I am increasingly convinced that keeping your heart strong spiritually and emotionally is a key to lasting and thriving in leadership. We all get into this because we feel called, but a lot of leaders (in the marketplace and in ministry) don’t make it long term because what was happening on the inside sabotaged what was happening on the outside.
Here are four paths I’ve observed that leaders take. The leaders I’m talking about all start well. They’ve got skills, gifting and a heart for what they do. But the end point is very different:
- Quitting. We end up on this path when the pressures of leadership, time management and spiritual development become so confused and overwhelming that we don’t know how to cope. So we quit. Unable to handle the demands of what we’re doing, we think there’s no option but to go do something less taxing, less demanding, less difficult, and ultimately, less fulfilling.
- Failing. Sometimes I wonder if the friends who go through a moral failure in leadership are those who ignored the warning signs of emotional, spiritual and even physical burnout long enough to find another way out beside quitting: they flamed out by having an affair, taking money that didn’t belong to them or otherwise compromising their integrity. I had one pastor tell me that having an affair was easier than quitting – it took less courage. Another has shared his thoughts so powerfully here (search ‘pastors and affairs’ on his blog).
- Staying. This path is perhaps the most tedious of all. Facing the same pressures all leaders face, leaders who simply stay in leadership have the perseverance and integrity not to quit or fail morally, but their hearts still take a beating. They’re the ones who see how tough it really is and disengage…they cruise through the last ten or twenty years of leadership on autopilot…taking the easy path. Their leadership outlasted their vision, their trust and their heart, and while still in charge, they stopped making an impact long ago.
- Thriving. This is a rare breed. This group of leaders faces the same pressures, temptations, and desire to disengage or seek an easier path as everyone else in leadership, but they are determined not only not to quit, but to keep their hearts fully engaged. They refuse to settle, and do the hard work of building and rebuilding their relationship with God, staying in relationship long term, forgiving enemies and deciding to trust and hope even after their trust has been broken. They see how hard life can be but decide to engage it fully alive anyway.
I can say at this point in leadership I think I understand why leaders quit, fail and even just stay. For moments, most have seemed appealing for different reasons. I used to think leaders thrived over the long haul because they didn’t have the same struggles or temptations other people do. I no longer believe that…I believe they thrive because they refuse to give into quitting, failure and staying. Instead, they are committed to rebuilding trust, relationship and hope again and again. Leaders who thrive in the long run experience life in all of its disappointment but refuse to disengage…instead they re-engage their hearts, minds and spirit as often as necessary.
What have you learned about these four paths? What has helped you stay fresh and alive in leadership over the years?