It's time to add a new word to our conversations about leadership: stop.
While books, conferences, training, and other materials provide an (overwhelming) abundance of guidance for leaders who seek to grow, accomplish, and strategize, a search for references on how and when to turn leadership off will produce few results—with the exception, of course, of the need to take periodic extended breaks to avoid burnout.
But is getting out of the car really the only choice left after the accelerator and the steering wheel?
Consider the ways "full stops," during which leaders break from their usual role, built into the regular rhythms of leadership can help achieve these four essential goals:
1. To extend personal compassion.
Every leader must answer this important question: Do I have a heart for people as individuals, or does my heart only engage when I’m in authority, or in front of others? If leaders only engage in activities that they can lead, they have no way to know for sure. Many leadership gurus say that a leader will naturally lead in all organized situations; this means that in order to really examine their hearts, leaders must take time to jump into opportunities to serve others that require nothing more than merely showing up and seeing what happens.
For example, years ago my neighbor Joe served as worship director for the megachurch where both of us worked. Less than a year after moving across the street from Joe, I found myself in a battle against cancer. Quite often, Joe would slip away from his responsibilities to check on me. I experienced love from the guy who would then, an hour later, lead thousands in worship. Joe could have asked a multitude of people he led to go check on me. He could have been too busy. But no, the leader who orchestrated large programs that often included him at the lead microphone would, instead, stop to spend a few moments with a sick neighbor. No lights. No sound. No mention until now—sixteen years later.
2. To be present at home.
Spouses need spouses. Children need parents. Yes, families need leadership, but not like what’s needed at a church, organization, or company. A moment after I approach family challenges in the same way as I do issues faced at Kids Hope USA, which feels very natural to me, I hear about it from my family: “This isn’t work.” That’s code for, “You find the bottom line, fix things, and try to keep everything running well there—but at home, sometimes you need to simply listen and care without any attempt to change the person or situation.”
Never would it occur to me to treat the team I lead like my children, so why is the opposite so tempting? The lure seems strongest when work struggles pile up and invite themselves to go home with me. When I stop my car at home, I try to stop my role as a paid leader. I’m improving, but I have a long way to go.
3. To enable someone else to grow.
The best way to grow leadership chops is to actually lead—not almost lead, or watch someone else do it. For that to happen, though, someone else has to stop leading. That's not a problem...unless I’m that someone. Oh, how hard it is to step out of the way! What if something bad happens? But until someone has faced the possibility for failure, they haven't truly received a chance.
Consider one of the most common, and most important, leadership experiences that nearly everyone sixteen and older enjoys. Wait, driving a car is leading? Yes, the driver is ultimately in charge of the vehicle. And the only way for a young person to develop the skills needed to successfully travel to a desired location (notice the leadership lingo?) is to 1) learn, then 2) practice with a veteran driver/instructor in the car, and finally 3) drive alone.
Take this formula into a church/organization/company setting. At some point, the veteran needs to hand a growing leader the keys and let her or him drive without instruction—with the probability of success coexisting with the possibility of crashing. Common sense: start with the keys to the inexpensive car.
4. To seek God when alone.
I can approach God with my agenda, or I can show up and let him steer where we travel together. No further explanation needed.
– David Staal
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