couple hugging

The only way you will reach your full potential is if you intentionally spend time fostering key relationships.

My wife and I have been married for fourteen years. Together, we have four amazing children. We met in college. Separated by a year, I had my eye on her stunning beauty even before she officially enrolled in the school.

You see, she stopped by on an official visit one week as a soon to be music major. She poked her head into the concert band I was a part of to check it out. I remember being captivated by her beauty the moment I laid my eyes on her. I even offered to help chaperone her around the campus for the weekend, but was told by the band director to go, “nowhere near her.”

Before long, she was at the school, I mustered up every ounce of courage I had, and attempted to talk to her. As an extraordinarily shy young person, I’m sure I was incoherent at best and downright possessed sounding at worst. But I had done it! I talked to the woman of my dreams.

From there, a blossoming friendship started, followed by dating, engagement, and marriage. Over the last fourteen years, we both completed our undergraduate degrees. I’ve also added a master’s and doctoral degree, started my own business, moved us from Kansas to California to Colorado and back to California. Every leg of our journey has been full of heartbreak and triumph, setbacks, and victory.

Building For Better

While I could write a book on how amazing she is, and the many ways she has sustained me in our years together, here is what is of most importance now: I truly believe that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be half as successful as I am without her by my side. Even as an introverted and fairly well-disciplined individual, I recognize and understand the necessity of vital and life-giving relationships.

It has been her unwavering belief and support in me that has gotten me through the darkest days of my life. It was her tenderness and compassion that got me through the most difficult work experience of my life. Surrounded and attacked by an unhealthy work environment, she got me through it and encouraged to keep pressing on. Feeling the weight of doctoral school and my growing thesis, it was Elise that reminded me what I had been called to do. Overwhelmed by personal failures and stuck in unhealthy mindsets, she encouraged me to change my thinking and alter my end destination in life. At every step of my journey, she has had the strength I lacked to keep me pushing on towards my goals.

Fostering Key Relationships By Sharing The Burden

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. This proverb gives us our final key insight into the Shift mindset: we must make this journey with other people. One big key to success is having someone else to share the burdens (and joys) of life with. In fact, research has shown that a lack of human interaction results in, “psychological and physical disintegration, and even death.” Anyone who faced the massive work from home transition during 2020 no doubt felt the reality of that.

During the COVID quarantine of 2020, my wife’s grandmother had to change skilled nursing facilities when one shut down. She was moved over the course of the weekend but then forced to self-isolate for two weeks because of the threat of the virus. When family checks on her two weeks later, this healthy and robust woman was near death.

What happened?

After she was moved in, there was no social interaction. Additionally, the staff couldn’t interact with her outside of handing her food at her door because of the quarantine. In their haste to get her isolated, the facility neglwedding bandsected to hook up her television or hang pictures on the wall. Her furniture was not set up in a conducive manner for her new room, making it difficult for her to use the restroom. She was socially isolated with no physical interaction of any kind for two weeks and found it physically difficult to move about in her own home for basic human needs!

No wonder the end of the two weeks found her near death. We immediately started preparing for the worst. Several family members took time off to be with her, in what we thought were going to be her last days. They set up her phone, television, and artwork. They gave her fresh meals, rearranged her furniture, and took her on walks. In less than a week, she regained her strength, physical abilities, and desire to live. That’s the power of human interaction with other people.

Finding,Building, and Fostering Key Relationships

I’ve recently become a fan of examining ancient cultures. What can they teach us about our modern society and ways to improve or existence? One of those areas of study has been the ancient Spartans. A formidable fighting force, their battles are legendary. These men, from age seven on, trained to do one thing: fight for Sparta. They ate together. Trained together. Went to school together. Slept together. Hunted together. The reason they were so good is that they knew their partners and those beside them in battle so well. It was built into their training.

Similarly, a sister city, that of Athens, developed a similar policy. However, as the Spartans focused on war and battle, the Athenians focused on government and society. In her book on ancient civilizations, Susan Bauer recounts how Athenians ate together frequently. It was not just expected and encouraged, it was demanded. They even had a policy in place that should you decide to eat by yourself before the community meal, you were to be ridiculed.

Ancient peoples knew, whether, through political necessity or societal continuity, that relationship mattered. In our digital world, much of this has been lost. As a society, we are increasingly comfortable in digital interaction. As a result, physical relationships have become an art. In spite of this waining of personal-physical relationships, they are still vital and necessary. Your success will always be limited if you don’t have others in your corner working alongside you. If you’re looking to build or deepen those significant relationships, here are three keys to success.

1.) Affinity. couple hugging

The easiest place to start and build the necessary relationships to sustain success is through affinity. Find like-minded people who are traveling the same journey. This is one reason I hold master-mind groups. These hour-long group coaching sessions pair people of similar professions and experience together for group coaching and accountability. While mine typically revolves around business owners, health professionals, and leadership development specialists, masterminds exist in all fields.

You can also plug into local networking groups. Many times these are less formal, less expensive, and provide another benefit. In addition to networking with like-minded individuals that can encourage and support you, you’re also expanding your network and potential client base. Your new clients are not only those in your particular group but all of their contacts as well.

Friends also fall into this category. Find another friend with an entrepreneurial spirit and hold weekly accountability. The financial investment in these is free, but it’s still a highly motivating factor. Schedule a thirty-minute session with each person getting fifteen minutes to share. In your fifteen, share the following: what your goals were for the week prior, how they went, what your new goals for the week are, and the consequences of not completing them. These consequences could either take many forms. On the grand scale, there could be the realization that if you don’t take action, you never will, and this business idea will die inside of you. At times, you may also need to make the consequences more practical and agree to by your friend’s lunch at the next meeting if you don’t accomplish everything on your list.

2.) Diversity.

Once you have your foot in the door with an affinity relationship, the next level is a diverse one. This is one far too many people miss. We’re so used to seeing like-minded people that we fail to see anyone different than us.

This is detrimental to your personal development. Ironically, after years of researching and writing on burnout, I decided not to write about burnout for my thesis. At least not directly. Instead, some of the job changes I was experiencing at the time caused me to shift my focus to this issue of diversity. I examined how a diverse culture affects community engagement and reception. Whether you want to look at churches, non-profit organizations, or business culture one thing across all spectrums of research is clear: the more diverse the team, the better they perform, the better they provide better user experience, and the final product is better in every way. In short, here is my 180-page thesis: if you want to make a lasting impact seek diversity.

Diversity can have many factors to it. Race, religion, gender, educational background, and socio-economics are only a few. The more diversity you can bring in to your immediate sphere, the better you will be. This happens, because each person is better able to help show you your blind spots. If you assemble a team that looks and thinks just like you, you will potentially end up with a phenomenal product …. for no one but yourself. Instead, diversity allows different participants to share their points of view and create a stronger end product. Intentionally seek out a diverse team and ask them to point out ways for you to grow. You’d be surprised how much they point out, and how quickly you can make those changes.

3.) A Level Above.

The third area for those key relationships is what I call the “leveled up” relationships. These are people who in your eyes have leveled up beyond where you currently are.

Think about it. Do you want to take relationship advice from your uncle who has been divorced four times or from someone who has been happily married for fifty years?

Do you want investment advice from your broke friend who sleeps on their parent’s couch or from a millionaire?

Once you’ve identified areas for personal growth or new habits you want to make, finding those relationships can start with looking for those that have already leveled up in that particular area.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book SHIFT. To receive a complimentary pre-release copy go here.

Prefer video lecutures? I’ve got you covered there too! SHIFT is available (with additional material) as my Elite Mental Academy. Sign up for my newsletter to receive special pre-release pricing and bonus offers.

Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

Spiritual and Emotional Health in Leaders

The spiritual and emotional health of leaders is a necessary component of holistic health. 

We’re in the middle of a series on leadership health. Want to catch up? Part 1 is here.

Spiritual Health

Healthy leaders engage in ancient practices of development, often called spiritual disciplines. Times of quiet reflection, meditation, prayer, rest, and community discernment are a few examples.

An example of leadership spiritual growth is a hobby. Hobbies are those life-giving activities that serve as a reflection of our unique personality. Hunting, fishing, reading, flying drones, calligraphy. 

Need help? I did. Go here. Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

In fact, I found that is often the case for high performing leaders. Engrossed in work and personal development (for the sake of further accomplishment), high performing leaders have a hard time unplugging and engaging in activities with no real goal or purpose other than enjoyment.

I’ve used comments like, “I have fun when I’m winning.” That’s enormously frustrating to people who are playing to have fun. (And vice versa).

Other similar phrases include:

  • I don’t know what to do with downtime.
  • I’m not bringing too much work with me, I’m on vacation.
  • My hobbies include winning and getting better.

(I may or may not have said all of these….) 😬

But spiritual health is rooted in calling and it is about the full development of a person’s humanity. Below, is a partial list of spiritual practices and disciplines to help you grow.

Practices for Spiritual Development:

  • Prayer
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Scripture Reading
  • Gratitude and Thankfulness
  • Fasting
  • Sabbath Rest
  • Singing
  • Silence
  • Solitude

Have others? Leave a comment and let others know how to grow in spiritual health.

Emotional Health in leaders

Emotional health is the next step to fruitful and productive leadership. In my experience, this is the most neglected area of health. The emotional health of a person sits in the unique field of being almost completely internal in nature through past experiences, while also being almost completely externally visible through actions, perceptions, and relationships.

Peter Scazzeo notes the concerns of emotional health:

Emotional health is concerned with such things as: naming, recognizing, and managing our own feelings identifying and having active compassion for others initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships breaking free from self-destructive patterns being aware of how our past impacts our present developing the capacity to clearly express our thoughts and feelings respecting and loving others without having to change them clearly, directly, and respectfully asking for what we need, want, or prefer accurately assessing our own strengths, limits, and weaknesses, and freely sharing them with others developing the capacity to maturely resolve.

For the emotionally healthy leader, effective emotional health requires a previous recognition and engagement with the emotional traps, snares, and shortcomings at earlier stages of life. Family dynamics, addiction triggers, and shortcomings all need to be worked through and reflected upon.

But it is important to remember that emotional health may start internal, but presents external.

Snappy comebacks.

Biting remarks.  Leadership Blocks

Constant criticism.

These are a few outward signs that something is wrong internally. Healthy leaders, by contrast, are generous. With their praise, with their affirmation, with their encouragement and desire to see others succeed and grow.

Because this is such an important topic, we are going to examine how to grow in emotional health and intelligence next week.

For now, take this test if you want to know where you’re overall health is.

 

Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

I learned the necessity of emotional intelligence like a child learning to walk. There was lots of hand-holding, many more tremendous crashes (often public),  and more than a few bumps and bruises. 

The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is like playing the piano. The greater the range, the greater the player.

As a pianist, my musical accomplishment is limited to chopsticks. On a good day, I might be able to find middle C.

For my wife, after some tinkering, she can learn to play fairly complex songs. She can tune her guitar, sing along as she plays, and is good enough to teach our children.

A world-class pianist can play amazing complex songs. The piano seems to come alive in their hands. Every technique is mastered. Each hammering of the kBlog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2eys is intentional. Everything ringing with a divine sound. 

Emotional Intelligence works the same way. Emotionally immature people have a very limited range of keys to play from. Usually, they are the basic emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. A situation arises, and their keystrokes are limited. Everything triggers them to respond in simplistic ways. 

I knew a man like this once. Though physically mature, the emotional range was limited. Within a split-second, he could go from happiness to anger. Worse than that (as someone who claimed to be a leader), there was little desire to change.

“I’m just this way. I’ve always been this way, I’ll always be this way. “

This limiting belief and limited emotional capacity will limit his leadership capacity.

Expanding The Emotional Range

Expanding emotional range happens with practice. Like each new key on the keyboard that a pianist can play, emotional range equips the leader for more situations.

Think of a strong emotion like anger. Those with limited emotional capacity experience lots of anger. The lack of self-awareness leads to them repeatedly pounding the same key over and over again.

They get cut off in traffic and are angry.

The restaurant takes too long to cook their food and they are angry.

Their child leaves their shoes in the middle of the floor and they are angry.

They are passed over for a promotion and are angry.

Their favorite team loses in the championship game and they are angry.

Bothered by the amount of trash in the local park, they are angry.

Like a new piano player, they keep hitting the same note. Always angry, always looking for a reason to explode, always at the ready to let everyone know how they feel.

In contrast to this, there are ranges of anger: annoyance, frustration, furious, exasperated, and bitter are a few examples. Each is a different key to more adequately express the current emotion.

Do your child’s shoes in the middle of the floor really make you angry or are you annoyed because you tripped over them?

Does the missed promotion make you exasperated because you worked hard and thought you earned it?

The more keys that are available to us as leaders, the better we can navigate the situations around us.

Continual Growth

The thing about leadership is that it is never a finished journey. New experiences and new insights lead to new emotional experiences.

This means new words.

New emotional keys we get to play.

And our viewpoint determines our destination.

Are these obstacles, or opportunities?

Join us next week as we continue our look at the seven areas of leadership health.

 

Looking to grow your Emotional Intelligence? Take the Test.

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):

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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!