5 Hidden Fears of Many Leaders

failure

I’ve learned through working with dozens of pastors and leaders, if we are not careful, leadership can become a game we play rather than a mission we live. One leader tries to impress another leader and all leaders, at one time or another, try to impress the people we are attempting to lead. Part of the key to “winning the game” is supposedly the leader bluffing everyone into thinking he or she has everything within his or her sphere of responsibility under control.

Leader, be honest – How often has that been true for you?

As leaders, we aren’t always honest about how we are feeling – especially the fears we have as a leader. It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten rule we have to hide our true emotions because, if people knew what we were really feeling they may not respect us, they may not follow us, and – just being candid – they may not even like us.

Which, being unliked is some leader’s greatest fear.

No denying, there is high expectation for leaders to be excellent in their roles. I’m not trying to lump more pressure on leaders, but I believe many times, if we are honest about the pressures we face, about our own shortcomings, weaknesses and – even our fears, we would be better grounded to face them. We would also attract loyal followers who would be more willing to help fill in the gaps of our leadership.

And, we would better welcome the strength of God in our lives when we admit our weaknesses. His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. 

Wouldn’t it be easier if we dropped the game playing and revealed the true fears we have in leadership?

Call me a Snitch if you want, but I’m breaking the silence. Be honest if you can often identify with this any of these hidden fears.

Here are 5 hidden fears of many leaders:

I don’t know what to do! – Okay, what’s new? Leadership takes people places they’ve never been, which often includes the leader. If things are staying the same you won’t need a leader. Unchartered waters mean learning on the job at times. Many leaders drown in their own ignorance, refusing to ask for help. Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers and are willing to seek input from others. Seek a mentor. Hire a coach or consultant. Recruit a board of advisers. Get another degree. Keep learning. It’s part of maturing as a leader.

I can’t keep up! – Duh! You’re leading. This means you’re going somewhere. The pace of good leadership in a rapidly changing world is often mind-boggling. The sense of being overwhelmed should not be a secret. In fact, if one is walking by faith, it should be a necessity. Learning to navigate through untested waters, and growing from the experience, is a part of successful leadership. Find the help you need now. It starts by admitting you need help. The leaders who achieve success long-term are constantly improving – continually refining their leadership style and abilities. 

I’m afraid of the unknown!– Seriously, who wouldn’t be? If things are growing, (or declining) demands are building and there are days with more questions than answers, human emotions are only natural. And, fear seems like the most logical one. Follow King David’s advice. When you’re afraid, trust in God. You may be scared. He’s not. Cast your cares upon Him. He’s got the whole world in His hands. Your situation won’t cause Him to be dismayed. Be bold and admit your fears of what’s next – fears of what could happen – fears of what you don’t even know you’re fearing – to a few trusted advisers. Allow others to speak reality and strength into your life. You can do this!

I don’t know if I’m the right person for this job! – It’s common for leaders to question their position at times. It could be they have done all they were called to do. It could be they are bored. It could be God is stirring their hearts for something new. It could simply be a temporary emotion. Don’t suppress the emotion. Press into it and figuring out the source of the emotion. It may lead to something good. Allow others to help you discern and listen for the heart of God on the matter.

I don’t feel appreciated or respected.– Every leader needs respect. It’s what fuels us many days. Knowing we have a team of people willing to follow us into the unknown fuels our desire to lead even better. Consider why you feel this way. Is it an insecurity on your part or is it warranted by your actions? Regardless of the reason, this emotion has tremendous power to derail good leadership. Great leaders admit they don’t have all the answers, but, at the same time, they are confident in who they are and what God has called them to do. Most people will follow a humble, but confident leader. My best advice is to lead well, keep improving, show people you genuinely care and give them something worth following. In spite of how you feel, if you’re leading with confidence and humility, they’ll respect you. If not, they wouldn’t respect anyone.

The hidden fears of leadership are real. Just admit it, leader. Whether you are leading a family or leading a Fortune 500 company the emotions of fear will sometimes seem stronger even than reality. Don’t lead in isolation. Don’t lead alone. 

Who is willing to be honest today?

Which of these is your current, most hidden emotion?

What did I leave out? What are some hidden emotions many leaders face?

3 Casualties from Unresponsiveness

RSVP

I remember meeting with a young man in our church a number of years ago. I had baptized him a few months before and had taken a personal interest in him. I saw such potential in him, and knew he was likely heading towards vocational ministry, so I asked him to serve in one of our ministries as a volunteer. He was delighted at the invitation.

Many of the best volunteers are just one personal ask away from serving.

A few weeks later, I followed up with him. He said he filled out a card asking to serve immediately after our conversation. He never heard anything. He assumed, therefore, we weren’t interested in him or he wasn’t qualified.

I was devastated – and a bit embarrassed. Hopefully, he simply fell through the cracks of our system, but this type of thing frustrates me more than just about anything in leadership. He certainly was qualified, but even if he had not been it would’ve deserved an answer.  

Responsiveness should be a paramount value in ministry and leadership.

Whether it’s an email, a phone call, or Facebook message, most people expect some sort of response. I realize we all get busy and it may sometimes delay a response, but people are too valuable not to respond to them in a timely fashion. I encourage all leaders to figure out a system, which works best for them, which will assure responsiveness.  

When a leader is unresponsive it creates problems for the leader and the people seeking to follow.

Here are 3 casualties from unresponsiveness:

It makes a person feel unappreciated.

When someone doesn’t get a response back, the person feels they aren’t important enough to you. They wonder what they’ve done wrong or why you don’t consider them good enough to merit one. 

It makes a person feel unloved.

Like it or not, unresponsiveness is translated, especially in the church setting, as an indicator of care. It’s a relationship. If you don’t respond, you must not care for them very much.

It makes a person mistrust you or the organization.

People will only tolerate unresponsiveness a few times. When a leader fails to respond they lose credibility with people and are seen as unprofessional.

The bottom line is when you don’t respond to people you force them to create their own response. And, naturally, our minds assume the worst.

So what do you do about it?

  • Make responsiveness an extremely high value in the organization.
  • Leaders should lead by example.
  • Answer all emails or messages and return calls promptly, even if you don’t have an answer yet. I can’t say what the proper response time is for every organization or individual, but for me I want responses to go out the same day they were received or first thing the next working day. 
  • Have a system is in place to respond to all queries. The fact is, sometimes I’m not available to everyone who needs an answer – we have a large church; especially if it might take an extended response. Plus, I may not even know the answer. But, I can make sure the person gets the answer they need.

Even in the best environments, situations like the example above will happen. Emails or cards get lost. People forget. Mistakes happen.  People will feel they’ve not been listened to, no one cares, or even they are unloved. They’ll take it personal enough to leave the organization. It should never be because we simply chose not to respond in a timely way.  

And, I should mention, there are rare times when the person seeking information is the problem in the situation – or where they use tactics such as verbal abuse to get the response they want. I’m not addressing those in this post. Again, those are rare and should be handled differently. (You might read my post on Stakeholder Analysis for this type scenario.)

This post is about the normal, day in an day out communication with people. People need and deserve answers. It’s part of a healthy culture. It’s part of healthy relationships. And, it’s the right thing to do.

The more you can do to avoid unresponsiveness the better you will build an atmosphere of genuine trust.

How does it make you feel when someone doesn’t respond to an inquiry?

12 Bible Verses Every Leader Needs to Memorize

Man of God teaching the Bible or the word of God to others. Image with instagram effects for special mood or feel

The Psalmist said, “I have hidden your word in my heart so I might not sin against you.” God’s Word can be a protection for our heart and soul. It can teach us, convict us, and challenge us.

The same is true for leaders. The best leadership book is the Bible.

If you want to be a great, Biblical leader, consider memorizing these verses:

Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Exodus 18:21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain —and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Psalm 78:72 With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.

Matthew 20:26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.

Philippians 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Matthew 5:37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.

Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Perhaps you should choose one or two of these – or if you’re brave enough, all of them – write them down somewhere you’ll see them often, and commit them to memory.

What other verses would you recommend to leaders?

7 Common Excuses for Not Doing What We Know God has Called Us To Do

Excuses File Contains Reasons And Scapegoats

There’s always an excuse if we’re looking for one.

I’ve made so many excuses in my life. For years I may have sensed God was calling me into vocational ministry, but I had to provide for my family. I would be leading with the limps of previous failures – how and why would God use me? I didn’t have the most pastoral qualities either. For example, I’m far more of an organizational developer than I am a caregiver for the sick. There were a dozen others. If anyone had an encouragement for me to be in ministry – and I received lots – I had an excuse why it wasn’t a good idea.

Even when we are certain God has called us to something, we will stall because an excuse is always near. 

And, most excuses seem reasonable at first glance. Common sense even. Think about the excuses Moses made for following God. I have to be honest – when I hear them, they make sense to me. I mean, if you’re not a good communicator – why send you as the chief spokesman for God?

But, God’s ways are not my ways – or Moses – or yours.

The reality is following a God-inspired, God-sized dream, always requires stepping into the unknown and always demands we overcome our excuses.

Are you stalling? Maybe you’re even running out of another good excuse. If an opportunity is still staring you in the face, let me encourage you from some of the best excuses I’ve used or heard – which have more times than not been proven wrong. 

Here are 7 of the most common excuses I’ve used or heard:

I can’t!

Your excuse is you don’t have what it takes. And, the sad part of this excuse – this also means you aren’t trusting God to provide what you lack. Saying I can’t to a God thing is an indicator of faith. If God calls you to it – you can do it because whatever you lack He will supply . (Gideon would love to weigh in on this excuse. Judges 6)

I don’t know how!

The task seems overwhelming and you may be too proud to ask for help. So, I don’t know how will just have to do for now. If you trace its roots – this excuse is often fueled by either laziness, apathy or fear. (Do you think Noah knew how to build a boat the size of an ark? See Genesis 6)

I don’t have time!

God calls for obedience now, but you’re preoccupied. And, chances are – with this as an excuse – you never will have time. This one has worked for me before too – for a season. What it really means is I have my time and God’s time. And, more specifically, I have my agenda and God’s agenda – and there is no time left in my agenda. (See how Jesus liked this excuse in Luke 9:57-62)

I’m all alone!

Leading out by faith feels this way sometimes, doesn’t it? Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to being obedient to God’s call. I once thought I was the only one with a burden to plant a church. It seemed to be a lonely burden until we stepped forward in faith. Little did Cheryl and I know God had an army of core members prepared just waiting to be asked. (Remember, Elijah thought He was alone – and he found out otherwise. 1 Kings 19)

I’m afraid!

And, the reality of this excuse is you can choose to let fear control you. I have. Many times. Fear is simply an emotion and it’s a powerful, often motivating excuse. Much could go wrong with your dream. You could mess it up! You could have misunderstood what you sense God calling you to do. Plus, our mind is capable and skilled at quickly creating worst-case-scenarios. But, know this. Trusting God, even when you’re afraid to do so, always produces God-appointed and God-sized victories. In fact, you can’t possibly get to the victory until you face the fear. (Could we learn anything here from Esther? Esther 3)

I can’t afford it!

You’re afraid the dream will be more expensive than the provision of God. You wouldn’t verbalize this one, but it’s real, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the money fear raised by potential church planters. I often say the money is in the harvest. (Tell this excuse to the widow in 1 Kings 17 or the disciples who picked up 12 baskets of leftover bread in Matthew 14)

I won’t!

This may be the boldest excuse. With this excuse you simply refuse. You may disguise it lots of ways, but the fact is you’re doing things your way – instead of God’s way. You can combine all the other excuses here, because you won’t even give it a try. In fact, if the truth is known, you’d rather run some more. I did this one for years. (How did this excuse work for Jonah?)

There will always be an excuse not to follow the dreams God lays on your heart. Obstacles in life are plentiful. You can keep making excuses, or you can address them one excuse at a time. The one who achieves most is often the one most willing to overcome excuses.

What excuse are you using to stall on God’s plan?

7 Suggestions for Leaving a Job Properly

Unemployment

One of the most common questions I receive from others in ministry is about discerning whether to leave a ministry position. I’ve written about this subject a number of times, because I know all of us deal with it at some point in our journey.

You might read THIS POST or THIS POST for more of my thoughts on this question.

The question which should follow close behind, but I rarely receive, is how to actually leave a position well. I am grateful when I receive it.

Here’s one I received not long ago. I’ve omitted a few details to protect the identity, but you can get the intent of the question.

I am writing you seeking counsel regarding a significantly large decision my wife and I need to make about our continued service at a local church. The church is in turmoil and my wife and I feel released from our commitment here. Leaving is probably the best option, but how do I know for sure and how do I leave “properly”?

Good question. It’s honorable to want to leave well – and, it’s the right thing to do.

Leaving is never easy, but many times, even in the worst situations, it can be done in a way which doesn’t further disrupt the church.

Obviously, as with the previous posts, you need to discern first if you definitely feel released to leave and then if you are leaving. It may not be worth putting the energy into deciding how to leave until you decide that you are. But, if God is releasing you or sending you elsewhere, I think discerning how to leave is equally important.

Here are 7 suggestions for leaving “properly”:

Make it a decision of prayer and conviction.

The more you can remove your personality or personal comfort from the process, the more likely you will be able to convince people you are leaving on good terms and you are following God’s will and not your own. (I realize I set this up as a pre-determined, and as I mentioned previously, it may be God has released you to make the decision. I find this true many times. Your first step, in my opinion, is to make sure you aren’t violating something God has told you to do or not to do.)

Have critical, initial conversations.

Before you even announce – maybe before you even solidify you’re leaving, I suggest you discuss with and seek wisdom from one or two people you trust – preferably people who know you and the church. You’ll need a sounding board to help you confirm your decision, but also to help determine the timing and approach of your exit. They will almost always see things you can’t see.

Give as much lead time as possible.

The sooner you begin preparing people for your eventual exit, the easier your exit will be accepted by people when you do leave. Help cross train for your area. Identify key leaders who could fill in for an interim. You don’t even have to share all this information, but be thinking ahead of time who those people might be. Start making lists of things you do that others may not know. Think in terms of “if I’m not here, then…” and write some of that stuff down to share when you leave.

Develop a plan.

With counsel and prayer, put together a plan of how and when you intend to proceed. You’ll need to decide who to contact personally before the big announcement, when to contact them, and how to tell the church. This will likely be different for every church, but it’s critical there be a plan.

Be classy.

Regardless of why you’re leaving, don’t throw punches on the way out. There’s never a win and often a lasting negative when a person lashes out in the final days of their involvement with a church. Any credibility gained can be quickly lost based on the way the person handles their exit.

Protect your emotions.

It is likely to be hard leaving, even if things are miserable at the time. Chances are you’ve invested your heart in this church. You started with vision and enthusiasm. You felt a call to go there. Regardless of why you are leaving or what you are going to do next, it won’t be easy walking away from something you have loved. Know there will be an emotional process involved. As soon as you give notice, people will begin responding. People may say things untentionally on the way out which hurt you – because they are dealing with their own emotions. Also, work to protect spouses and children – as they will have emotions of leaving also.

Don’t end when you walk out the door.

This is huge. Be available to further assist them as needed in the months after you leave – even to “train” your replacement. It may not be welcomed or needed. And, if you’re leaving injured it may hurt, but genuinely offering is the graceful way to exit and the right thing to do.

What would you add about leaving properly?

5 Steps When the Changes Needed Seem Overwhelming

overwhelmed business woman sitting at her desk surrounded by many male hands holding different objects

The first couple years into church revitalization there were more opportunities than time. I was so excited about the potential we had to restore a historic, established church, but my calendar wouldn’t hold anymore and my mind was exploding.

One day I remember driving on the road which leads back to our hometown. I considered my schedule, the enormity of the challenge ahead, the dozens of emails awaiting a response and the people I was still having to say “no” to when they asked for my time – many who didn’t understand why the pastor couldn’t see them right away – and I turned to Cheryl and said, “Right now I wish I could just keep driving and this had been a nice little dream”. It wasn’t reality speaking or how I really felt. Plus, I knew to be obedient I was going to stay. It was emotions talking. I knew I was simply feeling overwhelmed.

What do you do when you find yourself in that situation? When the changes are overwhelming – and you don’t know if you can do all expected of you – what do you do?

I hope you can learn from my experience. Here is what I did.

5 steps when the changes needed seem overwhelming:

Step back.

Take a day. Take a week. Pause everything. I realize it makes no sense to take a break when your schedule is packed, but stepping back gives you an opportunity to take a fresh look at the challenges ahead. Again, it may seem like you don’t have time to pause right now, but it may be you don’t have time not to do so. The time away will give you a better perspective, a clearer head and the rest will give you energy you need.

Get fit.

I used to tell our staff in a church plant that “you have to strive to be healthy to work here right now”. It was this way in this particular season in ministry. As much as it depended on me, I needed to be healthy spiritually, relationally, emotionally and physically. I needed to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a healthy relationship with my wife. I also needed extended time in God’s Word and prayer. This was even more than usual a time for intentionality in living a healthy lifestyle.

Renew the vision.

When change is overwhelming you have to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. The why is the key. It’s what fueled you in the first place and what has the best potential to fuel you again. I knew I was called here for a purpose. God doesn’t make mistakes. If you are overwhelmed at something God called you to do, ask God to renew again the passion you had in the beginning before you were overwhelmed.

Chart a course one step at a time.

Baby steps. It’s how big change is accomplished. One foot in front of the other. The bigger the change the more methodical you must be. One day. One week. One month at a time. I had to ask people to be patient. I had to prioritize each day. I had to not feel bad about saying no. I had to get up every morning, create a list of things I could accomplish for the day, and realize tomorrow would be a new day. Learning to live a healthy pace may be a leader’s greatest challenge and most needed strength.

Invite people on the journey.

Delegation becomes even more important during overwhelming times in leadership. If you’re world is like mine this pretty much equates to every season of ministry. In church revitalization I was reminded over and over again the value of a team. I had to learn who I could trust, but I also have to take risks on people. I couldn’t then – and can’t now – be successful without others.

I made slow progress the first couple years. I was amazing how God blessed us in spite of our speed to obey. But, the process seemed to work. God has overwhelmed us – even in our times of being overwhelmed!

If you are overwhelmed at the changes occurring in your life right now, I suggest these 5 steps.

Ever been overwhelmed at the changes needed – what suggestions would you offer?

4 Words of Advice for a New Leader

Elegant leader

I consistently talk to new leaders about the beginning days of a leadership position. In my opinion, the opening days of any job are some of the most important. Apparently others think so also. Recently someone messaged me on Twitter to ask, “What words of advice do you have for a newbie leader? I’m beginning my first pastoring role after years in student ministry.”

It has just been a few years ago I was a “newbie” myself. I speak with more passion, and perhaps even more authority on the subject, because I learned along the way. I Tweeted him back and said “Learn the people first – go slow to change – think intentional in all you do – pace yourself.”

And, that was enough for Twitter. This is my blog, however, so I assume I should explain a little further.

Here are 4 pieces of advice for the new leader:

Learn the people first, before making major changes.

Relational leadership is always most effective, but especially for a new leader. The people need to learn to trust you. They need an opportunity to feel you are committed and connected to them. They want assurance you have the best interest at heart for them and the church or organization they’ve loved and served longer than you have. They need to experience you listening to them for their input. Value – and love people – first and foremost. It’s not only effective – it’s the right thing to do.

Go slow with change when it’s time.

The older the church or organization – or the longer they’ve needed change – the more important it will be you take time to implement change. Know the key players, communicate, communicate, communicate, and help people understand why the change is needed. All change is resisted. Let me say this again – ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED. At some level, someone will not like every change you propose, but fast change is most powerfully rejected. Understand every change comes with an emotion. People are resisting for a number of reasons – anger, fear, uneasiness, uncomfortableness. This doesn’t mean don’t change. Most likely they’ll expect and even want some change, and some of this change may need to come very fast, but listen and learn the things you can change immediately and things where you’ll need to move more slowly. Get lots of input from others. Collaborate. A healthy change process takes time to do well.

Think intentionally in all you do.

The more you can strategically plan your moves, especially in the early days of a new leadership position, the more you can help steer them to a positive outcome. In every area of your leadership, take time to think through the best way to handle the situation. Again, get input from key people. I love a good whiteboard strategy session. When you have to make changes or implement your vision, invite key, trusted people into the room and brainstorm the best way to approach it. Plan your approach. Prioritize. Strategize. You’ll have plenty of surprises along the way, but if you’re intentional in the decisions you have control over, you’ll be better prepared to handle the unexpected.

Pace your leadership for long-term success.

This is so critical. You won’t often know the length of your tenure as leader, but you should script yourself to be there for the long haul. This means you shouldn’t try to accomplish everything in the beginning. Spread some of your enthusiasm and energy over the first year or more. It will keep momentum going longer, keep you from burning out and the church or organization from wearing out, and introduce an expectation of change – which will make change easier to make in the future. Also, think for the church or organization beyond even you – this is the honorable thing to do for any leader – don’t make it all about you. How can things keep building, healthy, vibrant and growing for the years ahead? When you set worthy visions and goals which carry people forward, help them dream and give them hope, they will want to follow your leadership. Finally, protect your soul. As the Scripture says, “Above all else guard your heart.” You will have lots of obstacles – all leaders do – you want to weather them to remain effective. And, get help when needed. (Which for me is pretty much daily.)

I’m pulling for you new leaders! Of course, my best advice – Go with God! He knows best. For another post on advice if give to young pastors – look at THIS POST

Have you ever been the new guy? What would you advise?

My Advice to Leaders: Leave Before You Have To Leave

Exit Staring

Here’s some advice I’ve learned watching people in organizations over the years. I’ve seen it in government, business, and, sadly, far too often in the church.

Some people stay too long.

Does this sound cruel? I don’t mean it to, but they do. They stay beyond their welcome. Beyond their usefulness. Beyond their ability to make a positive impact.

So, I have some advice.

Leave before you have to leave.

When you are tired of the vision

When you can’t support the leadership

When you have no heart left to give the organization

When you consistently struggle to stay motivated

Certainly, when you feel God is freeing you to move elsewhere

Leave before you have to leave.

Don’t be forced out because you’re too stubborn, scared, or have a false sense of loyalty. You’ll do more harm to your reputation, your attitude and the organization during the miserable days.

And, as some have pointed out in the comments, it may be you need a rest – a sabbatical – but the point of this post is to do the right thing – for you and the organization. Never stay for a paycheck, or a false sense of loyalty, or because you’re afraid to walk again by faith. 

Do the right thing.

7 Specific Suggestions for Dealing with Stress in Life and Leadership

A tired woman sitting on the desk

Stress is very much a part of life. Having traveled to many cultures, however, I think we may sometimes “specialize” in stress in America. It almost seems we look for ways to bring more stress in our life.

Yesterday, I shared some general ways to deal with stress.

Today I’m following up with some specific things I do, which help me deal daily with stress.

You can read yesterday’s post HERE.

Here are 7 specific tips I have for handling stress:

Plan each day.

I know some will resist this because of the word I’m about to use – but, get a checklist for every day. I think  we should begin each day with a predetermined win for the day – and for me, this involves completing a realistic checklist of accomplishments. Ask yourself – what do I need to complete today?  Learn to plan what you can actually do. Don’t overcommit. As you get more disciplined, you can add some “stretch” items to the checklist. I try to do the harder ones or the ones I least enjoy doing first – so I get them out of the way. Complete an item or move it to another day. Keep in mind, if you keep moving items you are either not making good use of your time or planning too much for effectiveness. The more you plan days you can complete the less stressful individual days will be and, ultimately, the more effective you will be. 

Switch projects.

When I’m really stressed about a specific project, I like to take a break and work on something different – at this point, hopefully something I can easily complete. Now obviously this can become a problem if you never complete the stressful project, so use it as a help not a crutch. Sometimes, however, the energy created in making progress on another project will fuel you for the stressful project.

Review your time commitments.

This is huge. We tend to over-commit. Monitor all the ways you spend time. If you were going to create a monetary budget for the first time, financial planners would have you track everywhere you spend money. The same principle applies here. If you’re always stressed chances are good you have a time management issue on your hands. There are often things we continually do which bring us the most stress. Sometimes you may be able to delegate them – other times you may not even need to do them – and, at times you simply need to quit procrastinating, knock them out, and move on to something else. Figure out the problem areas, begin to address them with a good, disciplined approach, and you’ll decrease stress.

Practice redirection of thoughts.

Stress is often caused because we let our minds think about the wrong things. We have a natural bent towards worry, which always leads to stress. Some of us are more prone to this than others. When stress hits you – read a Psalm. Listen to a song. Recite poetry. Look at pictures of your family. Pray – (Because, ultimately, God is in control and you can trust Him.) Turn off the news and social media, which tends to add to stress most of the time. Take a moment to reflect on something of greater value in your life than the thoughts which are causing the most stress. When it’s people who are causing me stress, I sometimes pull out my “encouragement file”. Every leader needs one. These are encouraging notes or emails people have sent me through the years. Changing your thought process often lowers your stress. 

Move your body.

Stress seems to germinate in my mind when I am still for too long. Take a walk. Stretch your muscles. Head to the gym. I have found the more the stressful season the more exercise I need – even during the middle of a busy day. When I come back from time in physical activity I’m more energized to attack stress and win!

Talk to someone who listens and cares.

Sometimes just walking to another office and venting – or phoning a friend – will relieve a stressful moment. Others, especially those who know me and care for me, can see things from a perspective I can’t see. They can speak into my day. They can help redirect my focus and give me a fresh start. Again, I mention prayer. We have to learn how to communicate with our Creator. One of my friends always says, “Prayer doesn’t always change my circumstances, but prayer always changes me.” 

Stop and dream.

This may sound corny, but it works. What’s something you can look forward to? It may be at the end of the day, the weekend, or a year down the road. Knowing there’s something to look forward to beyond today helps me handle current stress. As a husband, I’m always intentionally trying to have a mini-vacation on the calendar for my wife and me. I know she and I both need it in our marriage to handle the daily stress grind. Again, don’t let this become a distraction to progress. You’ll have to discipline yourself back to the task at hand, but,in my experience, typically people who stress the most (people like me) are wired for progress more than process. We stress when things aren’t getting done fast enough and we tend to overcommit. I’m not sure our basic wiring will ever change, but sometimes, in the midst of a stressful moment, stopping to “smell the roses” lowers our stress level, gives us more fuel for the journey, and makes us more efficient – and more happy!

Those are a few tips. I hope they are helpful. 

What tips could you add?

7 General Suggestions for Handling Stress in Life and Leadership

depressed

The world is stressful. And, as I view the world, it is not getting any easier. There seems to be little relief in sight. If anything, life seems more stressful today than even a few years ago. It may be getting worse – not better.

I’ve written about the subject previously, but it keeps coming up in discussion, so here we go again.

What should we do? How do we handle the stress of daily living?

I want to offer some general suggestions today and then follow up with a post tomorrow with some specific suggestions. I hope they help.

Here are 7 general suggestions for handling stress:

Have a greater purpose than today.

If life is all about your current situation – when times are good you’ll be good, but when times are bad – life will be very bad. You have to live your life with a greater purpose. What’s beyond today? Where are you headed? What’s the future look like for you? Do you have a plan beyond the stress of today? It will help free your mind from stress when you can lift your focus. Of course, mine is an eternal purpose! And, I recommend it, but there must be something you are living for beyond the stress of today.

Direct your thought life.

It is a discipline to think of the glass as half full. Stress often comes through what consumes our mind. Garbage in – garbage out. In times of extreme stress, we have to pull from a predetermined and preconditioned ability to look to the bright side. The Apostle Paul said it like this, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Stay as physically healthy as possible.

Stress attacks weakness. Exercise and eating healthy are always good ideas, but it becomes monumentally important during stressful times of life. We tend to do the opposite. We skip our workouts and grab junk to eat. In the process, we starve our bodies of energy and our brains of needed nutrition and activity.

Forgive easily.

We don’t often attribute this one to stress, but the lack of forgiveness injures you more than the person who injured you. Holding a grudge leads to bitterness. Bitterness leads to stored-up destructive emotions – which is a recipe for stress. Pile on the normal stress of life and you’re going to be one stressed out person. Let go. Forgive. Never hold a grudge for long. Forgiveness leads to freedom – and the more freedom you find the less stress will have an impact upon you.

Ground yourself in truth.

You need some roots in something which will sustain you during times of stress. God’s word is my foundation. I read it everyday. I memorize it. I sometimes write a verse down so I can see it during the week. Here’s a good verse: “He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6) Or, “When I am afraid I will trust in You, in God whose word I praise.” (Psalm 56:3-4) Find your verse – your truth – and cling to it; especially during stressful seasons.

Be a giver.

This one never makes sense to people until the try it, but people who cling tightly to what they have stress when they have less. The more we try to control what we have the more it leads to frustration when it seems to be in jeopardy. Giving does something spectacular in our hearts. It frees us to experience joy. (Again, you have to try this one for it to make sense.)

Celebrate often.

Take time to laugh. Decompress. Unwind. Choose the bright side of life. It is there even on the worst days. Sometimes I get up from my desk, put my headphones in my phone, crank up a fast worship song – and dance. I know – so much for being a Baptist preacher, right? But, it breaks the hold stress has on me at the time. Also, surround yourself with positive people when you can. Don’t surround yourself with negative people and don’t give them the same leverage in your life. Find a community of hope. This is what church does for me.

As I said, these are broad suggestions. Tomorrow I’ll share some specific suggestions for handling stress

What’s your remedy for stress?