November 18, 2011

Essentials for Leaders

As leaders or influencers, as almost all of us are in some way, we face a daily barrage of tasks, requests, needs, responsibilities, burdens, planning, and concerns. The intersection of the day's needs with our physical, emotional, and spiritual limits often makes for complex challenges. Without healthy parameters and purposeful living, too many frazzled days strung together leads to our becoming leaders and influencers who can no longer lead or influence.
I think often about these things, searching for answers and striving for a healthy perspective in my own life. I've discovered that our culture and even our greater church culture works against the balance, rest, solitude, emotional health, and perspective that we all so desperately want and need. Here's how and how we must fight for proper perspective:

1. Tyranny of the Urgent vs. Prioritizing
The phone rings so we answer it. The light flashes, letting us know we received a new email, so we check it. A friend sent us a funny video so we watch it. The PTO needs a volunteer so we raise our hand. The DVR is full so we rush through shows we don't want to miss. We get lost in Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. The stack of books beside our bed is growing and we have started the first chapter of all of them. A friend is coming over to borrow something so feel the need to clean the parts of the house that they'll walk through. We have Bible study in a few hours so we rush through the study that we couldn't get to all week. Someone wants to meet for coffee so we cut time corners to make it happen.

Sound familiar? Because it does to me. And it is such a dissatisfying life to lead, when we're rushing around at full speed, accomplishing little and hardly relating to people. It's mindlessness.

To be a good leader, we must become women of few passions. We must become purposeful in everything, even the least little things. It takes a whole heck of a lot of discipline and work to actually figure out what (few) priorities we will keep and say no to all other things. (We must also be careful to name our priorities based on people and relationships and not simply tasks, otherwise we're missing the point entirely.) 

To help myself, I have prayed about my priorities, written them down, spoken them out loud to my husband and asked for his feedback, and read them weekly. I try to pray about my schedule and tasks for the day each morning and before I commit to anything. 

As I have really narrowed down my priorities, I have experienced feelings of guilt. I'm not doing enough. I am disappointing that person. No one will do it if I don't do it. I feel almost prideful and selfish that I guard my emotional and spiritual health. I tend to assume that serving God and others means that I'm giving every ounce of what I've got to other people or that a good leader does it all. 

That is false guilt. A good leader has few passions and pursues her few priorities with excellence. That kind of leader is in it for the long haul.

2. Activity vs. Solitude
Our church culture is like a cafeteria. We add more choices for people to pick and choose from rather than simplifying and streamlining. We want programs rather than doing the hard work of relationships and community. So the schedule fills up, people are rushing around, spinning plates, and what's it all for? Just to say that we do stuff?

Individually, I do the same thing. I still feel like the college student who felt like a loser if I stayed at home on a Friday night and got much needed rest instead of hanging out with a crowd. But there is a greater heart issue: I tend to believe that my activity is what makes me OK with God. I need activity to feel OK about myself, but I can never do enough activities to set my heart at complete rest.

But what I find is that when I make time for silence, solitude, rest, listening, being with people who give me life, and relating to others on a heart-level, I am filled up. I hear from God. I feel empowered for ministry. I see and love people more. I think solitude is one of the most essential pursuits for leaders and influencers.

(There are others, but I've already written about them: Pleasing Others vs. Pleasing God and, similarly, Listening to Expectations)

What do you think? As a leader, how do you maintain your priorities in the midst of the daily barrage of needs? How do you even determine your priorities?