One of the Best Ways to Discover How You're Really (Honestly) Doing As A Leader

Want to know how you’re really doing?

I’m a big fan of 360 reviews and getting regular feedback from multiple sources. I even casually check in with people to ask the question of how things are going all the time.

In fact, I’m a feedback junkie.

In my first job in law, I was about a month into my work with a new employer. I had no idea how I was doing and it didn’t look like anyone was going to tell me soon. So I walked into a partner’s office one day just to get feedback.  It turns out things were going fine, but I just couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. So I asked.

Healthy leaders crave feedback—even if it’s a bit hard to hear—because it helps them grow. And as much as sometimes I still wince when people tell me things (feedback is still often a discipline for me), I know it’s the only path to continued growth.

Consequently, over the years I’ve received lots of feedback that has made me a better leader, better husband, better friend and better dad (I even ask my kids to give me feedback).

But I’ve also discovered one way above all other ways that tells me how I’m really doing.

And it’s a bit counterintuitive.


The Silence Test

So how can you tell how you’re really doing?

Sit in silence.

Sit silently for at least 10 minutes – even an hour if you can handle it.

Listen to nothing. Turn your phone off. Just sit. Silently.

More and more, I’m learning that silence reveals what’s really happening inside me.

The quiet outside reveals either a quiet or a disquiet inside.

And the most valuable part of that experience is when I discover a disquiet inside.

That’s a sign that not everything is not well.

I wish that silence always revealed a peace, but I find it sometimes doesn’t.  I might find frustration, tension, anger, resentment, lust, envy, restlessness, pride, mixed motives or any combination of things.

The valuable thing for me is that when I discover that, I also discover what I am confident God wants to work on.

Whatever the quiet reveals can become fuel for my prayer life.  It can reveal something I need to work through with God, with friends, mentors, colleagues or sometimes even with a counsellor.

Best of all, I’m finding resonance in the biblical truth that it is when we are still that we best know that God is God (Psalm 46). When I’m most quiet, the universe seems most ordered.


Why You Will Fight This

The challenge of course is that no one will ever ask you to simply sit still for an hour.

No one ever texts you and asks you if you can carve out some time for silence and reflection.  Everybody just wants one more small slice of you. And truthfully, those of us who resist silence like that.

It is easier to stay busy than it is to stay honest with ourselves.  It’s easier to pretend everything’s great even if we suspect it might not be.

Which would be a mistake.  Because soul work is the most important work we can do.  It animates and impacts every other aspect of our lives from our relationships to our work to our family.


What You Find Inside Determines Your True Capacity

The reason this matter so much is because the silence test can provide great insight into the state of your character.

As I wrote about in this post, your true potential is not determined by your competency. Sure, you can take another course, sign up for another webinar, practice until your perfect. But a skill set is not what sinks the ship of most gifted leaders. Character does.

Character—not competency—determines your true capacity.

You can be the best preacher on the planet, but have an affair, and your ministry will grind to a screeching halt.

You can be an organizational wizard, but step all over the people around you and ultimately no one will want to work with you.

You can be the smartest person in the room, but your insecurity can cause you to sabotage your team.

The headlines are full of gifted people who have ruined their lives and hurt countless others because of character weaknesses.

And when I sit down in prayerful silence, I am forced to come to terms with mine.


So Take the Test…This Week

So why don’t you take an hour (or even ten minutes) this weekend and sit down in complete silence.

Talk to God. Listen.


Your future, your family, your ministry and your organization will be better off for it.

These days I’m taking the silence test regularly.  I don’t even like what I find much of the time.  Which is exactly the point.

If you want to read further on guarding your heart and developing your character, these posts might help:

The Top 10 Habits of Leaders Who Effectively Guard Their Heart

How I Recovered From Burnout—12 Keys to Getting Back

How about you? What do you find when you sit down in silence?

Please share your insights. Leave a comment!


  1. Michael Warden on May 29, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Brilliant! Thanks, Carey. I’m a huge fan of 360’s as well, especially the Leadership Circle, which I use with my leadership clients. I also agree that a regular practice of silence and reflection is essential to effective leadership (and really, effective living in general). I encourage leaders to use a simple tool called SASHET to regularly “check in” with themselves. It’s an acronym that stands for Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, Tender…and the process is simply to look inward and ask “Where am I sad? Where am I angry?” etc…a simple self-assessment of the soul.

    Anyway, thanks again for being a voice for this essential practice!

  2. […] Want to know how you’re really doing? I'm a big fan of 360 reviews and getting regular feedback from multiple sources. I even casually check in with peo  […]

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