A leader, in my books, is anyone who guides the thoughts, beliefs and actions of another through relationships. You work out where you and your team need to head, you make a plan and empower those around you to achieve the plan. Along the way, you go first and pour yourself out for the team, watching out for them as often as you do the destination.
But who takes care of your own soul?
Leadership is a stressful occupation. Most leaders I talk to are feeling frayed at the edges, with the pressure of leading a ministry or an organisation doing a number on their passion and drive. You work hard, long hours. You are always trying to guard your heart from the latest discouragement or disappointment, but some things slip through. You're so busy caring and thinking about other people that you forget to care about yourself.
If you sat down and asked Christian leaders to write down how:
- They care for themselves mentally and emotionally?
- They care for their walk with God?
- Often they care for themselves?
I would dare say that they themselves would not be happy with what they wrote down. As a group, we aren't great at taking care of ourselves. What would you say?
A recent survey of American pastors was pretty discouraging reading:
- 90% stated that they are fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and daily basis.
- 77% felt that they did not have a good marriage.
- 75% felt unqualified and unequipped to lead and manage the church or to counsel others.
- 71% stated that they were burnt out, and battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even daily basis.
- Only 26% said they had regular devotions and felt fed spiritually.
Last night, I sat down with my wife and just said: I am overwhelmed and out of time. I don't feel like I am doing anything well at the moment, and feel worn down. Now, I've bounced back today after getting some decent rest and debriefing with my wife, but the truth is, I need to learn how to lead myself better.
How can leaders, 'lead' themselves?
Leadership author, Dan Goleman, who wrote the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, spent time analysing why some high-potential leaders succeed when other high-potential leaders fail.
The difference maker between leaders who lead others well and those who lead others poorly comes down to how they lead themselves. He called it emotional self-control.
Even Jesus, the ultimate leader, had a pattern of intense ministry followed by time set aside for reflection, prayer and solitude. This didn't just happen once, but time and time again. Jesus practised the art of leading yourself. Jesus invested regularly in walking with God, keeping his calling clear, avoiding burnout and keeping temptation at bay.
The challenge as a leader is clear: If we want to go where God is calling us, we need to lead ourselves.Leaders are no good to the people they lead if they spend the majority of their time feeling empty, discouraged and spiritually dry. We need to care for our own walk and our own emotional state if we want to lead others.
How do you start leading yourself?
Carey Nieuwhof, an excellent pastor and writer, has created an excellent list of 10 healthy options to start leading yourself better. This list is a great start to leading yourself better.
Nieuwhof's list includes setting aside time to spend with God, time to spend with family, and time to spend with close friends. He also stresses the importance of healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Nieuwhof encourages leaders to intentionally schedule margin in their calendar and finances to allow for room to be generous.
I would add to this list—if you are in the middle of depression or burnout it is unlikely to be as easy as reading your bible more, or getting some exercise. Seek some professional help, talk to someone and be honest with where you are at. Don't try and do it alone, even leading yourself well is not a cure for depression.
This continuous and sustainable lifestyle will help protect leaders from burnout and set them up to lead well. Over the next couple of weeks and months, I'm going to commit to taking care of myself and leading myself better.
If you've been challenged, or feel tired, exhausted and spiritually dry then you should take up the challenge with me. Leave a comment, send out a tweet or share it with your friends.
Jimmy Young is a writer and youth pastor from Melbourne who loves the church and youth ministry. This article originally appeared on his personal website, The Radical Change
Jimmy Young's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jimmy-young.html