As heroic as our vision casting is and despite our best intentions, life happens. “Right now” emergencies override visionary priorities. Distractions demand our attention, pull us away from creative thinking and bury us in the whirlwind of daily responsibilities. So as a leader, how do we deal with “right now” emergencies while leading our team into the future?
Sometimes leadership sucks. Why? Well, I think leadership is difficult because I believe it begins with challenging the status quo. It takes seeing an outcome that others don’t yet see. And often, standing against the tide. It requires moving forward and encouraging others to follow you to a place that no one has ever been when you yourself aren’t quite sure how you will get there, but you know you are going. That is hard.
That level of leadership requires challenging people to become all that they can become, to see things in them that they don’t even see in themselves. It requires withstanding criticism that comes with leading and the misunderstanding that comes with being confident and purposeful. That is leadership. That is what makes it hard. Leadership challenges. Leadership and vision divide because leaders say, “This is where we are going and this is what the win is, and consequently, that over there is not where we are going and that is not the win.”
Practice Daily Disciplines
As heroic as our vision casting is and despite our best intentions, life happens. Right now urgencies can override visionary priorities. In the middle of an urgent situation, it is even more important to stick to the disciplines of refuelling. For me its praying, reading the Word and feeding myself with podcasts and books because nothing drains a leader faster than a crisis. Jim Rohn said “Success in nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced everyday”.
The natural tendency for most of us is to prioritize work and the urgent matters and to become too busy for reading and our other re-creation activities, but this can be a fatal mistake for leaders. We make a lot more mistakes when we are tired or battle weary, so it is most important to stay refreshed and strong. It has to be the priority.
Don’t Allow Others Poor Planning to Become Your Emergency
Sometimes poor planning, procrastination or neglect of duties by another team player can appear as a leader’s “right now” emergency. But like the saying goes “poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” Sometimes as a leader we need to allow our team members to dig themselves out of the hole they dug and not come to their rescue all of the time. This is sometimes the only way they will learn.
The exception is if their poor planning and procrastination will hurt the organization or people in the organization, then you will have to help, but you will also have to make it very clear to them why the crisis happened in the first place and then how to avoid it next time; and…you have to hold them accountable if it happens again.
Pull the Thread
We need to learn to ask the right questions. Elon Musk, product architect of Telsa, inc., says “one of the really tough things is figuring out what questions to ask”.
Leaders are always trying to read people and situations. It helps us prepare and plan for the future. It helps us find opportunities and helps us avoid potential challenges. Like Solomon said, “a wise man sees trouble coming and avoid it.” But, I am always careful how I see and respond to what I think I saw.
I can easily misread people and situations, reacting or overreacting to a perception is a deadly sin for a leader and can cause irreparable damage. So, I was taught by a mentor the art of “pulling threads.” It a metaphor based on the loose threads we often see on our sweaters. Sometimes it’s just a small thread and is no big deal. Other times when we pull it it unravels the whole sleeve and destroys the sweater. In the same way, “pulling threads” in the leadership context is when I sense something out of order in a situation or in the team, I will “pull the thread”. This simply means investigate further by asking key questions or watching more closely for other hints of something out of place.
Sometimes we think we have clearly communicated expectations but somewhere along the line something was missed resulting in a “right now” urgency. I first ask myself “did I communicate clear enough?” Then I ask them if they understood my expectations and ask them to repeat back to me what they felt my expectations were. That way, I know if they understood me clearly. If, in this process, I discover that they didn’t understand me, I will apologize for not being clear enough and will reexplain it to them. If it happens a second time, however, there is no apology and I become more stern with my response and they are held accountable for the outcome.
On an average day in the office, I walk in and am suddenly barraged with everyone’s questions just because I am physically present. I know, as a leader, that when I am in the office I will be regularly interrupted and I mentally prepare for that. I always try to make myself fully available for my team and congregation when I am in the office and so I welcome interruptions and they don’t throw me off. That is why I work from my home office on Mondays to prepare messages and other specific tasks that require my full, uninterrupted attention. It helps me be more available for the team when I am in the office.
I also take days away just to dream, plan and work on the church instead of in the church. Being away helps me be more focused on the big picture and less distracted with the daily whirlwind. It also allows me to be fully available and focused on the nitty gritty details when I am in the office, so that my mind isn’t always thinking on something else or nagging at me with unfinished tasks.
Schedule Creative Thinking
With the constant interruptions of “right now” moments it can be difficult to turn your focus on ‘creative thinking’ for the future rather than ‘problem-solving thinking’ for the immediate. The best way to battle this is to schedule it. I schedule a yearly week away where I retreat to an isolated location to just dream and plan and get creative. I also schedule a day in my week to think and work on what I call “big picture” tasks or projects. You have to schedule it. Put it in your calendar. If you don’t, the whirlwind will eat up all of your time and you will become problem-solving focused. That’s when you cease being a leader and become a manager. Nothing wrong with managers. But if you are your organizations leader, then you are being paid to lead — not just manage — so make it a priority and schedule it into your calendar.
Guard Your Home Time
I learned a long time ago that being a pastor is not a job, it’s a calling and you can never really escape the calling. Emergencies happen and they rarely happen at convenient times, so it is inevitable that sometimes the urgent will interrupt your home time. What is important, is you need to clearly define, in your own mind first, and then with your direct reports what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t.
If someone in our congregation, or a family member of one of congregation, is in a serious accident and is holding on to life in the hospital, or if someone’s family member dies suddenly, then these are unavoidable emergencies that need to be acted on immediately as a pastor and warrant interrupting my family time.
If someone calls me because their wife just stormed out the door in a fit of rage and left them and they are wanting me to come right now and fix the situation for them, that — in my mind — doesn’t warrant me leaving my family to rescue theirs, and here’s why. That marital crisis didn’t get created over night and it won’t be fixed over night. It will still be there in the morning and I can address it then. My family is my priority and I determined a long time ago that I was not willing to sacrifice my family on the altar of the ministry. So, unless it is a dire emergency — a life and death situation — I prioritize my family time and do my best to leave the office stuff at the office when I am home with them.
Sunday Morning Emergencies
Unless you are a pastor, it is difficult to understand what pastors go through, but this was a difficult one for me to figure out in my head when I first started pastoring. It seemed like every Sunday someone would dump on me or criticize me or the church right before the service or right before I had to preach. I was tempted to do what I saw some other pastors do and that was enter the service late, after the music started, surrounded by a group of body guards to protect “the anointing” and my mental state so that I could deliver the “Word of God” to the people. After all, that was my job.
Finally, I realized that I am the pastor, not just the speaker. That means that I am to be there for the people, to care for them and love on them and listen to them. And for most of them, the only time they get to see me is right before or after the service, so now, I do my best to make myself available for them as much as I can, knowing that inevitably someone will dump on me. But I am ok with it now.
I have learned that if I am well prepared and have a love for the people I am a much better communicator to them, than if I am just the preacher. I also had to learn the art of ending conversations politely so that I can reach as many people as possible, not just the one person who wants to dominate my time. This often means scheduling a time with that person throughout the week so that we can more effectively continue our conversation and give them my total focused attention.
Have a Spiritual Mentor
As church leaders we are not above our own “right now” emotional or spiritual urgencies. I would recommend that every church leader have someone they can talk to, outside of their congregation. Someone who is mature enough to handle your humanity and speak into your life. It could be a counsellor or a mentor, but every leader needs someone they can talk to. And, again, schedule into you calendar a regular time to talk with that person. We are all human and we all hurt, there is no shame in that. We all need ministry and we all need to allow ourselves to be ministered to. It is so important.
Why? Well because it helps us be the best we can be in moving the church forward to be hope of the world and to stay on mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.
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