a job. After weeks of prayer and study, I was renewed with a sense of purpose and direction. I was reminded that I had once been called into leadership positions and that it might be time to explore that calling again.

I began to argue with God about what that might look like. In my brokenness, I also listed the reasons why I was unfit and unqualified for leadership.

I suffered from extreme shyness and public anxiety.

I had a lack of public presence and a huge fear of the unknown.

In a sense of divine irony, I sensed the call to read my Bible. I randomly opened my Bible to the story of Moses in Exodus three and four. My reservations and fears had been calmed when I saw that I raised all the same objections Moses had. I became convinced that God delights in using our weaknesses in unique and exciting ways.

General revelations can happen at any time and force future leaders to have open hearts and minds about how God is calling and shaping them.

Specific Calling

Specific call stories take on a more detailed tone. If a general calling echoes my own idea of, “I’m not sure what this means, but I think I’m called into leadership;” specific call stories can fill in the blanks of to whom and for whom.

Originally for me, this meant youth ministry, but it didn’t take very long as a youth pastor to see that this was not what God intended for me!

Over the last decade, I have continued to define and refine my leadership skills and capabilities.

I now work with leaders, empowering them to get the right things done. My time is spent with success-oriented individuals helping them reach peak performance, accomplish their goals, and transform conflict into opportunity.

Growth Points

Let’s wrap up today’s discussion by providing discussion plans and growth points for the leadership journey.

These questions are designed to help you gain momentum in your journey towards leadership health.

  • To whom have I been called to serve?
  • What energizes me?
  • How do I want to give back?
  • What gifts and talents do my closest friends and family see in me?
  • Have I experienced a general calling? What did that look like?
  • Have I experienced a specific calling? What does that look like?
  • Who am I trying to become?

Next week, we are going to begin our look at the four internal aspects of leadership health and continue towards our final destination.

Blog Post Title, "Even if it's hard" and Man Contemplating

Even If It’s Hard

How do we accomplish a big task, even if it’s hard?

Over the weekend, I was having a conversation with my son about completing one of his tasks for the day. He was supposed to be emptying the dishwasher by himself, and it happened to be particularly full this time.

He didn’t want to because it was hard.

Later that day, he had the same problem with math.

The next day, it was laundry.

Today, we faced it again with a math test.

Each and every time he was tasked with something difficult, he was tasked with the necessity to push through, overcome, and do it, even if it’s hard.

Ironically, he’s not the only one struggling with that. A year ago, I wanted to quit doctoral school because of the same reason.

Recently, I was talking to a client about implementing change. She gave the same reason why she couldn’t.

“Hard” and its close relatives, “difficult”, “demanding”, and “challenging” all seem to elicit a desire to quit. Blog Post Title and Man Contemplating

That’s true whether you are seven (like my son) or seventy (like my client). Throughout life, we will be tasked with the hard and difficult things. Doubly so in a leadership position.

My guess is, you’ve uttered that phrase once or twice before in your life.

When you’re ready to break through barriers, experience growth, or even if you just have to do it anyway, I want to help.

Three Ways To Accomplish A Task, Even If It’s Hard

Realize All You’ve Done Before

You’ve literally made it through 100% of the difficult things in your life up to this point. You’ve got a mound of evidence proving that you can do difficult things.

You came into this world unable to bathe, clothe, or feed yourself. You also couldn’t walk, talk, or read. The fact that you’re here, visiting this blog (my sincerest thanks for that one too) means you can probably accomplish most — if not all — of those tasks by yourself.

Less than three months from graduating from doctoral school, I told my wife I wanted to quit. It was legitimately the hardest thing I had ever done. Faced with a growing business and other leadership responsibilities, I was overwhelmed. Deep down, I also knew I had to do it if for no other reason than to set an example for my kids. They will someday be faced with “the hardest thing” that they ever need to do, and I don’t want to set the precedent that we quit when things get hard.

I looked at my track record for completing hard tasks, realized I had a 100% batting average, and stuck it out. Three months later, we celebrated the hard work and sacrifice we all put into my graduation weekend.

Practice Grit

Angela Duckworth, in her stellar book Grit, defines grit as, “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” We’ve all got passion when we start a project. That’s rarely the place we fail.

Instead, it’s the perseverance we struggle with. Having to overcome obstacles, develop creative solutions, and grow in resiliency kills more dreams than a lack of passion.

Once a long-term goal has been identified, strategize key ways to grow in both passion and perseverance. For our son and his need to fold laundry, it’s about the long-term goal of adulthood. My wife and I have always been very open (with them and with others) that our primary objective is not to raise kids. Instead, we are in the process of raising adults. Guess what? Adults take responsibility, own their shit, and do their laundry. Even when it’s hard.

Make it Manageable

Tasks, especially meaningful and significant ones, can feel overwhelming. The good news is that you don’t have to eat that elephant in one bite.

Distill big dreams and goals into smaller chunks. Then, take those chunks and make them into daily, manageable tasks. Even if it’s hard, you’ll experience growth.

When I was starting out in coaching, I didn’t have an email list. I fretted over that. Every internet expert tells you the secret to growth is an email list. Because I didn’t have one, especially a large one, I delayed even attempting to start one.  

Guess how big my list got? It stayed at zero. For a long time. Until I got over the fact that I needed one hundred thousand people to subscribe. I also didn’t need a webpage, a Facebook page, or a book on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Instead, I focused on getting one. Then another.

Along the way, daily tasks became, “write a blog post” and “Hold a Facebook Live.” Along the way, and at each step, my email list grew.

Now? I’m regularly adding people. While I’m not to my goal yet, I’m closer than I was when I felt compelled to have everything together first.

Plus, the best part? You can totally join this list for FREE. I call it my High-Performers List and it’s full of weekly updates, insights, and the key tools I use with my clients. Just click here to join.

Set goals. Make them actionable. Make them relevant. Make them engaging. Then, make progress. (Because we never knock progress).

Wrapping Up

While that’s certainly not everything we could talk about, it’s a great start. The next time you (or someone you know) utters the phrase, “But it’s hard” here is how you make progress. Stop the negative self-talk and assess the situation.

1.) You’ve already won 100% of life’s previously difficult battles and you’re stronger because of it.

2.) You have an amazing chance to practice grit.

3.) Distill the goal down to manageable tasks and take action.

You got this. I believe in you. Even if it’s hard.

Last week we examined the necessity of talking about burnout.

If we want to prevent leadership burnout, we must first acknowledge it. This week, we want to create a plan for resisting burnout. Below are four things Jesus did. We can implement similar and visions to have sustained leadership success.

Resisting Burnout

Jesus, from the very inception of his public ministry, took intentional action steps to prevent ministry burnout. Aware of the potential dangers and the high price of public demand, Jesus regularly withdrew and practiced steps to healthy spirituality.

Resisting Burnout is a process.

Here are 4 action steps for leadership health.

1.) Clarity in Calling

Jesus’ first act after his baptism was to withdraw to the wilderness and develop clarity in his calling. Christians claim Jesus as God and  therefore temptations he faces in Luke four have often been thought of as “no big deal.” The mindset is that if God can’t sin, these temptations didn’t really bother Jesus. This sells the narrative short. The real temptations behind all of these are what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. Behind each of these temptations is a short cut.

Leadership Shortcuts

In the first temptation, he is tempted to transform rocks into bread.

His physical hunger, a legitimate need after forty days in the wilderness, is becoming the focus of the first attack. Clearly there is legitimacy to this need; after forty days of fasting, Jesus needs to eat. The shortcut is to be a one-stop food production worker. Thousands of enslaved Israelites are about to meet him and would love the chance at free food. Satan knows that if Jesus stays busy producing food for the masses, he will never have time or be a threat to conquer death and sin.

We can face similar temptations in our own leadership journey. People will look to us to help them accomplish good things. But good is the enemy of great. Don’t take your eyes off your ultimate calling by settling for something less. Resisting burnout requires clarity of vision.

The second temptation is to worship Satan and be given the status of ruler over the earth.

Satan’s hope here is to usurp God’s authority in the life of Jesus with his own. If Jesus worships Satan, then there is no need for a political-religious showdown with the local rulers. The status quo can be maintained.

Wise leadership knows when to upset the status quo and start a new direction. Courageous leadership takes action when action is required, knowing that the end destination will be worth the temporary pain of change. Resisting burnout requires courageous action.

The final temptation is to jump from the temple and be miraculously saved by angels.

Enthralled masses would soon want to follow this daredevil, Jesus. He would be so busy planning his next death-defying escape that he wouldn’t have time for social and religious transformation. Always needing to please the crowd, Jesus would waste his days performing magic tricks instead of freeing enslaved people.

Called leaders do not settle for being crowd-pleasers. Instead, while they hope to inspire those that follow them, they are more concerned about doing what is right and living in the full depth of their calling. Resisting burnout requires internal strength.

The Danger of Settling

The dangerous grounds for each of these is that Jesus ends up doing all of these tasks any way.

  • Jesus does feed the hungry masses in spectacular ways.
  • He does perform miracles that draw crowds
  • He is crowned and given authority over the earth.

Yet as it relates to burnout prevention we see something important: Jesus does and is able to accomplish these things because he first spent time clarifying his calling and who he was in God. Leaders must use this same sort of diligence.

There will always be the temptation for leaders to fall prey to these temptations in one way or another: the need for validation, the false sense of urgency, or the cheap thrill of mindless entertainment.

Only when someone has been sufficiently grounded in both calling and character are they able to produce lasting and beneficial leadership.

2.) Solitude and Prayer

Another important rhythm that Jesus engages in is to regularly retreat for prayer and solitude. One author records,

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

The demands of leadership are tiring to the body and the soul. By instilling regular rhythms of rest and retreat, leaders can fight against fatigue.

Regular intervals might include:

  • Daily disciplines like prayer, exercise, and meditation.
  • Monthly half-day getaways for extended silence away from technology.
  • Quarterly retreats for planning and visioning.
  • Yearly vacations and times of Sabbath rest.

3.) Focus On The Right Perspectives

The Gospel of Mark records a telling story about Jesus’ perspectives in ministry. Even in the midst of tremendous need, Jesus tells his disciples that it is time to move on from one location to another. He reminds them that they must travel throughout the countryside and to other towns and villages.

The current population wants Jesus to localized and claim him as their own. Jesus refutes this desire and offers a larger perspective about the work he is up to.

Leaders today will face similar temptations. Getting stuck into work ruts, ignoring vision for the day-to-day mundane, the desire to be liked, or the inability to say no. Called and courageous leaders must resist all of these temptations.

4.) Personal Relationships

Two key markers are important to note in an examination of Jesus’ personal relationships.

First, there is the frustration of isolation. The elevation of the leader in the mind of the organization often leaves them with few (if any) close friends or trusted confidants. All relationships essentially become working relationships and lack a personal feel. Jesus builds a personal ministry with close confidants, not only seeking to train the disciples but to confide in them and relate to them as people. Jesus, in eating with his followers and in visiting their homes, shows that while he is here to accomplish a mission, people are the focus and deserve his best.

Second is Jesus’ investment in others. Jesus spent significant time investing in other people: his twelve disciples, a larger group of seventy-two followers, and the masses. Within each of these spheres, he invests in the well-being of others through mentoring, training and education.

What is often lost in the hectic pace of leadership is a commitment to invest, mentor, and train others. When tasks become more important than people and result more important than a process, leaders lose the opportunity for influence. To break free from this misaligned perspective, leaders must regain focus on investing time with people and bring them into further stages of development.

 

Need help or guidance? Schedule a free strategy session to help you in resisting burnout.

Setting the Stage

In the back of the lobby, I burst into tears. The conference was over, but that wasn’t why I was crying. Instead, I felt like I was alone. The conference itself was fantastic. High energy, excellent learning, great camaraderie. Yet somehow, I felt excluded. The conference was designed for church planters, and I wasn’t one. Instead, I was struggling to turn around an already established church. I had attended hoping to gain some insight and left disappointed. The message I received was, “Your job is too hard, too difficult, and too low of a success rate. Try something different instead.

That was my introduction to the world of burnout. It started me on a nearly decade long journey of trying to help people overcome it. It’s what led me to doctoral school and to start my coaching business. The reality of burnout among high performing leaders is what fuels me to get up and work every day. It’s beatable. It’s preventable. It’s avoidable.

Talk About Burnout

As it turns out, one of the easiest ways to break both the stigma and the devastating influences of burnout is to talk about it. In one interview I conducted with a mental health professional and professor, he said, “We talk about it. We talk about it a lot … 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.”

For him, the discussion of mental health and burnout is a necessary conversation. It’s the only way to stop it.

So let’s talk about it.

There are two primary foci that need to be addressed to create a longterm sustainable solution to burnout. One focus is the personal sphere and the second is the cultural dimension. It is this cultural dimension that is 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.”

Cultural fit is just as responsible for burnout as the personal sphere, and to ignore either one of these equations does harm to all those involved.  The responsibility for healthy leadership involves both the personal mandate for care and a cultural level of agreeability.

The trouble with burnout is that there is more than physical and task-related demands. Since all jobs carry a myriad of stressors, there are also the demands of time, spiritual resources, and availability. Contemporary leaders are expected to lead like a CEO, steward financial resources, care for their own physical bodies, maintain family responsibilities, invest in others, commit to overtime, manage the team, and produce tangible results.

The end result is extreme fatigue and burnout.

A Quick Tip Win

We can’t possibly hope to stop the burnout trend in a single blog post (or even a blog series). But I do hope to make a difference. (Quick side note: this is why I switched to the weekly posting schedule. We’re going to take a week to talk about this on my various social media platforms, so if you’re not following me in other places, now is a great time to do so):

Instagram Facebook  Twitter Podcast  YouTube  Mailing List

But, if you’re feeling that overwhelm set in and know that burnout is coming if you keep your current pace up, here are three quick things you can do to help fight against this.

1.) Learn to say “No” and be O.K. with it. Burnout happens when we are overcommitted. Say no to regain time and margin in your schedule.

2.) Go fly a kite. Or play cards. Nap. Read. Go for a job. The point is: find a hobby that you want to do just because it is enjoyable and then make time to do that as often as possible.

3.) Talk about it. Talk about burnout. Talk about your fear. Name it. Find a trusted person to confide it. Don’t let it consume you. If the way to overcome it is to talk about burnout, talk about it to anyone who will listen.

What advice would you give someone struggling with burnout? Leave a comment below!

Start With The Big Rocks

“I just can’t fit it all in!”

Those were the words my client told me over the phone.

Frustrated and agitated, he was lamenting the increasing toll his recent promotion was taking on him. The commutes were longer, the workdays were more exhausting, the stress was mounting.

“Was the pay increase really worth this?” he continued. “Sure, the pay is great, but what’s the point if I can’t enjoy it. Worse than that, I barely see my family anymore!”

Perhaps you can relate.

Maybe you’ve had one of the “crazy weeks.” (Wait…isn’t every week like that???)

My advice remains the same now as it was then: start with the big rocks.

Determine Your Big Rocks

I remember hearing of a study once that examined the student’s ability to properly fill an aquarium full of rocks. There were various sizes of rocks from tiny pebbles to larger foundational rocks.

As the story goes (at least as it was reported to me), the college students started dumping rocks, starting with the small one first to fill the bottom evenly.

By the time they got to the big rocks, not everything would fit.

In contrast to this, the kindergarten students started with the big rocks and everything looking messy. But, as they poured each successively smaller version of rocks in, they filled all the gaps.

The result? The college students “failed” the experiment by not fitting in all of their assigned rocks. In contrast to this, the kindergarten students passed because all of the rocks fit.

And while dozens of life lessons could be learned from this, this is why I push my clients to start with the big rocks.

When we start with the big rocks of life, we end up having room for everything. Work is undoubtedly an important part of life, but is it our biggest rock? Probably not. (At least it shouldn’t be…)

Family, self-care, personal growth, and close relationships are all things that should take up the foundation of who we are. Hobbies and work probably come next. Small rocks include the minor areas of life that take up some time but should never take too much.

As we gain clarity on what our big rocks are, we can easily see what is out of balance with our life pace.

Learning From My Kids

One of the things I’ve learned to implement is a lesson from my four children. If I leave the house and I hear, “Bye, dad! I can’t wait to see you later!” there is a good chance that things are going well. If, on the other hand, I hear, “Noooooo. Daddy, don’t go!” followed by weeping and gnashing of teeth, I know that my priorities for work are starting to take up too much time.

In those moments, I work diligently to reshape my schedule to spend more time with my family.

Thankfully, I’m getting better at this and starting to hear those sounds of disappointment less.

But it all starts with having clarity.

  • Clarity on the key values for my life.
  • Conviction on what matters most.
  • Commitment to live a life shaped by honoring my values more than worldly demands.

But I can only do that when I start with the big rocks.

Question For Discussion: What might be something you would say to someone struggling with work-life balance? Leave a comment below!

 

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