8 Signs You May be an Anxious Leader

In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I combine three sources of insight, the Bible, Bowen Family Systems, and Brain research. The second ‘B,’ Bowen Family Systems, refers to insights from a psychiatrist who practiced during the 60’s-80’s, Dr. Murray Bowen. His research revealed that each of us handles our anxiety, a general word for negative emotions such as fear or worry, in different ways. He and others have applied his insight to how leaders lead. And when a leader leads as an anxious leader, he stifles his leadership effectiveness. So, what might indicate that you are an anxious leader?

These seven signs might indicate that your leadership is being negatively affected by how you handle your anxiety. Mentally check which ones are sometimes true of you.

  1. I can mindlessly yield to others’ opinions to avoid more anxiety.
  2. I sometimes blow up at others too easily.
  3. I tend to focus on others’ reactions and responses to me.
  4. I can be easily and quickly hurt.
  5. I often see myself as a victim.
  6. I resort to either/ or, yes/ no or black/ white thinking.
  7. I sometimes cast blame or falsely criticize others.
  8. I often entertain threats from others (for example, “I’m going to leave the church unless you . . .”).*

How many did you check? If you checked two or more, your leadership may be hindered by how you handle your anxiety.

So, if traits of an anxious leader play out in your leadership. what can you do?

Here are four simple suggestions that might help.

  1. Everyday do an emotional check in. In other words, during your devotional time each morning, check in with your emotions. Ask yourself, “What emotions am I currently feeling?” Simply being aware of them will help you moderate their influence. The term is called meta-cognition, thinking about what you are thinking about and feeling.
  2. Name the negative emotion you feel. Unlike what our culture sometimes subtly encourages us, “keep those negative emotions from leaking out,” naming your negative emotions actually quiets the emotional centers of the brain (the limbic system), thus allowing our thinking centers to take charge (the pre-frontal cortex). Healthy leaders lead from a clear mind, not from muddy emotions.
  3. Memorize scriptures that speak to anxiety. When you feel anxious, quote Scripture. The more we memorize Scripture the more our brain connections and networks actually change to reflect the truth of Scripture. It’s called neuroplasticity. Here’s one of my favorite scriptures I’ve memorized that I often quote when I feel anxious.
    • Phil. 4.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
  4. Share your feelings with someone else who is/has faced a similar situation.  A recent study revealed that when we share anxious emotions with others facing similar issues, the emotions are moderated. So, having a network of pastors who face similar challenges as you, and sharing with them your struggles can help you deal with your own anxiety.

What have you found that helps you deal with anxiety?

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*Source: Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2983-2987). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. Permission granted for use.

4 Essential Behaviors that Enhance Leadership Success

I began serving as Lead Pastor in Canada four years ago at a great church West Park Church. I began to practice four essential behaviors that helped me get a good start and experience some early leadership success. I believe leaders would do well to practice these four behaviors to improve their leadership success.

  1. Communicate often and well.
    • A new pastor must gain the trust of those he leads. One way to build that trust comes through effective and regular communication. People want to know what’s going on. If they don’t, they will connect dots that don’t exist. Here’s what I did (and do) to maximize communication.
      • I send a short weekly staff report to our board appraising them of our staff’s weekly activities. We answer these three questions each week.
        1. What went well?
        2. What didn’t go well?
        3. What’s the most important 3 things I must do this week to move the mission forward?
      • I include a short paragraph each week in the bulletin called ‘Where’s Waldo (aka Charles)’ where I share the highlights of my workweek.
      • In the first few months I sent out regular more detailed summaries of ministry progress.
  2. Listen and learn.
    • In my first message when I arrived in Canada I communicated to the church that I had much to learn. I told them that during the first few months I would listen and learn by asking lots of questions. I held listening sessions with over 100 people asking them about the history and the strengths/weaknesses of the church. I asked many of those people these four questions.
      • Would you tell me about yourself?
      • What’s going well here (this parallels one of the above questions)?
      • What’s not going well?
      • If you were in my shoes, what would you focus on?
  3. Wisely manage change.
    • When a new leader or pastor arrives, he or she often falsely assumes that the organization/church expects dramatic and quick change. Sometimes circumstances warrant such change if something is ‘on fire.’ Often, however, a leader must build trust before the church will receive dramatic changes. That doesn’t mean that we don’t bring change, however. It’s important that a new leader secures some early wins which requires some change. That in itself fosters trust. But, whether or not you are a new leader, thoughtfully managed change will bring the greatest lasting change.
  4. Keep healthy margins.
    • I heard someone once say that at the end of each day, the average number of items left to do exceeds 30. This side of heaven we can always find more tasks to fill our time. In my first few months it was difficult to keep consistently healthy margins. When I arrived we were significantly short staffed so I had to take up some of the slack. I realized, though, that I couldn’t maintain the pace I was running. So, to keep myself and my family healthy, I practiced these ‘margin keepers.’
      1. I didn’t say yes to everybody that wanted to meet with me. I learned to politely say no.
      2. I asked the board to handle some of the tasks staff otherwise might have handled.
      3. I made my time more productive. I sometimes took an afternoon or two outside the office where I could minimize interruptions and maximize productivity.

What crucial behaviors have helped your leadership succeed?

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Feeling Discouraged? How a Leader can Defeat it

Somebody once said there are two things in life we can’t avoid, taxes and death. I’d like to add a third, discouragement. Church leader or not, you will face it. It’s an inevitable part of life. Here’s how I’ve learned to defeat discouragement.

Some time back discouragement hit me like a ton of bricks one week. It all began on a Monday evening after a good day at church the day prior. We had baptized a dozen people, another half dozen indicated they had trusted Christ, and we began Alpha with a bang.

But when I got the stats back from Sunday’s service, I got bummed out. A not-so-good attendance and a very poor offering pushed me into discouragement. I’d been doing well to not allow low Sunday statistics affect me. This time, however, I didn’t do so well.

During this time of discouragement I learned three small choices that have helped me dig out of my funk. Often we must take the initiative as did King David when lifted himself out of a serious bout of discouragement when he did this. He, “encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30.6)

I believe small choices that may not seem overtly spiritual can become ways we can encourage ourselves in the Lord.

Here are the three.

Break up your routine.

That week my wife and my daughter were going to make a run to our local super Wal-Mart and they asked if I wanted to go. My first inclination was, ‘No.’ But after a moment’s reflection, I said, “Sure.”

Usually I’d just sit at the man bench at the check-out line (those benches where guys sit while their wives shop).

This time, however, I decided I’d go to the books’ area and browse. When I did, I picked up a Guinness Book of World Records and had few laughs. I saw, among other records, a picture of a guy who held the world record in piercings (yuk) and a picture of another guy in India with the world’s longest ear hairs at 7 inches (gross). This little break, albeit odd, helped get my mind off my discouragement.

Pamper yourself.

For a guy, this may sound too feely-touchy. I don’t mean with this point that you should go get a pedicure. Here’s how I pampered myself.

At the time I swam at a local indoor pool three times a week and usually went back home to grab some breakfast. I was on a tight budget (as many pastors are) so I seldom ate out. But that morning I decided I’d go through the drive-thru and get some breakfast at McDonalds to treat myself.

I spent a few dollars on a sausage biscuit and an egg McMuffin. After I slathered each with grape jelly, I enjoyed the small treat. This small ‘self-care’ gesture encouraged me. Self-care gestures can help us defeat discouragement. 

Do something outrageously fun.

When I lived in Chicago, each Tuesday night I’d attended a musical improv class. I’ve never had as much fun as I did in these classes. At the time it was my fourth round of classes. As a pastor I was a bit of a novelty to my classmates. Comedy turns blue so often but when I put my clean twist on things, my classmates got a humorous kick. When I drove home afterwards I felt like I’d made a huge deposit into my soul by simply doing something fun. When you feel discouraged, do something fun. 

So, the next time you face discouragement, give these ideas a try.

  • Break your routine.
  • Pamper yourself.
  • Maybe even join an improv class.

What has helped you defeat discouragement as a leader?

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Does your Team have a Trust Deficit? These 10 Questions will Tell You

Trust: the belief that someone is reliable, good, honest or effective (Merriam-Webster). Healthy ministry teams make trust building a priority. Patrick Lencioni, one of today’s best writers on leadership, believes that absence of trust is the biggest problem among dysfunctional teams (see his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). Stephen M. R. Covey wrote an entire book that shows how teams can build trust called The Speed of Trust. So, how do you know if your team has a deficit? This post answers that question.

Honestly answer these questions to gauge if you have a trust deficit in your team.

  1. Does a spirit of suspicion lurk in team members’ minds?
  2. Do team members overly rely on email in lieu of talking?
  3. Do team members often wear facades?
  4. Is there too much “happy talk” which masks true problems?
  5. Are team members reluctant to share their honest feelings and opinions?
  6. Do team members resist meeting together?
  7. Has the team lost enthusiasm?
  8. Has grumbling and complaining  become the norm?
  9. Is the leader inconsistent?
  10. Do some team members intentionally withhold information from others?

How did you do? If you answered yes to more than one or two questions, your team may be facing a trust deficit.

So how do you rebuild trust?

In the posts below I suggest a few ideas on building trust. Here’s what I suggest as a first step, though. Get the book The Speed of Trust for you and your team and read it. It’s a great read. Here’s a summary of the book to get you started.

What other behaviors have you seen that may indicate lack of trust in a team?

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Has Ministry Stress made you a Zombie Pastor? Take the Zombie Zone Quiz to Find Out

Zombies are big today. Big budget movies, popular TV shows,  commercials, and even zombie action figures have invaded our culture. Even before they became popular, when someone said, ‘I feel like a zombie,” we knew what they meant… they felt exhausted, lifeless, listless, and were simply going through the motions. How do you know if ministry stress has made you a zombie pastor? In this post you can find out.

photo purchased through Deposit Photos

As a pastor for over 35 years, at times I’ve felt like a zombie pastor. Ministry stress, disappointments, and pressure sometimes seemed to sap my soul of life, energy, and joy.

So how do you know if you are a zombie pastor? Take the Pastor Zombie Zone Quiz. (Tweet this quote here)