Some people are hard to lead. When I started my first official job on a church staff, I inherited a team of people who had a true passion to invest in middle school students. Some of these team members were dynamic communicators. Some were great small group leaders. Some were amazing event planners. Everyone had a unique passion and gift mix, and we all uniquely contributed to investing in the next generation. Along the way, we picked up a few leaders who were quite challenging to lead. You likely understand what I am referring to. There was the guy who knew more than I knew and wanted to be the leader. There was the person who was stuck at the maturity level of a seventh grader, but he was thirty-seven. There were good intentioned people who would show up for one out of three meetings. These people were challenging to lead.
However, the most challenging person for me to lead, and I will give you his name, is me—Jack Warren. It’s not that I am a poor team member. It’s just that leading ourselves well over time is the greatest challenge for most of us. It is relatively easy to create a vision, establish core values for an organization, create strategies, hire good people, track results, etc. It’s much more difficult to keep our egos in check, practice self-control, address our blind spots, and consistently engage in practices that keep us living in healthy rhythms.
We can all likely name a handful of leaders that we have looked up to who were amazing at leading businesses, organizations, ministries, or churches but didn’t lead themselves well. Many of these leaders had to step away from their leadership role to pay better attention to themselves. Working on ourselves might seem selfish, but it is the most productive work we can do.
In his book Didn’t See It Coming, Carey Nieuwhof writes, “The time you spend working on your character is an investment in yourself and in the people who matter most to you.” Let me suggest three ways we can pay close attention to ourselves and lead ourselves well.
It Is All About Connection
- Stay Closely Connected to a Few People!
Isolation is the killer of good health, yet it is what we are drawn to when we feel hurt or misunderstood. It is easier to retreat from frustration than it is to resolve it. However, retreating and staying isolated hinders growth and healing. We are made for connection, deep connection, but our pride and shame can drive us into a habit of isolation. God shows up through people, so let’s lead ourselves well by staying consistently connected relationally to a few close friends. Let’s schedule time for this and guard these times as the most important appointments in our week.
- Stay Connected to You!
John Townsend, co-author of Boundaries, says that there are 22 relational needs that we can have (more to come on this in a future post). Most of us are usually aware of a few of these needs, but part of leading ourselves well is learning to specifically identify what we need and create a plan to address them. We may need empathy, advice, containment, perspective, or exhortation. As we become more aware of our own needs, we can attend to those needs and be in a much better place to lead and serve others. We also must learn to pay close attention to our bodies. Stress and fatigue will be picked up by our bodies and will give us some warning signs. Paying attention to those signs are critical to self-leadership.
- Stay Connected to God!
God does show up through people, but God also connects with us through His Spirit, and this is a vital connection. Scripture is one of the primary ways that God has promised to use in our lives, and there are so many ways to connect with God’s spirit and His word. For some of us, journaling helps us do this. For others, a quiet walk or hike helps us do this. Some people enjoy listening and interacting with God while sitting in a noisy crowded restaurant, while others prefer the solitude of a quiet prayer room. There are so many ways to connect with God (Prayer, written prayers, gratitude journaling, listening to music, singing, listening to podcasts/sermons, hiking, scripture meditation, silence, and many more). When we find some practices that resonate with us, we can connect with God, express our heart to Him, and listen to His heart for us.
Two Cautions About Connection
- Don’t Settle for Social Media Connections Alone!
I have several hundred Facebook friends. They are great people. I care about my followers on Twitter, Instagram, and Linked In. These are beneficial and helpful, but there is a nuanced difference between these types of connections and my face to face, soul to soul interactions. I have a sense of connection with those who follow this blog and read it, but I would miss out on deep connection if I depended on these connections as my primary human connections.
There is power in face to face human connection. Facial expressions, body language, tone changes, and eye contact, and touch are all part of effective connection.
- Keep your Connections Healthy!
Our longing for connection can take us into some unhealthy places if we don’t put some boundaries in place. I am not one who likes to make hard and fast rules that create legalistic standards that we use pridefully, but we need some hard and fast boundaries to keep us in a healthy place. When we are disconnected from close friends, ourselves, or God, we will usually find ways to connect in some unhealthy ways (a bad habit, abuse, an addiction, an affair, etc.). We are going to create connections somewhere because we have been designed for connection. We crave it. Let me suggest a simple practice to help us keep our connections healthy: no secrets. Give your spouse and close friends visibility to your life and ask them when you sense a questionable connection. We need this practice of transparency and the perspective of others close to us to serve as a sounding board to help us keep our connections healthy.