Regaining Leadership Energy

Even good ideas get tired. So do good men and women, and when that happens, the endeavor that you are leading is affected. The growth tips are left unattended, the vision flattens, and a leader slowly morphs into a manager. When that happens, you need a break, a break that has one purpose alone: to restore your hunger.

The morph is imperceptible. You won’t even recognize the slide because with loads of energy and passion, you are able to do far more than you are able … or supposed … to do. But when you get tired, you’ve past the Rubicon.

When I do a long-distance race, my coach always reminds me to hydrate every fifteen minutes. I remembering arguing: “But what if I am not thirsty?” I recall him giving me a piece of advice that would be applicable to more facets of my life than I could have imagined: “If you wait to drink until you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Your body has already gone into dehydration.” I just don’t think I need to take a drink because I am not thirsty! But I cannot see the steady depletion that’s taking place on the inside.

I take a break each summer. I push myself pretty hard during the winter … not because I am an overachiever, but because I love what I do and am passionate to reach people for Christ. And if you have this kind of disposition, this is a word for you!

Two weeks before I was to return from my summer break, my wife asked me if I was missing “home.” Of course I was, but I said, “I’m not quite ready to return, yet. My hunger is not back.” Within the next two weeks however, my hunger did return, and I came home with a vengeance! My goal was to restore my hunger and passion for what God had called me to do.

Think about it … A leader’s role is not to maintain. It is to gain altitude! That requires something I call, Leadership Energy. Of course, we will always require good managers to keep the gears turning and bearings oiled, but only leaders can advance the ministry and give it the significant lift it needs for the future. Leaders need to recognize the “growth tips” of the ministry and give upward mobility in those areas. If they do not, they will find themselves keeping the gears turning and bearings oiled.. but that’s what managers do, not leaders. Both are needed, but the upward lift is where leadership-energy is required.

If anyone knows anything about commercial jets, approximately 1/3 of their energy is expended in take-off and gaining altitude. Once they get to 32,000 feet, they maintain, and that requires less energy and thrust than gaining cruising speed.

A leader needs to give the ministry or company the vertical lift it requires to improve and advance. Otherwise, over the years, it tends toward entropy.

Yesterday’s great ideas get tired today, and churches, even great ones, can get tired. Without wise and hungry leaders, these endeavors will flat-line. Then they end up with lots of programs that have been leeching life for some time now.

If a leader returns from a break without the return of his hunger, he or she simply returns to the same-old, same-old. You cannot come back as a manager. You must return a hungry leader. Why? Because the ministry needs a vertical lift and it takes energy and passion for that to happen.

The best scenario?

Take drinks “every fifteen-minutes” before you get thirsty. You will have to fight guilt and you’ll have to overcome the inverted tendency to keep going because you still have the energy. You won’t FEEL like you need a drink, but take one anyway.

I now schedule my breaks at regular intervals whether or not I think I need them. But it keeps my soul hydrated and my heart impassioned. And I still take a break each summer. That’s why we have great managers … to keep the gears turning and the bearings oiled.

But, taking that drink every fifteen minutes is still my greatest challenge. I suspect that if you are anything like me, it might be your greatest challenge, too. There are some leaders whose personalities are more laid back and have developed a regular cadence that keeps them refreshed. If that be the case, rejoice! But for me and other type A leaders, we need stern reminders to get our foot off the gas pedal. Other leaders may need someone to kick them in the butt to get their speed up, but I need the opposite.

What I am learning cost me a great deal. I hope to get it to you for a lot less!

So here are some suggestions:

  1. Go through your planner and write down what your last 5% is (Leadership Essential – The 5% Only You Can Do). You can order a Life Planner from www.lifejournal.cc
  2. Schedule them into your life on a daily basis by writing in activities, projects, and breaks that invest in what’s most important.
  3. Plan a trip … just for fun … even if you are “not thirsty now.” You may be later!
  4. Apply for Pastoral Sabbatical grants. One resource is www.louisville-institute.org

By the way, I have a new book coming out soon called, “Leading on Empty” that will give you a list of leadership retreats and locations so you can reignite your hunger for what God has called you to do. Watch for it!

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