How are you dealing with stress these days? Stress can take a toll on the best of us. No matter how strategically or effectively you lead there is always a level of stress. As you juggle multiple demands to meet the needs that keep your church or business running smoothly, the stress gradually builds. Before you recognize it, your body and mind give way to sleepless nights and high doses of caffeine. Without your attention, the stress finally takes its toll, and you are left in a mess.
Busy or Stressed?
Many of us are reluctant to admit it when we are stressed. We usually choose to answer that we are “busy” rather than admit that we are overwhelmed or do not want to deal with the workload. Our reluctance to talk about how pressure is impacting us has reached the point that some of us are ineffective in our ministry, and we don’t admit it or recognize it…at least publicly.
High levels of stress can have a negative influence and ruin your effectiveness as a leader. It is easy to slip into the stress trap as you work to resolve day-to-day issues while dealing with difficult and disgruntled church members and not to mention doing your best to reach new people. Add to the list family dynamics and lack of personal care, too much stress causes unnecessary and often unnoticed anxiety and worry.
I don’t need to continue down that negative path. You already know that stress keeps you up at night and irritable during the day. You already know the symptoms of being tired, sad, and disinterested, as well as poor eating habits and the general dislike of certain people.
Not all Stress is Bad
But with all of that, not all stress is bad.
There is healthy stress. When you are healthy as a leader, you search for answers to problems, connect with others, effectively use resources, and creatively use your strengths, talents, and skills. Keep that in mind, because when stress is not healthy, it overwhelms, isolates, and paralyzes.
As a leader, you will feel pressure from all sides. Whether it is to meet certain expectations from supervisors or to address the needs and wants of the people entrusted to your care, there is pressure. The question is, how do you transform the pressure or stress into effective and courageous leadership?
There are respected physicians and consultants who can and do provide effective plans for dealing with stress. I’m not attempting to take anyone’s place. I simply want you to consider how you can name your stress, face it, and transform it as a healthy leader. Below are four things to consider:
Be True To Yourself
The greatest internal cause of stress is trying to be someone you aren’t. Knowing yourself frees you from living inconsistently and enables you to live within your values. It strengthens your ability to withstand pressure from others.
It is not unusual to give up personal time and to work as many hours as needed to get the job done. But to be an effective leader, you must know your limits, set your boundaries, and care for your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Take time to exercise, to pursue a hobby, to be with the people you love. You know what energizes you and what brings you joy. You can and will transform the stress you experience into effective and courageous leadership when you are healthy and in sync with yourself.
Focus On Your Purpose
Another cause of stress is saying yes when you should say no. One of the causes of stress is that you do not keep your purpose clearly in focus. You are out of focus when you fear saying “no” will cause people not to like you. As an effective and courageous leader, you learn to prioritize both people and work. You don’t have to say “yes” to have people like you.
A common mistake leaders make is trying to do it all. When you lose focus, you invite more stress, and when you are more stressed, you are counterproductive. Learn the strengths and abilities of the people with whom you work. Delegate tasks. Set people free to be who God has created them to be. Trust that they can do their jobs well and avoid being a micromanager.
Keeping your focus allows you to get more done in less time. It transforms your stress into effective and courageous leadership.
Adapt To Changing Contexts
Another cause of stress is trying to control things you can’t control. You can control what you do. You can influence what others do. But you can’t control the situations or the circumstances in which you and others interact.
Being true to yourself and focusing on your purpose is essential in keeping what you cannot control in check. So, keep yourself focused on what you can control. When you need help, ask for it. Effective and courageous leaders know what they need to get the job done. Working collaboratively is what makes a good leader a great leader. It is shortsighted to think that you can do it all without support. Knowing what you can and can’t control takes the pressure off you and helps develop the strengths and skills of the people with whom you work.
This might come across as stating the obvious, but you cannot control what is happening in Ukraine. You might not be able to influence the Ohio State legislature regarding concealed weapons or voter redistricting. You might feel helpless in what is happening in the United Methodist Church. But you do have control over how you will lead in the midst of what you cannot control, and you have influence over how the church responds.
Adapting to what you can control leads to effective and courageous leadership. You can transform stress into effective leadership by being true to yourself, keeping your purpose in focus, and leading through the chaos and confusion of what can be controlled and what cannot be controlled.
Surround Yourself With Trusted Leaders
Another cause of stress is a lack of trust in the people with whom you work. You can and will relieve yourself of stress when you develop and trust the strengths, talents, and skills of the people entrusted to your care.
Effective leadership is not a matter of authority or position, it is a matter of emulation. The people with whom you work want a leader they can trust. When you cultivate an atmosphere of trust, you find yourself in the midst of highly productive and hope-filled leaders.
Effective and courageous leaders are content to see the honors and rewards of hard work go to their followers. When people know that you trust and respect them, they trust and respect you.
Effective and courageous leaders are loyal to those entrusted to them. When people know that you have their backs, they are free to live into their full potential as leaders.
Effective and courageous leaders live by the words of Jesus, “The greatest among you shall be the servant of all.” This is a truth that followers respect the most.
There is so much more that can be said, but you get the point. Stress is a real and important issue in relation to effective and courageous leadership. As the leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that your stress levels do not impact the people with whom you work, as well ensure that their stress levels are kept in check.
Stress and Christ-Centered Leadership
Allow me to conclude by reminding you of a familiar passage from Scripture and the pattern of read, reflect, respond and return.
Read Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus is speaking to all who are stressed. The words are spoken to people who are burdened with obligations that keep them from being in communion with God. In the case of stress, people who are burdened with situations that keep them from being who God created them to be.
The invitation to rest is not an invitation to a selfish life of ease, but of deliverance from the artificial burdens that cause stress.
Jesus is offering true Sabbath rest or the invitation to be true to yourself and to God’s love and care.
Where will I experience stress today? How will I address it? With whom will I share my stress?
Where was I weary today? How did I respond to my weariness? What would I do differently? For whom am I grateful?
O God, I give you thanks for what I have learned today and for the people who have helped me through my stress. Thank you for the rest you have provided. Amen
So, how are you dealing with your stress these days? Remember, who you are is how you lead.