Category Archives: Burnout

Fighting Fatigue in Leadership

fatigueNapoleon said it best: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”*  When we get worn down, we are less optimistic, less creative, less willing to take risks and do hard things — all of which are required for good leadership. For years I have been thinking about – in my own life and for the people I coach – sustainable leadership.

How can I live my life as a leader in a way that is sustainable? How can I expand my influence without shrinking my soul?

Tony Schwartz has a great article on the Harvard Business review on this theme. It’s written for CEO’s and other business leaders, but the points he makes are applicable to non-profit and church settings as well. He starts out by Continue reading Fighting Fatigue in Leadership

On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of two churches, I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith. I think it is rare that anyone Continue reading On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

New study suggests that loneliness may be contagious

Loneliness is an important issue – and personal challenge – for many leaders and the people they are leading. For this reason, I was especially interested in the results of a recent study on the topic. What follows are highlights from a recent article about the study.

A new study suggests that feelings of loneliness can spread through social networks like the common cold.

“People on the edge of the network spread their loneliness to others and then cut their ties,” says Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School in Boston, a coauthor of the new study in the December Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “It’s like the edge of a sweater: You start pulling at it and it unravels the network.”

This study is the latest in a series that Christakis and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego have conducted to see how habits and feelings move through social networks. Their earlier studies suggested that obesity, smoking and happiness are contagious. The new study, led by John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, found that loneliness is catching as well, possibly because lonely people don’t trust their connections and foster that mistrust in others.

Christakis and Fowler examined data from a long-term health study based in Framingham, Mass., a small town where many of the study’s participants knew each other. The Framingham study followed thousands of people over 60 years, keeping track of physical and mental heath, habits and diet.

From this information, Christakis and Fowler reconstructed the social network of Framingham, including more than 12,000 ties between 5,124 people (see diagram below). The researchers plotted how reported loneliness, measured via a diagnostic test for depression, changed over time.

Feeling lonely doesn’t mean you have no connections, Cacioppo says. It only means those connections aren’t satisfying enough. Loneliness can start as a sense that the world is hostile, which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Loneliness causes people to be alert for social threats,” Cacioppo says. “You engage in more self-protective behavior, which is paradoxically self-defeating.” Lonely people can become standoffish and eventually withdraw from their social networks, leaving their former friends less well-connected and more likely to mistrust the world themselves.

Other insights about loneliness from the study:

  • It appears to be easier to catch from friends than from family
  • It appears to spread more among women than men
  • It is most contagious among neighbors who live within a mile of each other.
  • It can spread to three degrees of separation, as in the studies of obesity, smoking and happiness.
  • One lonely friend makes you 40 to 65 percent more likely to be lonely, but a lonely friend-of-a-friend increases your chances of loneliness by 14 to 36 percent
  • A friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend adds between 6 and 26 percent

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The image at left is a graphical representation of the social network of Framingham, Mass. It shows lonely people clustering at the periphery of the network. Each point represents a person (greater loneliness from yellow to green to blue) and lines between points indicate types of relationships (red for siblings and black for friends and spouses).

Facing our love / hate experience with God

I am increasingly convinced that spiritual inauthenticity is a major roadblock for many Christians in general, and especially Christian leaders. When we try to convince ourselves to believe something we don’t really believe, or when we struggle with thoughts and feelings about God that we “shouldn’t have,” we get stuck. There are no easy answers here, but I believe it is essential to face our questions, doubts, and jumble of feelings about God in an honest way if our leadership is going to be sustainable. I see this as an important issue for Christians in recovery, and have posted this on the sexual-sanity.com blog as well … but I want to include it here too. In my work I’m seeing too many pastors who are unwilling to face their questions, doubts, and frustrations.

To that end, I want to share an article written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder of Committed to Freedom, an organization that helps “provide people with spiritual tools to move beyond abuse.” People who are dealing with the aftermath of abuse face many deep spiritual challenges. This article will hopefully help leaders identify with them. But I don’t think that the spiritual challenges Sally talks about are limited to abuse survivors.

This article was sent in a newsletter, and I’m quoting it in its entirety, because I don’t know where I can link to. It’s worth reading.

This is an article about honesty . . . and honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with God. I’ve been on the up and down roller coaster of belief and doubt, righteousness and debauchery, faithfulness and apostasy. I know that’s disturbing to a lot of people, but God gets that completely . . . gets me completely. Gets you completely too.

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t have many answers, especially when it comes to God. Honestly, the ministry of Committed to Freedom began because of my own spiritual search for answers to questions that really have no good answers. The dilemma for anyone who has experienced trauma or suffering is to have co-existing contradictions. God is love. Suffering is real. God has the capacity to create. Trauma has the capacity to destroy. The idea of God being powerful and one who intervenes in the circumstances of our lives held up in contrast to unanswered prayer, vulnerable people being abused and exploited, or diseases that progress, ravage, and destroy. Like I said: love/hate.

Continue reading Facing our love / hate experience with God

How to create a leadership development strategy

For the past three and half years I have been in a new role – conducting workshops and coaching pastors and men in recovery – and outside of the senior pastor leadership role, I’ve found myself reflecting on some of the challenges pastors face. One of the most striking things I notice is that churches have huge needs for competent – and usually volunteer – leaders to carry projects forward. Therefore, healthy, growing churches need to be leadership development machines.

I just ran across an article on this subject by Dan McCarthy, a business consultant. I found it interesting, and it brought up a few thoughts and ideas for what churches need to do. I’m going to insert some of its content here, with comments by me in [brackets and italics]. Hope you find something helpful here.

1. Identify the organization’s challenges and goals.

The difference between strategic leadership development and managing a bunch of programs and processes is the extent to which everything is tightly linked to the organization’s mission and strategy. It’s a connect-the-dots exercise.

[The article is focused on what an outside consultant can do, rather than what you as the leader can do. It suggests meeting with the CEO and key leaders to find out more about the organization’s needs. In some ways, this is something you already have in your head as a pastor, but it may also help – if you’re establishing a specific, written out “Leadership Development Strategy” to make this a formal part of the process, involving other key leaders in the church.] Here are some good questions to ask:

– What’s the biggest challenge facing this company in the next 3-5 years?

– What keeps you up at night? (although this question is starting to get a bit overused)

– Given these challenges, what new leadership & management competencies do you see as becoming more important? How would you assess our incumbent managers against these competencies?

2. Identify the implications for leadership development.

There’s a lot of ways to get at this, but the fundamental question is – “How does business objective “A” influence how we need to go about developing our leaders? What new skills are required?” A simple example would be a company that is expected to double it’s growth in the next five years by expanding product line “B” globally. Obvious implications for leadership development include the need to develop and implement global leadership development processes and develop new global leadership competencies for product line B’s general managers. It’s not always that easy, so that’s where some healthy discussion and debate can help tease out the implications.

[Of course one of the greatest challenges for leadership development in church settings is the limitations of time and the fact that we’re working with volunteers who have many other priorities. I also think that an essential skill for leaders at all levels in church settings is conflict management. Churches often get bogged down in petty conflicts, and it would be helpful for all churches to have regular teaching about how to deal with conflict constructively.]

3. Create a leadership development vision and mission.

A vision statement is an aspirational description of what the team would like to achieve or accomplish in the future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action. Having a clear vision can give a team direction and inspiration, and be the foundation for goal setting and action planning.

A mission statement describes what you do, for who, and how. It puts a boundary around your team’s activities and helps guide their day-to-day direction.

Here’s an example: “Our vision is to have a leadership pipeline that is stuffed with “A” caliber leaders at every level of the organization. Our mission is to develop great leaders.”

[If you are a pastor today, and have gone through any kind of training about leadership, you are likely VERY familiar with the mechanics of establishing mission and vision statements. The key insight here is that you have an agreed-upon and written-out mission and vision for leadership development within your church.]

4. Create a list of 3-5 year leadership development goals.

This short, focused list of long term goals address the implications and goals identified in steps 1&2, and support the team’s vision and mission. An example of a 3-5 year goal would be “Create a process to identify and develop global competencies in our product line B division’s general managers”.

5. Develop measures and action plans for each goal.

The creation and tracking of a handful of critical metrics is one of the most important and often neglected components of a leadership development strategy. It’s hard, but not impossible.

[This is a key component that separates churches and non-profits from for profit businesses. Businesses are much more rigorous about establishing measures and tracking them.]

6. Create a leadership competency model.

The same process used to identity implications and goals can be used to create a strategic leadership competency model. This model can be used as a way to align all of your leadership development processes and programs.

[I must confess that I’m not sure about this point. McCarthy has a link to another article about developing leadership competency models. It seems to me that this creates an unneccessary level of complexity to the process, but maybe that’s just me.]

7. Review with key stakeholders to verify and modify.

[Once again, this step is based on the assumption that you are coming in as an outside consultant. If you are the leader of the organization, you would replace this step with ongoing evaluation of the implementation of the program.]

How vulnerable should leaders be?

How vulnerable should leaders be? Should we cover or reveal our weaknesses? Should we put on a brave and confident face, even if we aren’t brave or confident? Or should we be open about our struggles and doubts? Of course the answer isn’t found in one extreme or the other … it’s somewhere in the middle.

Leaders often feel the desire – and sometimes even pressure – to make themselves look better than they really are. Many leaders struggle to let their guard down, and in the process alienate people, and set themselves up for burnout or flameout when it comes to light that they are not living congruently.

Don Miller has a great article on his blog about this topic. Here are a few excerpts:

Christian leaders who can’t admit their mistakes place a wall between their congregation and God, rather than a window. They paint an image of Christ on themselves, as they feel this is their job. People like the painting of Jesus they see on the wall, but in the end, the painting isn’t the real thing, and so Jesus just gets distorted.

A person who cannot admit their faults is afraid, is insecure, and leads from the belief that if they make a mistake, nobody will follow them. A confident person would admit mistakes freely, because they really don’t need you or I to approve, they would get that from Jesus, and they’d teach us to get it from Jesus too. Instead, they teach us that they do not make mistakes, and so they are selfish.

Nobody in scripture is perfect, save Christ. And God has no trouble airing the dirty laundry of his followers. Peter denies Christ, but God leaves the incident in the text, Moses is a murderer, but God leaves the story in the text, David cheats on his wife, Lot offers his daughters, Thomas won’t believe his friends who saw Christ alive, and so on and so on. There are few good marriages in the Bible, and fewer good fathers. Throughout the ages, Christians have been more than comfortable admitting their humanity, almost as a reference to God’s goodness. Until, that is, western civilization and, perhaps, the commercialization of our culture. Now Jesus is a product, and we sell him, and if we are selling a product, the product better work, so we just make things up about how great we are.

I’ve noticed healthy children often have parents who sit down with them and explain their short-comings. A parents admission that they weren’t perfect frees the child to learn from their parents mistakes rather than cover up or react to family issues. But parents who, in neediness and selfishness, will not admit fault, in an effort to control their children, often have children who feel they cannot be safe with their parents, and sometimes react. Authenticity works in all forms of leadership, I think.

How to take back your power in relationships – set deadlines

People who feel victimized or mistreated in relationships struggle to know when and how to draw the line. We want to give people second chances … but what about fifth or sixth chances? Fiftieth or sixtieth chances?

I know that Jesus said we should forgive people not just seven times, but “seventy times seven” times. But forgiving people multiple times does not imply remaining in the same kind of relationship. If my “friend” ignores or mistreats me again and again, I can forgive him, but that doesn’t mean I will continue to engage with him as if he’s still my friend. At some point, I have to acknowledge the reality that he: (a) doesn’t like or respect me, or (b) isn’t trustworthy … and decide to relate differently to him.

This is important for leaders, especially pastors, who feel pressure to be nice and friendly to stakeholders, often at the expense of their own emotional well-being. This is part of the price of leadership. Part of us wants to tell the other person to get lost (or worse), but we restrain ourselves for the sake of the mission and/or the organization. It’s okay to do that, as long as you know what you are doing, and why you’re doing it. But when it becomes a pattern (being the nice guy and pleasing people) it can come back to hurt you and the organization.

Melodie Beattie has a great meditation in her book “The Language of Letting Go” on this subject. She points out the wisdom in setting deadlines for ourselves. We don’t need to let other people know about these deadlines, and they don’t need to be set in stone. But deadlines can help us take back our power, and stop feeling like victims. This meditation is so good, I want to share the full version with you. Enjoy:

I don’t know whether I want in or out of this relationship. I’ve been struggling with it for months now. It’s not appropriate to let it hang indefinitely. I will give myself two months to make a decision.
—Anonymous

Sometimes, it helps to set a deadline.

This can be true when we face unsolved problems, are struggling with a tough decision, have been sitting on the fence for a while, or have been floundering in confusion about a particular issue for a time.

That does not mean a deadline is written in stone. It means that we are establishing a time frame to help ourselves not feel so helpless and to help bring a solution into focus. Setting deadlines can free our energy to set the problem or issue aside, to let go, and allow the universe, our Higher Power, and ourselves to begin to move toward a solution.

We don’t always need to tell people we’ve got a deadline. Sometimes, it’s better to be silent, or else they may feel we are trying to control them and may rebel against our deadline. Sometimes, it is appropriate to share our deadlines with others.

Deadlines are primarily a tool to help ourselves. They need to be reasonable and appropriate to each individual situation. Used properly, deadlines can be a beneficial tool to help us get through difficult problems and situations without feeling trapped and helpless. They can help us let go of worrying and obsessing, so we can focus our energies in more constructive directions. Setting a deadline can help move us out of that uncomfortable spot of feeling victimized by a person or a problem we can’t solve.

Deadlines can help us detach and move forward.

Today, I will consider whether a deadline might be helpful in some areas in my life. I claim Divine Wisdom and Guidance in setting appropriate deadlines for any problems or relationship issues that may be lingering.

Too many interruptions: more serious than it sounds

Just read a fascinating post in the wiredscience blog with the provocative title: Digital overload is frying our brains. It’s worth a look, in spite of the creepy photo-shopped picture they lead with. Let me start with en extended quote:

“Paying attention isn’t a simple act of self-discipline, but a cognitive ability with deep neurobiological roots — and these roots, says Maggie Jackson, are in danger of dying.

“In Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, Jackson explores the effects of “our high-speed, overloaded, split-focus and even cybercentric society” on attention. It’s not a pretty picture: a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets is part of an institutionalized culture of interruption, and makes it hard to concentrate and think creatively.”

So begins the blog post, which is mostly an interview with Jackson. The question of attention and focus has become increasingly important, as technologies proliferate that allow us to be interrupted. Jackson says that information workers now switch tasks an average of three minutes throughout the day. This is a problem for pastors … it’s hard to write a sermon in three minute chunks!

Another fascinating connection here: continual interruption is correlated with stress, which is an epidemic today. Jackson again:

“This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you’re scattered and diffuse, you’re less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it’s hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking….Interruptions are correlated with stress, and a cascade of stress hormones accompany that state of being. Stress, frustration and lowered creativity are pretty toxic.”

Give the article a quick read. If you don’t get interrupted first.

The danger of pedestals

Someone just forwarded me a meditation from Today, a family-oriented recovery meditation book from Hazelden. It contains great reminders about the importance of letting people be who they are, and not putting them on pedestals. Read on, as I’ll quote the meditation:

Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.
–Madeleine L’Engle

Sometimes we expect far too much of the people around us, and because no one can ever live up to those expectations, we are almost always disappointed. But wouldn’t it be better if we just let go, and let people be who they are? Then we’d be able to see them as they are – with all their beauty and goodness in which we take joy, and with all their faults, which we can also see in ourselves.

When we have put someone up on a pedestal, sculpturing them to fit our needs and desires by smoothing out the rough edges and creating new curves here and there, we cannot see the real person underneath our work. All we see is the illusion we have created. That is denying the person’s real identity and is disrespectful. It’s much better for our friends and for ourselves if we drop our expectations and illusions, and accept them all just the way they are.

What unfair expectations do I have of others?

One of the greatest challenges for leaders – especially pastors – is that people bring into their relationships with us a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They want to see us in a good light, because this affirms their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith.

Continue reading The danger of pedestals

Facing Times of Stress and Change

Times of stress and change can present great opportunities for ministry, but also create great challenges. And what else can you say about the tough times we’re living in now, with our economic woes and fears of job losses? With every news headline sounding more alarming than the last, and doomsayers coming out of the woodwork, I was encouraged by a letter forwarded to me by consultant and speaker Alan Zimmerman. I’m going to quote him at length here, as there are some good reminders for all of us here.

I’ve been speaking on change for a long time…but there’s a new twist to the program. A lot of you are asking me how you can survive this brutal, unfair economic change that has been thrust upon us by other people’s stupidity. You are asking me to emphasize those resiliency strategies in my programs. So let me give you a few of those tips right now.

1. Doubt the doomsayers

And there are a lot of them out there. Perhaps you’ve seen the e-mail floating around the Internet that says little has changed for the better since 1980. It reported that 80% of the world’s people still live in substandard housing; 70% are unable to read, and 50% suffer from malnutrition.

Well that e-mail intrigued author Philip Yancey who wrote “Fearfully And Wonderfully Made.” He spent a great deal of time tracking down the statistics from authoritative sources … only to find out that e-mail is downright wrong. In fact, the world has made major strides in the last 30 years.

Continue reading Facing Times of Stress and Change