If You Don't Live Well You Won't Lead Well

Rest and PlayResilience Depends on Energy Management One of the benefits of truly knowing oneself is establishing the margins needed to maintain spiritual and emotional stamina without burning out.  The wonderful diversity in the way leaders are put together argues against simplistic formulas to avoid burnout and presses us to understand the principles that help create healthy margins and rhythms in service that are unique to the individual’s style and personality.

Resilience and endurance is dependent on how a leader manages their energy over time. Every venue of leadership presents the servant leader with a clamor of tasks, crises, and people who need attention. It is important to see that finding periods of energy renewal is not dependent on finding times of lower activity or demand but in recognizing the symptoms of diminished emotional resilience and knowing the negative impact this has on decision-making and relationships. In other words leaders who live well make time for personal renewal. Jesus illustrates this rather well,

And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest for a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves.[1]

Recognize the Difference Between Activities and Results

Jesus’ suggestion that he and the apostles get away to rest was not made during a lull in popularity or activity.  He made it at the peak of popularity and demand. Jesus did not manipulate the momentum he maintained the activities that led to momentum. In contrast leaders who attempt to manipulate the momentum of their success end up in a distortion of reality by making the work of leadership more about momentum than about the activities that created the momentum. I call this working at maintaining the spin. Maintaining the spin is symptomatic of getting caught in the organizational drive to ensure survival. It manages results as though results were the focus. The focus must always be the activities that produce the results.

The shift from the right activities to maintaining the spin sets a trajectory toward burnout.  Burnout is an emotional condition characterized by fatigue and physical exhaustion, depression, mental fatigue, sleeping problems, etc., that interferes with job performance. Burnout results from extended periods of high energy engagement that is not offset by periods of restoration.[2]

The disciples had just returned from a period of high energy engagement.  The commission Jesus gave them was a development project that required them to engage the power of God, the provision of God and the people of God.  They were to be dependent on the hospitality of others and on the work of the Holy Spirit as they discovered how to work in concert with the works of God. (Mark 6:7-13)  They succeeded for the most part in this learning project. They saw results to their efforts. However, later they did not remember all the lessons they should have learned in their project.  Just two chapters later in Mark’s gospel Jesus asked them to feed four thousand. One can almost see that they had a deer in the headlights response.  How did they go from great results to stupefied inaction in the face of a new challenge? They got caught maintaining the spin and not growing in the right activities.  Over time maintaining the spin causes even formerly effective leaders to forget what created the results in the first place.

How do leaders keep up healthy boundaries around time, energy and spiritual renewal so that the leader’s own self stays strong and resilient versus weak and subject to spiritual/moral infection.  Staying strong and resilient is critical to maintaining perspective and avoiding the trap of working to maintain the spin.

Start with the End in Mind

One of my graduate professors, Bobby Clinton was fond of repeating, “Begin with the end in mind.” He started his leadership emergence classes by asking everyone to write their epitaph i.e., the inscription they wanted on their tombstone. This exercise sounds easier than it really is for some people. Many of us thought and thought to say something succinct enough to fit on a tomb stone and of sufficient gravity to appropriately summarize the work of a life time. Bobby’s point was simply that leadership is a life-long process of learning.  If leaders intend to finish well they must begin with the end in mind.

Living with the end in mind is profoundly focusing.  I am intrigued by stories of near death experiences. People emerge from such experiences with a completely different hierarchy of priority than they had prior to the experience. Life itself becomes more precious than accomplishment, prestige or power. An interesting take on living with the end in mind came from a palliative care nurse who summarized the regrets of the dying she had heard over the years into a book.[3]  She came up with five recurring regrets including:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Clearly Jesus’ actions are the opposite of these regrets – he began with the end in mind.  Jesus was true to himself.  Jesus did not get caught up in maintaining the spin. Jesus took time to rest.  Jesus expressed his feelings openly – we even have non-verbal indications of his feelings. (Mark 7:24; 8:12)  What is interesting about Jesus’ times of rest and rejuvenation is that these times themselves provided or opened opportunity for the demonstration of God’s power that was catalytic to new insights and breakthroughs.

Leaders who Never Take a Break, Never "Get a Break"

In contrast leaders, who never take a break, never “get a break.”  Their flurry of activity never seems to move beyond mediocrity perhaps in part because the “chance” meetings that would lead to new insights, new connections, or breakthroughs are usurped by business and weariness. If you are working hard and wondering why those who have time to play seem to get all the “breaks” then perhaps it is time to take stock of how you manage your own energy.


[1] Mark 6:31-32 (NASV).