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5 Things That Are NOT A Badge of Honor in Leadership

Find yourself busy? A little overwhelmed?

You’re not alone. Especially in leadership.

I made a lot of mistakes in how I handled my workload as a young leader in charge of three small but rapidly growing churches.

Like many people, I assumed that the only way to handle a growing organization was to work more hours. The flawed logic went something like this: the larger our church became, the harder and longer I had to work.

The challenge of course, is that nobody is manufacturing more hours in the day. Whether you lead 2 people or 2000, you have to manage it all in 24 hours a day.

But that logic was lost on me as a young driven leader in my 30s trying to lead a great cause.

It got to the point where, as we grew, I wore my insatiable work ethic as a badge of honour. Was there pride underneath that? Sure. And unhealth. And unsustainability.

It all worked great until, well, it didn’t.

A decade into my leadership, I burned out. Our church had reached about 600 in attendance, and 10 years of running at an unsustainable pace just about killed me.

I’ll write more about that burn out in some upcoming posts, but let me start here.

There are some things I wore as badges of honor as a young leader I no longer wear as a badges of honor today. What breaks my heart is I see many leaders falling into the same patterns I did.

In the 11 years since my summer of burnout, I’ve found new patterns in leadership that are so much healthier.

What’s still so strange to me is that when I adopted healthier patterns, I got more done, not less. I actually worked fewer hours and got so much more done.  I still hustle…but it’s a healthy, sustainable hustle that has proven to be life-giving.

The result? Our church is more than twice the size it was when I burned out and I discovered I could do things like write books, this blog, host podcasts, speak to leaders and still have more time at home with my family. I know, it doesn’t make any sense, until it actually happens to you.

I got asked about my productivity patterns so often that finally I took the time to write them down, process them, and export them into principles that many leaders can adopt. That’s how The High Impact Leader Course was born.

The High Impact Leader Course teaches those principles in a way any leader can adopt, and it’s open now for new participants.

In the meantime, here are 5 things I no longer believe are badges of honor in leadership.

1. Working ridiculous hours

I’m not sure I’ll ever be a 37.5 hour a week guy (I love what I do too much), but I’ve found that if I work over 55 hours, I get unhealthy fast.

As a young leader, I would push 60, 70, 80 hours.

In my pride, I’d think anyone who worked less was lazy or irresponsible. That’s bad thinking as well as horrible theology. Not to mention arrogant and judgmental on my part.

Any strategy based on working more hours to handle more demands is headed for a fatal crash.

Why? Well, every leader runs out of hours before he or she runs out of demands.  There will always be more demands on your time than there will be time.

Leaders who manage large organizations often work fewer hours than leaders who run small organizations. Think about it.

Ironically, effective leaders work fewer hours than ineffective leaders.

Again, effective has nothing to do with laziness. It has to do with effectiveness. (More on that in a future post.)

2. Being busier than everyone else you know

Ask leaders how they are these days, and most will quickly answer “Busy.”

For way too long I wore busy as a badge of honor.

Here’s a question: why?

I mean do you really want to get to the end of your life and say “Well, at least I was busy.”

Busy with what?

Far too often busy people get to the end of their day and don’t even know what they actually did. Sure, they sat in meetings and answered email and rushed around—but what did they accomplish?

Busy is not a friend of great leadership.

Hang around truly effective leaders for a while and you’ll notice a calm and focus that is too often lacking.

If you’re relying on being busy as a strategy for effective leadership, you need a new strategy.

3. Getting No Sleep

Guess what I used to do before I burned out? Brag about how little sleep I got.

That is until I spent August 2006 sleeping about 12-13 hours a day. I also did a lot of napping in between those long sleeps.

It’s like my body said You’ve been running up a sleep debt for a long time and now you’re going to pay it off.  My body knew more than my brain did. Because if you don’t pay debt off, you know what happens right? You go bankrupt.

In the last 11 years, the one thing I refuse to cheat is sleep.

Most leaders recharge their phone overnight when they sleep. Fewer recharge themselves.

When you sleep, you don’t just recharge your body, you recharge your mind and your soul.

I realize these days that most of what I do is think: as a preacher, writer, leader and speaker, I think.

A rested brain works. An exhausted brain doesn’t…at least not in any way that helps me write better messages, help people, love people or generate new ideas.

A rested you is a better you. Always.

4. Being Overwhelmed

Leadership can be overwhelming. I get that.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Some leaders seems love being overwhelmed. I did.

I still love a challenge—taking on a little more than I think I can handle. That’s how I’m wired. And occasionally it leads to overwhelm. But these days I follow up with a quick recalibration.

Being overwhelmed means your system is broken. Great solutions include hiring people, dropping some things you’re doing, scheduling new priorities, or moving to your next level of leadership (systematically not doing what you used to do).

Being overwhelmed all the time doesn’t make you a great leader. It make you overwhelmed.

5. Never using your vacation

For years in leadership, I never used all my vacation.

That was a mistake.

The sad part of that is when my kids were young, we could have done more together.  Sure, we always took an annual vacation, whether it was a simple as a camping trip or as wonderful as a trip to Disney.

But looking back on it, I wish I had taken all of my vacation every year.

I do now. My wife and I spend lots of time together, and we still get to travel with our (now grown) kids. But you can’t get time back.

When I see a leader who doesn’t take their vacation, I no longer see it as a sign of strength. I see it more as an admission of weakness.

God is still challenging me on rest.

What I’m discovering is that a rested me is a more:

Generous me.

Loving me.

Trusting me.

Guess what else? A rested me is a more productive me.

Maybe God knew what he was doing when he said we should spend more than 1/7th of our lives resting.

Where Are You?

High Impact Leader

I don’t know where you’re at, but my heart is for every leader to get out of the trap of being busy but not productive, of working long hours but producing less than hoped for.

That’s what the High Impact Leader Course is all about: it’s about getting time, energy and priorities working in your favour. It’s about getting your life and leadership back.

Registration for the High Impact Leader Course currently closed. However, join the waiting list to receive a free series of productivity tips.

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In the meantime, where are you when it comes to work and productivity? What are you learning?

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4 Comments

  1. […] This article originally appeared here. […]

  2. Joel on May 23, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    These are helpful warnings to this young leader in the midst of a ministry transition. Thank you!

  3. Daniel Burton on May 13, 2017 at 7:04 am

    For years I basically operated in all five of those things. Not that I saw them as a badge of honor, but that I saw it as something that I HAD to do in order to make it. I rarely took time off and worked crazy hours all for the sake of proving, probably to myself, that I could do it. To no surprise, I burned out rather severely.

    The best counsel I got was that it was a matter of faith. If I believe in a God who can do all things and that only He alone can save, then my efforts will not be the thing that saves someone. In trying to do everything and work outside of my ability, I was saying that I had taken the place of God in my mind with regard to saving grace and work.

    There are still honestly times that it is difficult to take vacations, take time off, and spend time resting, but I’m getting better and being intentional about planning the time and having boundaries. Getting better. Still working on it.

    Thanks for this article, it was very encouraging.

    – Daniel C. Burton
    http://thegospeloutpost.com

  4. Mike on May 8, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Love this post, Carey!

    Most of the managers with my employer are engineers that were promoted to management without any leadership training. The company also encourages pride in long hours and no room for failure.

    It’s pretty much a case study in how to burn out by the time you’re 40.

    Personally, I think one cause of the constant need to be busy could be an discomfort with sitting in silence with one’s own personhood. In the corporate world we are valued solely on our productivity and if you aren’t busy, it feels like you aren’t being productive.

    Have you worked with large corporations to transition managers into leaders?

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