Is it possible that a large portion of the stress in your life isn’t actually put on you by others, but things you have put onto yourself? Or maybe, these stresses have been placed on you, but you have become so well adjusted to this reality, that you have come to believe this is your life now. So often in leadership, we live this life like the frog in a pot. You know the analogy:
"The boiling frog is an anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is put in cold water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that rise gradually."
Can I put my hands on both your shoulders and shake you? If you have come to believe that this is your stock in life, I am here to tell you that is a lie! There is a better way. I can say, without reservation, that this is possible. I have seen it in my own life and in the organizations I have led. As well, I have built this idea into the teams I lead and helped shape environments that have seen people flourish in.
Much like the frog in the pot, is it possible that you have become so well adjusted to the rising temperatures around you that you have come to believe that this is what the life of a leader looks like? Before it is too late, jump out! You are not called to sacrifice yourself, your family and your calling on the altar of that calling.
We are all faced with decisions in our lives, and ultimately, it boils down (pun intended) to the decisions we make. Should I take on that task? Have I allowed others to dictate my schedule? Are the expectations upon my life unrealistic? Am I doing what I am called or gifted to do? Am I in the wrong job or role? Am I doing too much? Do I need to do it all?
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not speaking about working hard, serving those you lead, or going through a season of high stress. All these things are part of the life of a leader. But much too often we allow for the unhealthy and unrealistic realities of this role to become all consuming and the new day to day reality of our life.
Maybe you feel like things are spinning out of control. Carey Nieuwhof highlights five indicators that you may be living in this reality. If you can answer yes to any of these, maybe you are at a boiling point and don’t even know it. (1) Are you too afraid to slow down? (2) Is your activity increasing while your productivity is decreasing? (3) Are the lines between work and leisure blurring? (4) Are you underreacting or overreacting to almost everything? And (5) does it feel like nothing is fun anymore?
What is even harder, is in many cases we love it! We love the task, we love the job and we love the pressure of the role… sometimes a little too much. For others it is the pressures and expectations placed upon us and because those who did so believed the lie of the boiling frog for themselves, or have never even realized they were in the pot in the first place, and they don’t realize the dangers of placing others in it.
In any case, it still comes down to a choice. Ultimately, you can choose to stay in this and accept it as reality, or you can do the hard work of changing that reality. Dr. Jonathan Welton says this, from his book 'Eyes Of Honor', of the human condition of choices. "While some people do become victims of circumstances in outward sense, the reality is that they still have a choice about their inward response to those circumstances" The first step is realizing that one of the largest factors of a reality change is found in your decision. I am not talking about a ‘flip a switch’ decision where you can simply snap your fingers and everything is better. But, ultimately no one controls your decisions and therefore the only person who can ultimately change the status quo, for you personally, is you.
For some, this might be the hardest choice of all because that choice could be moving on. You may have to do this if you are not the top leader and have talked with your supervisor about your longevity and no help is given when you share your need. Or maybe you are leading an organization that doesn’t want to change and you have tried everything you can to bring growth and change and health, but you always run into the same roadblocks. In some cases, change in your circumstances, teams, leadership or environment cannot happen and maybe the only action now is change by moving on. This is of course much more complex than what this short article could tackle and I would encourage you to find guidance and mentorship in this. But the main point to take away is that you always have a choice, even if that choice seems impossible. Ultimately, don’t allow the external factors pressing in on you control the internal reality of who you are.
For others it is being willing to do the hard work of making the hard changes needed to find health while staying in the organization. Let’s get real for a second. What about the unhealthy expectations you have on yourself or the expectations that have been placed on you that you are allowing to become reality? The deadlines you keep, the responsibilities you choose to handle, the performance level you expect of yourself, and the motivations you allow to drive you. Are your expectations for yourself things that only Jesus or Superman could keep? Don't get me wrong, I believe strongly in hard work and a culture of excellence, but what we need to be careful about is moving towards a culture of perfection and people pleasing. We need room to fail so we will be able to take healthy risks, we should not be in a place where the entire burden in carried on our shoulders and we should never be driven or find our worth by the need of approval of those we look up to. Ask yourself this question: What/who is motivating me?
Maybe you are thinking “But how do I actually do this?”. This is an important question that we will explore in more depth in future posts in this series, so keep your eyes open for posts titled “The Leadership Survival Guide”. But for today, the question is this: Do you want a change? I mean, really, do you want this? Are you willing to do the hard work? Because it will not be easy. But if you are willing to take the steps towards this change, I can promise you that you will be better for it, your teams will be better for it and your organization will be better for it.
Drake currently serves as the Editor-In-Chief of boldcupofcoffee.com and the Executive Pastor at gateway.ac as well as an avid speaker, writer and leadership coach/consultant.
Drake is passionate about seeing people thrive and come alive. To BELONG, wrestle with what they BELIEVE and BECOME people FULL OF LOVE, FUELLED BY FAITH, and ADDICTED TO HOPE. Drake is also a life learner and loves being challenged to think deeper and grow further. One of his favorite things to do is spend a good amount of time in a good café or coffee shop with a good book or engaging conversation. To be able to share in someone else's journey and experience is always a pleasure and honor. You can also connect with him at your personal page at drakedelongfarmer.com. To read more articles by Drake, simply click here.
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