10 Best Practices of Healthy Leaders
How are you today? Feeling tired, listless; need pep? No, this isn't a Vitameatavegamin commercial!
What do you need to become a healthy leader over the long haul? Too many leaders get discouraged, drained and defeated over time, in leadership. None of them set out to end up that way, but without careful attention to important disciplines, it happens.
That question can seem difficult to answer until you realize that leaders who do well in the long run all seem to adopt common habits and practices that help them thrive, not just survive, in leadership. Leaders who are missing most of these generally don’t survive in our shifting dynamics.
The good news is you can thrive—not just survive—in today’s evolving ethos if you strategically pursue behavioral and even philosophical shifts yourself.
1. Cultivate a Few Great Friends With Whom You Can Be 100 Percent Honest
Leadership is hard. Isolation makes it much harder.
When you’re transitioning a business, ministry, church or small group (and these days, we’re ALL transitioning because change is so rapid), it’s important you have a trustworthy few with whom you can be 100 percent honest. You shouldn’t publicly, or even privately, complain about the situation you’re facing with the people you’re leading. It’s simply bad leadership.
You do need a few people who understand your situation and who can empathize, pray with you and correct you (you’re not always right and your attitude needs adjusting from time to time). In this respect, I usually find I connect best with peers who hold a similar position and responsibility in another venue. They get what I’m struggling with, and I can play the same role for them.
2. Relationships With Leaders Who Are One or Two Steps Ahead
Having a few friends with whom you can be 100 percent honest is different than finding a few leaders who are one or two steps ahead of you. The first group functions as friends and colleagues, the second as mentors.
Please understand, you don’t have to piggy back your leadership on someone famous. Too many leaders hold out for that opportunity to be mentored by Andy Stanley or John Maxwell and decide they can’t settle for anything less. Guess what? That will probably never happen. It is one of the reasons I started my leadership moments, so you could be mentored by leaders you may not have the time or opportunity to encounter.
But little is stopping you from finding a business owner, pastor, community or church leader who is just one or two steps ahead of you. Maybe you’re trying to add 2 new families to your group this year and he’s got a class that has added families for 5 years in a row. Ask to go for coffee or lunch and come with great questions and an open notebook. If there are none in you church or business, get out the phone book or boot up the Web and start researching.
Maybe you’re looking to handle more volunteers than you’ve ever handled? Find the ministry leader who’s handling twice the number you are and ask her for lunch. You’ll learn a ton. Mentors are closer than you think and more accessible than you think.
3. Spend Meaningful Time With People Who Give You Energy
This group isn’t necessarily people with whom you can be 100 percent honest. They’re not even mentors. It’s different. This group is about people you personally find energizing.
I sometimes mess with leaders by asking, “When was the last time you went out for dinner with a couple who left you feeling completely energized and replenished?” The blank looks and the looks of shock and disappointment on leaders’ faces tells the story. We don’t do this nearly enough.
Ministry, business, and organizational work, are all giving. Yes, even in profit making commerce! And because they are giving, they can be draining. Your leadership is like a bank account. You can only give so much without becoming overdrawn. Be overdrawn long enough and you go bankrupt! So, go find some friends who energize you. Then, hang out!
4. A Bullet-Proof Devotional Routine
This may be more religious, than secular, but parallels can be drawn. You got into ministry because you love Jesus. But far too many leaders fall out of love with Christ while in ministry. Why is that? As Bill Hybels has famously pointed out, too often we let doing the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ within us.
The best way I know how to keep your passion for Christ fresh and alive is to develop a bullet-proof devotional (prayer, meditation and Bible reading) routine. By bullet-proof, I mean it needs to work at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation, when you’re at your most stressed and when you’re at your most relaxed. Try this to get you started:
Engage the Scriptures - Engage God
1. Find Your Best Personal Time.
2. Find the Medium (print or electronic) that’s Best for You.
3. Get a Translation You Can Understand.
4. Use a Reading Plan.
5. Take time to Reflect and Pray.
5. Exceptional Clarity Around How and When to Say No
The enemy of great leadership is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity! The more successful you become, the more opportunity you will have. At first, your temptation is to say yes to everything. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for a crack at some things.
But saying yes to something good means you’ve likely said no to something potentially great. Doing a few things extremely well always trumps doing many things adequately.
6. Regularly Scheduled Work-on-It Time
The problem with most of our jobs is that they are largely reactive unless you decide they won’t be. You can spend an entire day answering emails, responding to messages and attending meetings you didn’t call only to hit 6:00 p.m. and realize you didn’t move the mission forward one iota. Long term, this will kill your business or ministry.
We need to understand that momentum doesn’t just happen. The most effective leaders always budget significant amounts of time to work on their mission, not just at it. Are you investing in your most fruitful producers? Are you planning to make things better, and working that plan every week? Are you measuring your results against a standard or just showing up and hoping for the best? Do you get enough rest, exercise, and proper nutrition?
7. A Diversified Learning Menu
The challenge for many of us in leadership is that we listen to the same voices over and over again. You become a fan of a certain mentor, guru, teacher, or author, and you read and listen to only them. I find I often learn the most from people who are least like me. Sometimes the answers to your problem lie outside your discipline, not within it.
8. A Great Marriage or Healthy Personal Life
It’s hard to lead well at work and at home. Usually one suffers at the expense of the other. You either use your best energy at work and have none left for home, or you use all your energy on your personal life and have little left for work. As a result, married leaders who excel at work often end up with a less than ideal family life, and single people who pour their heart into their ministry end up with a much reduced personal life. Neither is a great scenario. If you pour the level of intentionality into your life that you pour into your leadership, you will have a better life.
9. A Hobby That Takes Your Mind Off Things
One of the challenges of leadership in ministry, or a business you’re passionate about, is that it requires both your mind and your heart. And the great leaders always throw their heart and mind fully into it. Which means it can be hard to turn things off when it’s time to go home.
I talk to too many leaders who just can’t seem to turn it off. Which is why having a hobby or something else that takes your mind off of work is one of the best things you can do. What works? Try something that will take your mind off of your day job. That can be cycling, cooking, wood working, hiking, art or watching a movie. Just make sure it gives your mind a break.
10. Enough Financial Margin
If there’s one thing the future will require, it’s more sacrifice. This seems a bit tough in an era in which many people are underpaid and some are bi-vocational. But developing financial margin is critical. Having no margin severely limits how you can respond to the opportunities in front of you.
I think more of this margin will be required in the future than in the past as business, ministry and even church budgets struggle and especially if governments take away tax savings from churches and church staff. The bottom line is this: The more margin you have, the more opportunities you can seize. The less margin you have (as a person or as a business or ministry), the more those opportunities will pass you by. Be responsible. Be efficient. Cut waste.
So, there you have it. These are ten ways to be healthier and better fit for leadership. Hope these help. Do you have a few more? Send me your ideas. I’d love to hear what you have to say!
Blessings, Pastor David
(compiled from several articles and blog posts by Carey Nieuwhof, founding pastor of Connexus Church)