Recovering your leadership joy

Posted on October 17, 2016 in: Articles

By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Scott Mabry writes of those days when you wonder if you have the energy and drive to keep leading.

It happens to the best of us in all our roles – spouse, parent, child, laborer, craftsman, consultant, colleague, supervisor or C-level executive. There are times when we feel like we are all burned out – or nearly so.

How do we recover our enthusiasm and reconnect to our goals?

Scott advises: “Stay connected with the memories and the stories that inspired you. Whatever your circumstances, I’m betting that they will still bring you joy if you let them.” He suggests we try to remember our first or best leadership experiences, or remember a time when we were excited for each new day.

I’ve got a few suggestions to add.

First of all, pray. Your prayer can be a prayer of petition – for help to re-energize and re-focus. But a meditative prayer of thanksgiving is an immediate pick-me-up. I don’t think anything energizes us like gratitude.

In fact, that’s why Mabry advises us to recall better times. They make us grateful, and often they help restore our hope. Hopeful people bring more energy and enthusiasm to all their roles.

As a practical matter, it also helps to break our routine, especially if we feel like we’re in a rut. Sure, vacations to exotic places are a great idea. But often they’re impractical – out of our reach for lack of time or money ... or both. Remember, little breaks in routine can help a lot.

Tired of nagging at a child, thinking that may be starting to define your relationship as a parent? Try taking your child out to a game or a movie, or spend a little time fishing or hiking. Find a reason to listen to them about something they want to talk about. Even doing chores around the house together can sometimes change the tone of the relationship.

At work get up and go for a walk. Even if you never get out of your building, just walk around. Or if you can and driving relaxes you, get in your car and drive around – look for a pretty, peaceful route, maybe through a park. Can’t get away? Close your eyes and lean back in your chair and let your mind wander to your favorite place for a few minutes. Think about your next excellent adventure. Put on headphones and listen to a favorite tune.

Distractions of any kind do wonders for me.

Once, long ago, I was swamped with work, sensing that I wasn’t making any progress as the deadline for publishing the next edition of our weekly newspaper drew ever closer. Not only was my desk covered with a huge pile of stories that needed editing or rewrite, but every time I got up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, when I returned to my desk the pile had grown higher .

Finally I just decided to quit. I didn’t tell anyone, but I got up and headed up the hill to my house. My wife was surprised to see me in the middle of the afternoon – and she was shocked when I said I was home to pick up my clubs and go golfing. I drove up the road a few miles to a public course and played nine holes by myself, forgetting all about the pile on my desk.

Back at the clubhouse I decided to skip the “19th hole” and head back to work. Maybe I could get a few stories out before dinner – and maybe the piling of more work had finally stopped. Sure enough, the pile was pretty much as I had left it, which was a relief, and in an hour I had knocked off half a dozen short stories.

Now the pile started looking manageable. I decided to postpone dinner. In another hour or so -- much to my surprise – I had everything wrapped up for the next day’s publication deadline.

It was a miracle ... especially in view of the time I had spent away from the office on the golf course. But it was also a lesson I never forgot.

At other times it has helped to break away, get to bed early, and set the alarm for 5 a.m. I’m always better in the morning -- although I know that isn’t true for everyone, so it’s important that we leverage our strengths.

Later when I was a CEO, I also quit my job from time to frustrating time – again without telling anyone, of course. I’d leave work at a reasonable hour, sometimes stop for a drink, go home without a care in the world, and then get up early the next day all full of energy to handle whatever task was beating me down the day before.

But most important, since I started beginning and ending my days in prayer – and most important, since I started to pray in gratitude for every little and large thing – life has had a way of working out for the best. Of course, I always keep my three little prayers of affirmation at the tip of my tongue:

  • You are not alone.
  • Do not be afraid.
  • The Lord will provide.