Emotionally Anxious Leaders: 8 Signs

My dad was an electrical engineer and filled his shop in our basement with the most amazing gizmos. Transistors, capacitors, transformers, electrical tools and every conceivable gadget lined the shelves and entertained me for hours. My favorite gadget was a neon sign transformer. A transformer is a device that either steps up or steps down current. The metal green box in a yard down your street or the cylindrical container on a telephone pole near your house is a transformer that steps down high-voltage power to 220 volts that comes into your house. So what does a transformer have to to with an emotionally anxious leader? Read on.

With my dad’s neon sign transformer, I made what is called a Jacob’s ladder. I attached two three-foot wires to the leads on each side, and bent the wires into a V. When I plugged it in, a multi-thousand volt spark started at the bottom of the V and arced to the top. In this case, the transformer stepped up the household current to over two thousand volts. My Jacob’s ladder created lots of really cool sparks that appealed to my geekish interests. And I got shocked by it only once.

A leader is like a transformer. By his responses, he can either defuse an emotional setting like a heated board meeting or can act like a step-up transformer by reacting and increasing anxiety, thus causing lots of not-so-cool sparks, as we leaders often do. Through a calm presence with emotional people, a leader can act like an emotional step-down transformer, decreasing the group’s anxiety by letting it pass through him without getting zapped.

Sometimes as leaders, however, we can characterize emotionality and anxiety one-dimensionally as defensiveness. But chronic anxiety, the low level anxiety we seem to never shake, fuels emotionality and shows up in eight ways that I call “the eight Fs of chronic anxiety.” It manifests itself differently in different people. As you read the list below, consider which F tempts you the most.

  • Fight: emotionally reacting and becoming defensive (how we usually describe emotionality)
  • Flee: emotionally or physically cutting off from others in anxious situations
  • Freeze: not knowing what to do, thus not taking a position; offering no opinion and/ or staying neutral when you should take a position
  • Fuse: losing your identity by glomming on to others’ wants and desires, compromising convictions, seeking unity at all costs and/ or trying to force everybody to be one big, happy family
  • Fixate: easily getting triangled into unhealthy relationships and conflict
  • Fix: overperforming to fix somebody else’s problems or doing for others what they should do for themselves
  • Flounder: becoming passive, underperforming, or giving up
  • Feed/ fornicate/ finances: inappropriately yielding to base impulses by turning to food, illicit sex/ pornography or inappropriate use of money

When we are tempted to deal with our anxiety with one of the 8 F’s, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions. He wept when he heard that Lazarus had died. He became angry at the temple moneychangers. He felt a heavy heart in the garden of Gethsemane. Yet his behavior reflected anything but anxious reactivity.

Jesus’ response to his enemies throughout his trial and crucifixion, as 1 Peter 2: 23 illustrates, continues to amaze me.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Every time I recall this verse, I stand in awe. Although Jesus possessed God’s power to destroy his detractors, he didn’t. Rather, he leaned into his heavenly Father to respond appropriately to hardship. Likewise, as we lean into our heavenly Father, he gives us what we need to say no to reactivity and dealing with our anxiety in unhealthy and sinful ways.

The Bible tells us that the Lord has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Second Peter 1: 3 is so powerful as it encourages us with these words.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

God has crafted our bodies and brains, our souls and minds, and our regenerated hearts with the capability to cool our emotions in the midst of emotionality. Acting calmly when tempted to do otherwise glorifies him.

What has helped you deal with anxiety that ministry often brings?

Related posts:

Used by permission. Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2415-2432). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Fasting in a Leader’s Life: the 8 Benefits

Fasting is a spiritual practice the Bible encourages. The Old Testament mentions it many times as did Jesus. We often hear and teach that fasting can help us deepen our walk with Christ, but I also believe that leaders should consider fasting to help them lead better. Taken from the book of Isaiah, fasting can bring these 8 spiritual benefits to the life of every leader.

The first 5 verses of Isaiah 58 describe a fast  the people had committed to. Although they seemed eager to know God more intimately, they weren’t truly eager for God. God chastised them for their false humility and in the verses that follow, I’ve gleaned from God’s response to them these 8 positive benefits that fasting offers every leader.

  1.  The Lord can use it as a tool to free you from personal weaknesses or sin areas. 
    • Isa. 58:6    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
  2. It can help you become a more generous leader.
    • 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
  3. Jesus can bring emotional, relational, or even physical healing.
    • 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
  4. It can help you become more aware of His protection over you as a leader.
    • …then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
  5. It can result in your seeing more answers to prayer as your prayers align more closely to God’s will.  
    • 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
  6. You will become more confident in the dark times you face as a leader.
    • …”If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.   Your darkest hour will be like the noonday sun...
  7. It will remind you that Jesus will give you strength to lead well.
    • 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
  8. You will see your leadership yield spiritual fruit.
    • …You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Andrew Murray, a South African pastor/writer who wrote 240 books in the late 19th and early 20th century wrote these words.

“Fasting helps to express, deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, to sacrifice ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

How has fasting helped your leadership?

Related posts:

 

Leadership Margin: 6 Indicators you May Have Exceeded Yours

Four years ago I began serving a great church, West Park Church in London, Ontario, as their lead pastor. In retrospect realized I could not keep the pace I had initially set. I lacked what Dr. Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, calls margin. He defines margin as the “space between ourselves and our limits.” I had read the book years before, but had failed to heed its advice. Here’s what was happening in my leadership life.

  1. I left no white space in my Outlook calendar. I had packed every minute of my workday with some task or meeting, leaving no margin or white space for unexpected time demands.
  2. I was getting home late every day. I had planned to leave the office at 5.30 several days of the week to get home in time to exercise and then have dinner with my family at 6.30.  I found myself working until 6.30 or later on many of my non-meeting nights (Wednesday is the night I reserved for meetings).
  3. I felt exhausted when I got up each day, even after 8 hours of sleep.
  4. I found myself wishing  I didn’t have to go into work some mornings, although I thoroughly enjoy my work.
  5. I could not even stay awake to watch an entire episode of Criminal Minds, one of my favorite TV programs. After dinner I usually watch TV to wind down but I was so tired I couldn’t even make it half way through one episode.
  6. I began to experience mental exhaustion during my Sunday sermons, even after getting a full-night’s rest.

When I began to experience these symptoms, I knew that my leadership would soon suffer, if it hadn’t already. So what did I do to bring myself back into balance? I began to work on these seven behaviors.

  1. I first had to admit that I was wrong and that what I was doing bordered on sin.
  2. I shared my struggle with our board.
  3. I readjusted my schedule to include white space into at least two afternoons each week for unexpected issues.
  4. The elders asked me to take one full day at my home office for study, so as to minimize interruptions to my study at the office. This increased my study efficiency.
  5. I had to give away some responsibilities. We were currently short-staffed so more ‘stuff’ fell on my plate. I shared some of these projects with the elders and they graciously consented to deal with those issues.
  6. I increased the time I spend each morning in activities that make deposits in my soul, my quiet time and reading. I scheduled one hour each morning for this.
  7. I watched this short video where Bill Hybles explained how he replenishes his soul. He motivated me to become more serious about personal replenishment.

I still work a solid week every week in the ministry and love the work, but I believe I set myself on a sustainable path early on in my new role.

What has helped you keep healthy margins?

Related posts:

Do You Have a Healthy Leader’s Brain? Take this Quiz and Find Out

God gave us an amazing three pound part of our body called the brain. And today, the brain is big. Books about the brain are flying off the shelves. Neuroscientists are studying the brain like never before. And millions of dollars are being spend on research. So how can we keep a healthy leader’s brain? Dr. David Rock and Dr. Daniel Siegal combed years of research to assimilate what they call the “Healthy Mind Platter,” seven activities that help people, including leaders, maximize that three-pound wonder. I’ve put my own spin on their findings and listed those seven activities below that when practiced, can help leaders maximize their effectiveness.

Leaders will keep their brains healthy when they make time for these activities. Both the Bible and brain science help us see their importance. Mentally check the ones you practice consistently.

  1. I take time to focus.
    • Brain science tells us that when we deeply focus (like when we plan or prepare a sermon), the brain makes deep connections.
    • Jesus challenged the crowds to think deeply about the cost of discipleship (Luke 14,25-33).
  2. I take time for fun.
    • Having fun allows for novelty and spontaneity which helps the brain make new connections.
    • Children were attracted to Jesus. Although we don’t have any direct Biblical references, I believe children saw Jesus as someone both approachable and fun to be with.
  3. I take time for family and friends.
    • Neuroscientists are learning that the brain is a social organ and when we build relationships it deepens our relational brain circuitry.
    • One of the hallmarks of Christianity is true community, spending time with others in deep relationships (Acts 4).
  4. I take time to exercise.
    • Brain research abounds about how exercise improves brain functioning.
    • The Scriptures tell us that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit which implies we should take care of them. Exercise is one way to do that (1 Cor. 6.18-19).
  5. I take time for stillness.
    • Researchers have found that when we quiet our inner world through meditation, we are able to regulate our emotions better and think more clearly.
    • Often Scripture tells us to be still before the Lord. When we reflect and meditate on Him and His Word, we not only draw close to him, but it keeps our brain healthy as well (Is 46.10).
  6. I take time to simply chill (down time).
    • When we allow our brains to be non-focused (mind wander or daydream) our creativity increases.
    • I doubt that Jesus held a non-stop theology class with His disciples. I imagine that at times he simple chilled out with His disciples with no specific goal in mind, except to enjoy each other and enjoy God’s creation.
  7. I take time for adequate sleep.
    • When we sleep our memories deepen and our brain recovers from the day’s stress.
    • I’m encouraged that when Jesus got tired, he slept, even in a storm (Mk 4.38).

How many of these practices do you consistently practice? Which one is toughest for you?

Related posts:

 

 

8 Ways to Bust Leadership Discouragement

Discouragement is a universal experience for ministry leaders and the word actually self defines itself…dis-courage meaning no courage. Some of the Bible’s greatest characters faced it: Moses, David, Paul, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the apostles. Nehemiah, the great Old Testament leader faced it when he led the Jews to rebuild the wall. Yet, his response offers us hope when we face it.

Nehemiah had been hammered with criticism and it was taking its toll. Discouragement had set in. Nehemiah 4.10-21 tells us what Nehemiah did in response to it. This part of the rebuilding story gives us 8 discouragement busters.

Buster 1: Monitor your thoughts.

This buster is perhaps the most important one. An unconscious chatter is always active inside our minds because our mind simply wanders a lot. When we are not thinking about anything else, it wanders off into worry, fear, anxiety, or discouragement.

A key concept gaining greater prominence today is something called metacognition which simply means thinking about what you are thinking about. To battle discouragement we must discipline ourselves to be aware of this constant chatter that often leads us into discouragement. I believe the Apostle Paul understood that when he wrote this verse.

Phil. 4.8   Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

So, to bust discouragement stop and ask yourself, “What am I thinking about?” Monitor your thoughts, your self-talk, the inner chatter. Change you thinking if it’s going negative.

Buster 2: When you feel discouraged call it what it is, don’t stuff it, ignore it, or rehearse it.

Nehemiah didn’t ignore the discouragement the people felt.

When we name our negative emotion we actually decrease its power, contrary to what we often tell ourselves, “Just ignore it or stuff it.” Neuroscientists have discovered that when we stuff our emotions it actually reinforces them over the long term. But when we actually name them, it decreases the power of our emotional centers and engages the thinking centers of our minds.

Buster 3: Guard against emotional pig-pens.

Pig-pen, one of the characters in the Peanuts cartoon was always dirty and carried around a cloud of dust wherever he went. And, he seemed to spread his dirt everywhere he went. Pig-pen is a great word picture for some people who carry around a cloud of discouragement with them wherever they go. In Nehemiah’s day some of the Jews living in the surrounding areas would come into town and bring their discouragement. When you know someone around you is an emotional pig-pen, keep your distance.

Buster 4: Do nothing.

Nehemiah had to stop the building for a time to re-group and re-focus the Jews. Sometimes as leaders we get so tired or sleep deprived we simply need to stop, rest, sleep more, or simply take a break.

Buster 5: Do something.

Nehemiah responded to this discouragement and resistance by getting the people to be intentional about doing something to get them off their negativity. He gave them a common goal. He did something constructive by setting new plans in place to deal with his enemies. So, when discouragement comes, don’t wallow in it. Rather, do something constructive.

 Buster 6. Be specific with your plan.

Nehemiah was specific in what he did in response to the discouragement. He made many changes in how the work was done. The same holds true for defeating discouragement. We know that discouragement will come our way, so be prepared. When it comes, act upon your predetermined plan. Such a plan may include calling it what it is, going for a walk, calling a friend, doing something nice for someone, or spending 10 minutes on a short term project you’ve been avoiding (like cleaning off your desk).

Buster 7: Count your blessings, not your burdens.

Nehemiah often reminded the people of God’s faithfulness to them. In doing so he was helping them count their blessings. Neuroscientists are learning that when we count our blessings and shift our attention from the negative we actually decrease the chemicals in our brain that make us feel blue. By counting your blessings you are intentionally shifting your attention off the source of and the emotion of discouragement. The Psalmists counsels us with these words.

Psa. 77.11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Buster 8: Don’t face your discouragement all alone.

Nehemiah would keep his trumpeter at his side and if he saw the enemy marshaling forces in the distance, he’d sound the alarm to bring everybody together. The beauty of the body of Christ remind us that we don’t have to bear our burdens alone. When you face discouragement, take the initiative to be a friend, get into a safe small group, or see a counselor. Don’t bear it alone.

Every ministry leader will face discouragement. Nehemiah’s response gives us hope in our discouragement.

What has helped you battle discouragement?

Related Posts