Who you are is how you lead. 

And how you lead reveals why you lead. 

I know that sounds obvious, but if you are not clear on why you lead the people entrusted to your care then those people will be unclear as well. If you are unclear, you will create unexpected problems for yourself. 


Over the past week, we have commemorated the 20 anniversary of 9/11.  Out of the stories we have heard, there is one story that stands out to me. It is the story of Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded death at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.  Among his responsibilities was to serve as a chaplain to several battalions of the New York Fire Department. 

As I understand it, he died as he lived. He rushed into the North Tower with firefighters. When commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters still trapped inside. 

It is recorded that he said, “My work here is not finished.” Other priests came to Grand Zero, but Father Mychal was the only priest to enter the World Trade Center that day. He offered absolution, prayers, and the Last Rites in the lobby as death rained all around him. He died that day as the result of blunt force trauma. After his death, his fellow firefighters carried him out in an image described by one reporter as “the definition of authentic American patriotism and humble service.” 

At his funeral, thousands of people showed up, describing how Father Mychal had helped them during their time of need. There were stories of medical care, clothing, housing, food, hope, and a future. He was known to have compassion for HIV/AIDS patients during a time when many were treated like lepers. It was reported that people thought of Mychal as a special friend, that is because he was. 

These words were spoken about him, “This morning we come to bury Myke Judge’s body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love…”  “In the next weeks, we’re going to have name after name of people being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal is going to be on the other side of death to greet them.”  

Your Why

In my opinion, Mychal Judge knew his “why”, his purpose in life. He lived his purpose and the people entrusted to his care experienced his compassion and care in simple but profound ways. 

By now you might be wondering what the story of Mychal Judge has to do with leadership. What more would any of us want in a human being? His courageous actions were seen and reported as “the definition of authentic American patriotism and humble service.” I have no doubt about it. We need more people like Mychal Judge. My question is, was American patriotism and humble service his purpose for living? 

I’ll answer my question by saying, “No.” They were the results of his purpose. Mychal Judge was created for the time he lived and served. God’s call upon his life was to share the love, the agape, of God, with the people he met in the situations and circumstances he found himself. He was an example of “…we love because God first loved us.” 

Why Do You Lead?

So, why do you lead the way you do? Let me give you some of the reasons leaders lead and you decide if any of these fit you. Do you lead because you like…

  • being in a position of authority and power?
  • being set apart from other people?
  • pointing out and fixing mistakes?
  • the reward from good work? 

Do you lead because you…

  • feel good about helping others?
  • can’t see yourself doing anything other than what you are doing?
  • had an experience that you are trying to relive? 

I am sure there are times one or more of these reasons crosses your mind, but I am equally sure none of them are the reasons you lead as you do.   

You Are God’s Beloved

Who you are is how you lead and how you lead reveals why you lead. So, let me remind you: 

You are beloved daughters and sons of God. You have been created to live and serve during this time in history. God’s call upon your life is to share the love, the agape, of God, with the people you meet in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in. You are an example of “…we love because God first loved us.” 

Take time this week to reflect upon why you lead the way you do. What one thing will you do to share the love of God with the people entrusted to your care? How will you be an example of God’s love this week?   

Final Reminders

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Lizzy Ortiz regarding her leadership and ministry, We Are One Body in Christ. Listen to Episode 195 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

Leading through the COVID pandemic has been exhausting and emotionally draining. It seems that no matter what you say or how you lead, someone is unhappy and feels the need to make it known. Whether it be with wearing a mask or being vaccinated, it has been difficult to stay the course and be focused in the midst of the continual pushback. 

Leadership has become more of a burden than an opportunity when you add a divisive political climate, racial unrest, and uncertainty of the church to the pandemic. It has become difficult to lead with confidence and courage when you feel the ground is moving and you don’t have a firm place to stand. 

The Complexity of Humanity

I get it. When I was in my early teens, a very important person in the community, a church member, was arrested on drug charges. His arrest was part of the headlines of the local newspaper. 

The Sunday after his arrest, I was sitting with my grandmother in the sanctuary before worship. I listened as she and her friends discussed the man arrested. I heard two different reactions to the event. 

One person said “I simply don’t believe it. He and his family have been a part of this church for years. He has served in Viet Nam and become a leader in the community. I think this is a mistake. He is a good man.”  Another person said, “I wasn’t surprised at all when I read the paper yesterday. I never have trusted him. There is something about him that has always made me suspicious.” 

I remember being confused by the differing reactions. I know now that I was learning how complex the human decision-making process can be. Obviously, there was more involved than just an objective response to facts.  


Before the man was ever accused of anything, people had already formed certain impressions of him. Those assumptions explained why one person could look at the situation and say, “I don’t believe it; there must be a mistake,” while another person could look at the same set of facts and say “I’m not surprised at all. I never have trusted him.” 

Assumptions are important when it comes to how we deal with the facts in the world around us.  We human beings are not purely rational, objective creatures.  We see the world through our assumptions. That is why I say, “it matters where you start.” 

You are influenced by your assumptions about God and your assumptions about the people entrusted to your care. It is not simply about what God does or does not do, but whether your starting point is one of trust or mistrust. Your assumptions make all the difference in your leadership. 

Where You Begin Matters

If our assumptions are so influential in shaping our decision-making, how do we go about forming our assumptions?  According to the scripture, this is the place where our trouble begins.  We human beings do not take the task of assumption building seriously enough. The question is, do we base our assumptions on solid evidence or arbitrary hearsay? 

Genesis 3

In the third chapter of Genesis, we get a description of how the first mistrust of God came to exist.  It is an example of careless, irrational assumption building. Out of the joy of God’s own aliveness, God decided to create the world.  There were no ulterior motives. God was not trying to get something for himself. Rather God was trying to give something of himself. God wanted to widen the circle of joy.

To set this into motion, God proceeded to show the man and the woman how things were meant to work. They were free to eat from all the trees of the Garden except one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of the tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious reason rather than a nutritional one. God saw that the whole mechanism looked good. 

Asking Questions

Then out of nowhere, a snake moved into the picture and began to ask questions.  He asked the woman, “Did God put you in this beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating this fruit?” She responded quickly to the gross overstatement, “Oh no, we can eat everything in the garden except that tree in the center. God said it would be poisonous to us.” 

The snake shook his head and said, “The old scoundrel is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat the fruit, you will be just like God. You were created to build up God’s own ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.” 


The accusation of the snake put creation in a totally different perspective. Up to this point, there was no indication that suspicion of any kind had entered the minds of the man and woman. More importantly, there was not one shred of evidence for such an attitude of distrust. Nothing God had done would have given the humans reason to believe the serpent’s accusations. 

Without checking things out or going to the source and trying to get to the bottom of the situation, the first man and woman carelessly bought into the unfounded suspicion raised by the snake. For no good reason, they embraced the rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God.  That incredible carelessness has had devastating results. 

A New Perspective

So, imagine that I am sick, and I am caring for myself with old prescriptions. I get sicker and sicker until I call my trusted primary care physician. Suppose she comes by my house to check out my illness. I show her the medicine I have been taking, and she says, “This is the worst possible stuff for your problem.  Put it away and start taking this prescription. In a matter of hours, you will start feeling better.” And she writes out a prescription. 


When my trusted physician leaves, suppose a plumber who has been working to unclog my sink comes out and says, “I overheard that conversation. Did that doctor tell you to quit taking your old medicine and start taking some of this new stuff?  Those doctors.  The problem is your old medicine was paid for and there is no profit in it for her. The only reason she is giving you this new prescription is to make a little money on the side.  You can’t trust doctors these days. If you know what is good for you, you will stick with the medicine you have and forget all about that new prescription.” 

Now, what would you think of me if I bought into that kind of mistrust?  You would say I was crazy to take the word of a plumber over the word of my physician when it comes to medicine.  

Yet, according to Genesis, this is exactly what our forebears did back in the beginning.  They took the word of a snake over the word of their Creator when it came to interpreting life.  They uncritically accepted a negative image of God that had no basis in fact and began to build their assumptions with mistrust. Thinking the world was a conspiracy rather than a creation and God a foe rather than a father, the humans proceeded to take life apart and put it together in ways that did not work.  They drank the poison and got sick, just as they had been warned, and all of creation proceeded to degenerate into chaos. 

Careless or Care Full?

That is how God’s bad reputation got started.  With a flimsy accusation and some careless assumptions, centered in mistrust. 

Now, how has God responded to this carelessness? Did God get defensive and strike back in anger? No. According to the scripture, God’s response was, “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). 

Jesus Sets Things Right

John Killinger put it this way, “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” Overall the confusion and suspicion that has been generated by the conspiracy theories, God sent Jesus so that people could see what God looked like. In other words, in Jesus, you can see and experience that God believes in you. The question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Is the one Jesus portraying a sadist, trying to hold people down and dehumanize them, or a joyful Creator who all along has had nothing but good in mind? 

Jesus is God’s attempt to set right what has gone wrong. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19). Jesus is God’s way of reaching all the way down to our assumption level and showing us that, from the Garden until today, we have been mistaken about who God is and what God wants to do with us. 

It Matters Where You Start

You are leading in a time of mistrust and suspicion. In a time when some people want to take the word of social media over the fact of science. When others want to create anxiety over a healthy vaccine yet put their lives in jeopardy with a horse dewormer. You are leading in a time of inconsistencies when people say they have a right to make decisions about their own bodies by not wearing masks yet want to take that same right away from women when it comes to their own bodies. How do you lead courageously in the midst of such mistrust, suspicion, and confusion? 

It matters where you start. As you know, going toe-to-toe, arguing your point does not work, much less bring peace. So where to you start? Start by taking the action of God seriously enough to build your assumptions upon it. Allow the image of Jesus to penetrate down to the level of your assumptions, and love the people, regardless of their point of view, the way you have been loved. 

My Assumptions

  • Based upon this action of God, my assumptions are:
  •  You are a beloved daughter and son of God. God has chosen you, given you a name, and loved you from the beginning.
  • You have been called a lead in this time in history.  God created you to live and lead in this time.
  • You have been gifted to face the cynicism and conspiracies of today. It is never easy to stand up and speak when the vote is going the other way, but you are not alone. God is with you, for you, and works for your good. 

God believes in you. 

Because who you are is how you lead, what one thing will you do this week to show the people entrusted to your care that God believes in them? Remember, it matters where you start.  Why not start with the fact that they are beloved children of God and gifted for love and service for this very time in history?


Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation about Leadership as Service. Listen to Episode 194 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a notebook & pen in my hand. A neighbor growing up worked for a paper manufacturer and the scraps of paper he shared with us provided endless hours of joy with my childhood friends. 

Suffice it to say, writing and journaling weave in and out of my life like threads woven on your favorite blanket. 

But, recently, I confess, I’ve felt scattered. My notebook was filled with plenty of “to-do lists.” It even was close by like an adult security blanket. 

But something was off.

Feeling Scattered

Usually, when my feet hit the floor to start the day, I give God thanks for another day and look at my calendar for the day and week ahead.

Then, I’m off and running.  When I noticed the scatteredness I was feeling, I started asking questions.

Let me be clear. The scatteredness I was feeling was bothering me, not hindering anyone else. I was tending to my responsibilities and the people in my life. And, to poke a little fun, I have Achiever as #2 on my CliftonStrengths. Not getting things done can lead to panic and deep frustration in my soul. This wasn’t panic level unsettledness. 

When I’m not checking something off a list, I’m not being productive. (Welcome to the mind & heart of someone with Achiever talent!) The people who love me, warts and all, know that when I’m not productive, I’m not happy. As an aside, I’ve learned, the hard way, that rest can be one of the most productive things I can do. 

Something Was Off

But, having said all of that, something was off. 

I wondered, “Was I not getting enough sleep?” “Was I not eating well? Not setting good boundaries? 




What was off? 

For a few days, I simply practiced curiosity about what wasn’t “feeling right.” 

And then an unsolicited email from a coaching colleague landed in my inbox and I knew what that unsettled feeling was all about. Unintentionally, she helped me see what was happening. 

I’d not been using my journal or reflecting on my days with intentionality. In the midst of all the busyness, the one tool I use to process, reflect, and integrate what I’m learning about myself, others, and leadership was set aside in the busyness of daily life.

In the midst of personal and professional responsibilities, I had unintentionally set aside a key resource in my life. I returned to the email and recognized something I see happen with other leaders, too.

Busyness was crowding out space in my life to process all the input that was happening every day.

What, then, was needed?

Breathing Room

Busyness doesn’t lead to breathing room. Breathing room is the necessary pause in life that every leader needs to process the noise, input, and meetings we’re experiencing. 

That unsettled feeling I was experiencing was simply a whole lot of “input” in my life swirling in my soul without a place to land. 

In order to make meaning out of life, we need breathing space to foster growth. You might be thinking, isn’t that the rhythm God of God’s creation, too?

It sure is. We call that weekly breathing room Sabbath.

Daily, however, that breathing room happens for me with exercise, hobbies, and journaling. What I had not realized were the benefits a simple journaling practice brings into life and leadership.

“There is well over 35 years of scientific research that proves there are many benefits that can be gained through writing about your thoughts and feelings: lowered blood pressure, improved immune functioning, reduced stress, greater confidence, more clarity for decision making, healing emotional wounds, improving personal relationships, cultivating resilience and making meaning out of life events are among the many proven benefits of expressive writing.” L. Monk. 

Who knew that simple paper and pen could offer us so many benefits? It’s certainly helped me identify why I was feeling unsettled. Here are three ways leaders can benefit from journaling. It’s a simple, unexpected leadership tool that you can use to navigate life.

3 Ways Leaders Can Benefit from Journaling

First, journaling can help you focus and increase intentionality

Use your journal to reflect on how you engage your time and energy toward your values, priorities, and relationships. Exploring your thoughts and feelings about your goals, values, and relationships will help you make adjustments and recognize gaps. If you choose to reflect at the end of the day, here are three simple questions you can respond to:

  • What was awesome about today?
  • What would I change about today?
  • What have I learned and how will I use this going forward?

Second, journaling can boost your confidence.

Before you say, “Really, Sara?” here’s the thing. The process of untangling your thoughts on paper about a specific situation can help gain clarity which leads to confidence. 

Consider a situation where you’d like to be more confident. Here are a few suggested prompts to help you deepen your confidence.

  • What do I trust about myself?
  • What feels like a risk here?
  • If I were to let go of X belief, what might be possible?
  • How do my values inform my approach to this situation?

Finally, journaling can help leaders stop ruminating and build resilience.

Go back to the busyness of life I mentioned at the top of this article. When we ruminate on things, it leads to indecision. If we’re seeking to maintain a growth mindset, ruminating won’t do that! It will hinder growth and confidence. So while I’d like to simply say “stop it!” I know all too well it’s not always that simple. 

But, in the midst of our busyness, if we don’t stop and do something with our thoughts and feelings, our ruminating can lead to anxiety. And we’ve all experienced plenty of that in the past 18 months. We don’t need to pile on anxiety from daily life.

You might even be thinking right now about a challenge, conflict, or perceived slight that won’t stop cycling through your mind. Let’s try a different approach that will only cost you 15-30 minutes of your day. Grab a pen and paper and write about it.

Instead of offering your best as a leader, ruminating leaders can erode trust with our teams and impede your own health. Here’s why: your indecision, inaction, and avoidance lead to stress. And we all know what stress does. 

So what do you say? How about starting with a piece of paper and pen? Here are a few prompts to help you get started.

  • What is going well? What created this? What role did I play?
  • What’s challenging for me right now? What contributed to this? What’s my role in that?
  • What strengths can I honor and draw on in my daily life? How?

One Unexpected Leadership Tool

At the end of the day, a regular practice of journaling can help you as a leader stay grounded in who God created you to be and guide you towards being the courageous leader God wants you to be.

If you see me with a notebook in hand, it might have less to do with keeping track of what needs to get done and more to do with weaving the threads of life, leadership, and learning into a beautiful tapestry only God can create. 

Maybe today you’ll give yourself the gift of breathing room.  Grab a pen and paper and respond to one of the journal prompts above. It will be one step in remembering, “who you are is how you lead.” 

PS – Every week, the podcast offers two or more questions for you to integrate what you’re learning into your practice of leadership. We call it Write it Down/Talk it Out. Check out this week’s episode and questions here.

Last week, in a county board of education meeting in Tennessee, the board voted to require masks for students, staff, and visitors in elementary school buildings and on all school buses. The vote came after a contentious 4-hour meeting that was frequently interrupted by anti-mask residents who were in attendance. 

The tension of the meeting spilled out into the parking lot. Two men, who were among the anti-mask contingent, directly threatened a doctor who testified in favor of the mandate. As the doctor was getting into his car, a man yelled, “We know who you are, and we know where to find you!” 

Another man yelled, “You will never be allowed in public again!”

Leading in the Midst of Crisis

I don’t know about you, but such events are unthinkable to me. Frankly, they are disturbing and disgusting. I’m not questioning the right or opportunity to express opinions, but I am questioning the actions of threatening, blaming, and shaming.

As I read that report, I began to think of you as a leader. How do you speak up and lead when you know the people entrusted to your care are conflicted in their thinking, angry in their speaking, and threatening in their actions? Too often the reaction to mask mandates and vaccines pushes aside public health and human dignity.  When there is an opportunity to think of others and to respond with care and compassion, the reaction is self-focused and filled with rage and intimidation. So, how do you lead in the midst of a crisis?

A Good Word

I don’t know how many churches there are in the Columbus metro area, but I do know there are over 200 United Methodist congregations in the Capitol Area Districts.  I also know that the people entrusted to your care wait in anticipation for a good word from you. Although the event referenced above was in Tennessee, you lead and serve people, in your central Ohio communities, who have similar feelings and opinions regarding masks, vaccines, and personal rights.

How do you lead courageously in the midst of a crisis? 

1.      Remember who you are and why you do what you do. 

You are a child of God, and you have the opportunity to let people experience God’s love and care in and through you. Your identity is shaped by who God is and not by your preferences. So, regardless of your personal feelings about masks, vaccines, and personal rights, you are thinking of what is best for the people around you, recognizing their potential, and assisting them to live into being who God has created them to be.   

As a courageous leader, who is a Jesus follower, your leadership is characterized more in the fruit you produce than in your opinions.  So, your life is not characterized as much by whether you agree or disagree with masks and vaccinations as it is by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

With that in mind, it matters where you start.  You are a Jesus follower. Start there. You are a leader within a community of Jesus followers. Help people start with Jesus. This will take courage because some people will want to start thinking of themselves as “American” or “free” or “white” or “Republican” or “Democrat.” 

Starting anywhere other than Jesus separates us from one another. Starting anywhere other than Jesus, people perceive that their sense of self is being threatened. They feel insecure, powerless, and out of control. Sometimes people feel they must defend themselves and protect their rights.  At other times, people are not thinking in terms of relationships or character. Care and forgiveness are nowhere to be found. Remember who you are and why you do what you do because who you are is how you lead!

2.      Be a peacemaker. 

As a Jesus follower, you are identified as a child of God by your peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is not always convenient to stand firm in faith. Courageous leaders face their fears, trusting and risking vulnerability because they know who they are.    

Too often leaders think that keeping the peace is more important than making peace.  Keeping peace often comes with keeping silent. If you don’t speak up, then you are keeping things peaceful. 

It is difficult to speak up when you know that most of the people around you are going the other way. But if you stand in fear and react out of emotion, you give power to what is not real and to what is not true. At any given time, people react out of fear.  At such times, silence is not an option.

It is easy to give in to your thoughts and feelings of uncertainty. But courageous leaders look beyond the immediate situation and circumstances. Things are not right with the world. What we are experiencing is more than differences in opinion, lack of knowledge, or poor communication.  It cannot be explained away as someone’s likes and dislikes. The struggle is real and dangerous.

At times like these, people are looking for a peacemaker, someone who leads with trust and confidence. They are looking for someone who can offer hope, not as wishful thinking, but as God’s preferred future of shalom. So, raise your voice and speak clearly.

  • Wear a mask – For your own health and out of care and compassion for others
  • Get vaccinated – For your own health and the well-being of others
  • Your right as a Jesus follower is to love others. Insisting on your own rights negates the love you have received in and through Jesus.

Be a peacemaker. Being a living child of God is not easy, but people will recognize and experience God’s love in and through you.  Who you are is how you lead!

3.      Be the leader needed for this time. 

You were created to lead at this time in history. You have been gifted with the strengths and abilities to lead courageously and effectively.  To be the leader you have been created to be, you will need to join hands, if not hearts, with people with whom you may not associate, agree, or understand. Model for your community and the world God’s design for all creation. Uncertainty and confusion can seem overpowering. Yet, God’s plan for creation is to bring order out of chaos.

It is not easy, but when you know who you are and why you do what you do, you can step up and lead with courage in troubled and uncertain times.  

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Do to others what you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)
  • Love one another…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 5:32).
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility regard others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on getting its own way. It does not dishonor others. It is not easily angered or resentful and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not celebrate wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
  • Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2)
  • Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. . . so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Difference Makers

When you come to the end of the day “having done everything” you can, stand firm, because you know that in the midst of all the confusion there is the presence of God. You have been created to lead for this moment. In whatever you face, you are standing firm on the promise, power, and victory of the Risen Christ.  Thanks be to God!

You can make a difference.  You and I know that we can’t do it alone and God is not going to do it for us. But you can be the leader needed in the midst of crisis when you open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To you, who has been created to lead at the time, the invitation remains, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20).

In the midst of crisis, be the leader God has created you to be. This week, how will you model the love you have experienced in Jesus? In what situation or circumstance will you step up and lead with courage and grace? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Final Reminders

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation about Doing Hard Things. Listen to Episode 192 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

The past year has offered each of us, as leaders, numerous learning opportunities. A variety of situations and circumstances have required changes in how we work and how we communicate with those entrusted to our care. The shifts are subtle but are necessary for becoming the leaders needed for this time. Whether it is remote from the kitchen table or in-person in the meeting room, these shifts will help you navigate the leadership challenges of today. 

Three of these shifts are:

  • Rhetoric to Relationships  
  • Self-Awareness to Self-Direction  
  • Time Management to Time Value 

1.      Rhetoric to Relationships: Shift Your Focus to Empathy.  

Courageous leaders are effective communicators, but leadership is deeper than words. Courageous leadership transforms rhetoric into relationships. When people say, “we need to improve our communication” or “you are not communicating with us,” they are saying “we feel disconnected and not a part of things.” When they say, “You don’t know who we are” or “we don’t know who you are,” they are saying, “we are not connected, and we don’t trust you.”

The number one characteristic people want in their leader is trust. You are leading in a time when saying you care is not enough.  The people entrusted to your care want you to know who they are and understand their life situations.  Along with giving programmatic updates, asking questions, and active listening, you are being asked to go deeper and develop empathy. Brene Brown says empathy fuels connection: it’s feeling with people and connecting with a person’s situation. 

It is showing you care, not just as the leader, but as a person. I know this sounds simplistic, but over this past year people have missed relationships. The time is right to model active listening and compassion. It is important to connect with people through their stories, whether it be stories of family members being sick, the difficulties of homeschooling, or other kinds of loss and grief.  Make time in your work life and in the work of your people to shift from updates and reports to listening and connecting to what is happening in their personal lives.

Try this, ask people how they are really doing, and more importantly, wait for the response. Empathy is being able to make space between your question and someone’s answer. Shift the good of what you are saying into meaningful relationships. 

2.      Self-Awareness to Self-Direction

Courageous leaders have the understanding and ability to manage their own thoughts and emotions when responding to individuals and to unwanted situations. There is a difference between reacting emotionally and responding neutrally.  Self-awareness is the ability to be aware of and control your own emotions. We might call it emotional intelligence.   

The shift is from being only aware of your thoughts and emotions to directing your behavior willingly with curiosity and kindness.  Your response does not invalidate or deny your emotions but trusts them as a way of learning about yourself and how to use them in positive and productive ways.  

So, as you become more aware of your feelings, you know more how to navigate through them. How do we do this? Be present in the moment. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge that they are just thoughts and emotions. And understand that they do not define you.  As you become more aware of how to navigate your own emotions, thoughts, and responses, you will become more aware of what impact your actions have on others.

With this shift, you will not only be aware of your own feelings and the impact of your actions, but you will also become the leader people trust and look to for care and direction. 

3.      Time Management to Time Value

Courageous leaders not only manage their own time and value the time of others but they know the significance of the time they have been given to relate to and lead others.

Our workdays have changed. We cannot simply transfer how we worked in an office into the home space. Cramming meetings and presentations into zoom calls simply does not work. Our context has also changed. So, it is necessary to shift from managing our time to designing our time around how we work, based on what we are working on and with whom we are working. 

Consider being more intentional about how people come together. Consider what can be done by email and what needs to be done face-to-face. Do face-to-face meetings need to be in person or virtually?

When you are planning a meeting, consider who needs to be present, the agenda, and what decisions must be made. Again, I know this seems simple, but time value allows you to send out information before the meeting, have a conversation by text or email, and before making the decisions. Time value provides you the opportunity to not only manage your time, take seriously the time of others, but work more efficiently as you lead effectively.

So, to shift from rhetoric to relationships and from self-awareness to self-direction, build in time to meet individually, one-on-one, with the people you lead. Keep in mind that you always have the opportunity to listen. Sometimes your listening will be work and other times you are listening to what others have to share.  

It seems that there is never enough time in the day. But, since we all get the same 24 hours, why is it that some people achieve so much more with their time than others? The answer lies in shifting from activities to relationships. Being busy is not the same as being effective. It isn’t even working smarter instead of harder.  It is in using your time to develop relationships with care and compassion.  People want a leader who they can trust. Who you are is how you lead.

Your Next Step

This week, what one shift can you make? What one shift will you make?

Remember, Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing barriers to leadership growth and what you can do about it. Tune and listen to Episode 191: 4 Barriers to Leadership Growth and What You Can Do about it. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing this week?  I genuinely want to know. I care about you and your ministry. To say the least, you have been through a lot over the past eighteen months. I don’t need to rehash all the events, but I do want to commend you on your leadership and to take an inventory of how you are doing. 

Becoming Who God Created You to Be

Over the years I have had some good district superintendents. Those who I considered the best were the superintendents who came alongside me and assisted me in becoming the leader God created me to be. 

So, I’m wondering how I best serve you as your district superintendent.  Some of you know that I ask a lot of questions. Most of my questions are either out of curiosity or for clarity. I can honestly say that with each question, I am seeking ways to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.   

Reflecting on Ministry

With that in mind, I am curious about how you are doing in this season of your ministry. You have just lived through a time like no other time in history. There have been concerns over what is coming next, grief over what once was, and anxiety about what to do now. You have learned new ways of doing some things and better ways to do others.

So, I have some questions, mostly out of curiosity, to help take an honest look at what you have accomplished so you might step into your next season of ministry with courage and effectiveness. 

Let’s consider the impact you have had on the people entrusted to your care.  Whether family, friends, neighbors, church members, or colleagues, let’s look at how you have made a difference in their lives. 

1. Reflect upon some things you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. 

Be honest and generous with yourself. What challenges did you have to overcome? What did you learn that can be useful now or be used in the future?    

It is okay to feel good about it. Be kind to yourself and take notice of some of the small things you have accomplished. 

Did you learn to cook something you haven’t cooked before, start a new exercise routine, or pick up a new hobby? Maybe it was keeping your children fed and clothed as you navigated the chaos of becoming an at-home teacher. Or, may it was when you set boundaries, either with work or in your personal life, you accomplished something significant.   

Get one or two of those accomplishments in mind. 

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for giving me the strength and courage to endure through difficult and uncertain times. Amen.” 

2. Reflect upon times you shared or experienced love over the past eighteen months. 

When were you vulnerable and empathetic? 

Where did you take people seriously when you felt it was difficult to do? 

When did you listen to and make a place for people with whom you disagreed? 

Whether it was with family, friends, church members, or strangers, where did you provide a caring and safe place for people to become who God had created them to be? 

 Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for loving people through me, and thank you for loving me through those same people. Amen”  

3. Reflect upon times when you experienced joy. 

What made you stop to remember God’s goodness and to give God thanks? 

What was taking place when you realized your interaction with people was a response of gratitude for God’s grace? 

When did you feel at one with God and the people around you?  

Think about a time when you laughed so hard you cried, a time you were amazed by God’s presence, and/or a moment you keep close. Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind.  

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer,

“O God, thank you for the deep joy you have planted in my heart. Help me be so joyful that the people around me experience your joy in and through me. Amen.”  

4. Reflect upon the moments you gave someone the benefit of your doubt. 

How did you show God’s love and kindness to people whether they deserved it or not? When did you say to yourself, “I know he is doing the best he can?” Or “How can I help her take the next step?”  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for caring for people in and through me. Help me to be open to receive your kindness and goodness through them.  Amen.” 

5. Reflect upon the situations where you experienced courage. 

What risks did you take? When did you have to be vulnerable? What empowered you to make decisions and lead through difficult situations? Who were the people that came alongside you to encourage you?  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for giving me the strengths and skills to lead with courage. By your grace, give me the courage to assist others to live and lead courageously. Amen.”  

You’re Doing Great!

As a leader, you have accomplished more than you have given yourself credit for accomplishing. You have been gifted to lead at this time in history. People are looking to you to be the leader they can trust, a leader of compassion, a leader who is stable, and a leader who offers genuine hope. 

At the moment, we are in the middle of a mess. But because you have taken the time to reflect upon what God has done in and through you, you are more able to step up and out to lead with courage and grace. You have been created and gifted to lead at this time in history. So, how are you doing? 

Your Next Step

This week, call, text, email a trusted friend or colleague, and tell them something you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. Give them the opportunity to celebrate with you. At your best, you cannot be who God created you to be alone.  Remember, it is okay to feel good, so celebrate.

If you don’t have someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing, then call, text, or email me.  It would be my pleasure to celebrate your accomplishments. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. You have accomplished much. Now is the time to stop and catch your breath before stepping back into the mess.  

Just remember, who you are is how you lead. Stay focused upon the God who has gifted you. Continue to be who God has created you to be. You have already made a significant difference. Just imagine what God will do in and through your leadership today and tomorrow. 

A Prayer for You

O God, thank you for my friends and colleagues. Thank you for the ways you have enriched my life in and through them.  By your grace, embrace them through me so we can be the leaders you need us to be at this time in history. I offer them to you in the name of Jesus. Amen 

Final Reminder

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing what to do when you are living in times of uncertainty. Sometimes uncertainty looks like doubt. At other times, it looks like the need to learn a new skill. And still, at other times, it is wrapped up in decision fatigue or endless options that overwhelm you. Tune in and listen to Episode 190: What to Do When You Don’t Know What To Do. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past Episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

For some of you, it has been a while since I checked in with you. For others, this is my first opportunity to check in with you.

  • How are you doing?
  • How are you doing personally?
  • How are you doing professionally?
  • What do you need from me as you continue to lead into and through times of uncertainty? 

As you are deciding how to answer my questions, I want to commend you, again, on your work in leading through the Covid pandemic and through the racial unrest in your community. As I continue to pray for you and for your leadership, my question remains, how are you doing?

Care and Concern

Besides my genuine care and concern for you, I have a specific reason for checking in with you.

I thought of you last week when I read of a group of mothers from Williamson County, Tennessee called Moms for Liberty. They are trying to shut down the use of specific curriculum in their public schools. It is interesting that the curriculum includes an autobiography by Ruby Bridges. As a 6-year-old, Bridges became an international symbol of the civil rights movement. In September of 1960, she was one of the first Black children to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans. 

The Moms for Liberty argue that her book, Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, contains too many truths that cut too close. The mothers find the story objectionable, citing a description of a “large crowd of angry white people who didn’t want Black children in a white school.” They say that’s too negative a rendering of a moment that is well documented in books, film, and photography.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges and I are the same age.

We entered the first grade in the same year. I’m sure the integration of a white school made all the major news outlets across our county, but I don’t remember ever hearing about Ruby Bridges until I was in college. I wonder if those mothers have truly seen the pictures from that year-long struggle over integration? Have they avoided the photographs of White women with their necks jutted out and their mouths screaming as though their world was coming to an end? One of the protesters carried a sign that read: “All I want for Christmas is a clean white school.” When I see video clips and listen to the cries of the crowd, one chant that can be heard is “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.”

When I read that news story, I thought of you and how you must continually keep the story of Ruby Bridges and others in front of the people in your community. You know that the issue is not the integration of schools, but the dignity of human beings.

Understanding Racism

I once heard Jane Elliot say, “People who are racist aren’t stupid, they’re ignorant. And the answer to ignorance is education.” If that is true, why would anyone want to keep the stories from being told? 

Jane Elliot has had a tremendous impact on me, my understanding of racism, and how to address it. In April 1968, she was a third-grade teacher in the small town of Riceville, Iowa. On the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she felt compelled to shift her lesson plans. She decided to teach her young white students about discrimination by telling the children that brown-eyed people were superior to their blue-eyed peers. She watched as the students turned on each other. Then, the next day, she reversed the script.

Notice she invited the children of her third-grade class into an exercise that highlighted the arbitrary and irrational basis of prejudice. Sixty-one years after Ruby Bridges and fifty-three years after Martin Luther King, Jr., we are still wrestling with the same arbitrary and irrational basis for prejudice. Why wouldn’t we want to teach our children, our neighbors, our friends, and those who are entrusted to our care about the love of God and dignity of all persons? 

In a recent interview (early 2020), I heard her say, “There has been a big increase in racism in America over the past five years. We were making progress in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, even in the ’90s, and then a black man in the White House made a whole lot of white folks really angry because that said plainly to everyone, ‘A black man can get there and do it and do it well. Now if that’s true, then maybe my white skin doesn’t automatically make me superior.’ And it knocked the socks off everyone who believed in the rightness of whiteness.” 

Race is a Social Concept

She also said, “Many people don’t recognize that race is a social concept. Race isn’t biological. Race does not run in our DNA. Race is how somebody somewhere hundreds of years ago decided to categorize the human race.” 

Michele L. Norris, a writer for the Washington Post writes, “We do our children no favors if we only feed them a steady diet of fairy tales that sidestep life’s complexities.” She also writes that we do long-term harm when we sanitize our history in the name of protecting our children from feeling bad about themselves. “What’s really at work is adults trying to outrun a sense of shame.”

Courageous Leaders

Courageous leadership does not sigh a big sigh of relief when every crisis passes over. Courageous leadership steps into the crisis, discovers where God is at work, and leads people into the redemptive and transformative qualities of God’s love and grace. 

Let’s take the story of Ruby Bridges for example. Instead of reacting out of fear and protectionism, face the fear and respond by pointing where God’s love and grace are at work. What are the redemptive qualities of the story? 

Consider the following:

  • The teacher, Barbara Henry, who instructed Ruby day after day in a classroom. She and Ruby were the only two present when all the other students were pulled out by their parents. Barbara Henry gave herself unselfishly to the education of one little girl. 
  • The psychiatrist, Robert Coles, who counseled Ruby’s parents in the midst of death threats. He also met with Ruby on a regular basis to help her face the adults who lined the sidewalk to the school building shouting words of hatred. Robert Coles gave himself unselfishly to the emotional and mental health of Ruby and her family. 
  • The 6-year-old Ruby Bridges herself. She faced that crowd every day for a year. Her parents lost their jobs. They relied on the goodness of others to get through the crisis. Ruby once sent a letter to Santa Claus saying all she wanted for Christmas was for her father to get his job back.
  • Ruby’s parents who taught and modelled the love and grace of God. One day, while being escorted into the school building, Ruby stopped and said something. It looked like she was speaking to the angry crowd. Later when asked what she said, she replied, “I was praying for them.” “What did you pray for?” She replied, “What my mommy and daddy taught me to pray.” “And what was that?” Ruby replied, “I prayed, ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’”

Wow! What a legacy. In the midst of such anger and hatred, it is not hard to find God’s love and grace. It seems to me that the Moms for Liberty were looking out more for themselves than for their children. Because of their own fear and anxiety, they missed an opportunity to model for their children the way of love and grace. 

Learn the Full Story

Fredrick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Our children need to learn the full story. The story includes both haters and helpers. Instead of sweeping away an uncomfortable history, tell the truth so that years from now our schools will have eradicated the forces of racial bias and white supremacy that have shaped every aspect of American life. 

So, do you understand why I thought of you when I read the story of the Moms for Liberty? You are in the position to do something about the racism that pervades our daily lives and the systems in which we participate and from which we benefit.

This is what you can do as a leader. 

Develop relationships of trust with children, youth, and young adults.

  • Become a mentor. Encourage them to go to college where not everyone looks like them and shares their political, sociological, or religious views. Encourage them to study abroad or to participate in mission teams in other countries where they can experience the achievements and beauty of non-white cultures.
  • Become a reader in your local school. Take the book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, and read to the class. Her story and other books like it are inspirational. They shape the minds, hearts, and imaginations of all of us. They also help design a future without racism. There are many more books from which to choose. See the list of children’s books at the end of this blog. Or go to and search for “Overcoming Racism” and “Putting an End to Racism.”
  • Buy several copies of The Story of Ruby Bridges and donate copies to your local school, your local public library, and to your church library. Take time to educate children. Teach them to be the leaders that will shape the future of our country. 
  • There are many more books from which to choose. See a list of several children’s books at the end of this blog.

Develop relationships of trust with the adults entrusted to your care.

  • Lead a book study. Use Ruby Bridges book, Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story alongside the Bible. Point out the experiences of God’s grace in Ruby’s story.
  • Encourage parents to read the story of Ruby Bridges to their children. Provide the books and the opportunity to gather parents together for conversation. Your leadership will be invaluable in shaping the values of parents and children.
  • Encourage parents, all adults for that matter, to read a book regarding racism over the next 6 months. Again, provide the books and the opportunity to gather for conversation. Model for your adults. Let them experience how their lives can shape the future of our country.

Who You Are is How You Lead

Friends, who you are is how you lead. This week, where will you experience God at work and how will you lead people into discovering God’s love and grace? What one step will you take toward changing the world by putting an end to racism? 

Now that the Capitol Area North District and Capitol Area South District are under the leadership of one district superintendent, we have added new people to our team. When you need and want assistance, remember that Jill Philipp and Diana Keefer are available to assist you. You can reach Jill at or Diana at

Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are also with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Resources for Children

Below are the children’s resources I mentioned above:

For additional resources, explore “Overcoming Racism.” In that post you will find many books from which to choose.

We all experience times of uncertainty and anxiety. To whom do you turn when you experience those moments? Who is your go-to person? Is it a mentor, a coach, a counselor, a colleague, or a friend? To whom do you turn when you need someone to journey with you through the difficult moments of life? 

Hope for the Future

In the past two months, I have received phone calls from persons I have not seen in years. Each person needed someone to walk with them through a particular crisis.  

One confessed a long-time battle with depression and needed someone to listen. Another was facing life-changing surgery and needed assurance to step into whatever the future might be.  And still, another was experiencing grief in the unexpected death of a family member. 

In listening, I discovered that each person needed someone to come alongside them. They were looking to be lifted above the anxiety of the moment. Each one needed assistance navigating the barriers of uncertainty. They needed someone to journey with them to the place they felt they could take their next step with confidence, trusting whatever was ahead.  In my thinking, each person was seeking some hope for the future. 

Walking in Hope

I am in contact with each of them weekly. Out of love and appreciation for each of them, I continue to walk with them. I have the opportunity to ask about therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments, and a grieving process. My questions are based upon what each person has said they would do to get to a place of stability. I have the privilege of walking with them, offering what care and support I can, to assist them to reach a place of hope. 

Friends Who Carry You

In the second chapter of Mark, there is a story of a man who was paralyzed. His friends were convinced if they could get him to Jesus, he could be healed of his paralysis. When they arrived at the place where Jesus was teaching, so many people had gathered, they couldn’t even get close to Jesus. How could they carry him through the crowd? 

Did they give up? Not according to the story. Can you imagine the conversation? One of the friends says, “Let’s lower him from the ceiling.” Another says, “We would have to go up on the roof to do that.” And another says, “I like it. Let’s do it.” 

If it was like most houses in that part of the world, the roof was flat. It might have even been a place where people could sit during the day or in the evening. I can see them carrying their friend to the roof and beginning to remove the roof floor. Their goal was to get him to Jesus. So, when they made an opening large enough, they lowered their friend on his mat to the feet of Jesus. It is when Jesus saw their faith that the healing began. 

Filled with Hope

Wow! A man who could not move on his own had friends who came alongside him. The goal was to get him to Jesus who could help him move on his own again. So, they pick him up and carry him to Jesus.  On their way, they faced several obstacles. The first obstacle was the crowd was so big they could not get to Jesus. 

They did not give up and sit the man down. They found a way around the crowd. They lifted their friend above the obstacle of the crowd and carried him to the roof.  It was there they faced their second obstacle. They would have to make a hole in the roof. So, they did.   

They reached their goal by lowering their friend, on his mat, to the feet of Jesus. When Jesus saw that they lived out their faith by coming alongside and assisting the man who could not move on his own, healing and hope came to the man. He was able to move on his own again. 

Times of Uncertainty

We all experience times of uncertainty and anxiety. Times when we feel paralyzed. We don’t know what to do. At times, even afraid to make a move because we are so uncertain. My question is, “to whom do you turn when you experience those moments? Who is your go-to person? To whom do you turn when you need someone to journey with you through the difficult moments of life? 

Your One Person

To be an effective and courageous leader, you need at least one person you can trust to walk with you through the moments when you are paralyzed, and you can’t make a move on your own. Moments when you are:

  • So totally preoccupied with your own uncertainty, pain, and anxiety that you can’t see beyond what you are facing.   
  • So weary that you want to do anything other than what you are doing.
  • Feeling like there is no future and that things are not going to get any better.
  • So overwhelmed that you want someone to care but no one is there.
  • Feeling like you have lost control of your life, your work, or your family.
  • Feeling your prayers are going nowhere
  • Thinking that your experience does not match what you have been taught about God. 

Who is Your Person?

To some of you, the above sounds overly dramatic. To others of you, you have been hanging on, hoping (wishful thinking) to get through today and that tomorrow might be better. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  As a leader, you need at least one person you can trust to walk with you through these moments of uncertainty and anxiety. You might have had different persons for different stages of your life.  Today, who is your go-to person? 

Embody Grace

Several years ago, I faced a time of uncertainty so great that I could not see beyond myself or the moment of pain I was experiencing. I was uncertain about the future. I felt hurt, confused, and alone. It was at the moment of my greatest distress, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my future. I was not offered a lot of sympathy or unrealistic platitudes. I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “Call me if you need me.” What I do remember hearing was, “You know where to find me.” 

What I got was a person of faith, a Jesus follower, who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. She created a space for me to talk about my anxiety, disappointments, pain, and fear.  Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened compassionately and at appropriate times would ask me the questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing.  She offered Christ to me by becoming the embodiment of God’s grace.  I began to trust that I was not alone in my uncertainty. 

A New Story

The space created and the grace offered allowed me to move beyond the moments of my anxiety to see new possibilities.  I began to look beyond what I had experienced and to create a new story for myself.

I began to heal.  My friend provided several ways for me to put into practice the new possibilities that began to emerge.  Plans for reflection, prayer, and conversation.  She challenged me to look beyond myself to see what new things God might be doing in my life and in the lives of the people around me.  I was invited to put my faith into action by looking beyond myself. 

I believe it was at that point that I began to rediscover God’s desire to use me to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love.  It was through the engagement of this colleague and friend in my life, this Jesus follower, that helped me see the hope in the midst of my uncertainty. There were no easy answers.  In fact, there were no answers at all. 

She came alongside me at the moment of great anxiety, embodied God’s love, and journeyed with me through difficult moments. She helped me see what God might have in store for the future.  She was an instrument of God’s hope in the midst of my uncertainty. 

Who is Your Go-To Person?

So, who is your go-to person in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety? 

This week, contact that person. Have an informal conversation about how you are feeling and thinking about things. At the very least, let them know how much you appreciate them and their caring support. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

Check out LeaderCast. This week Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Sam Heaton about his experience of leading, loving, and living as a follower of Jesus in the midst of seasons filled with change. Tune in and listen to Episode 187: Sabbath, Technology, and Fun in Ministry. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

What Happened to Play?

Do you remember the days when you stayed outside all day to play? Whether it was riding your bike or swimming, playing hide and seek, kick the can, wiffle ball, or other games with neighborhood friends, there was plenty to do and not enough hours to get it all done. You only came in when it was time to eat supper or to get a big drink of water.  

Do you remember staying out after dark on those late summer evenings? Lying on the grass, looking at the stars, and telling scary stories? Those times usually came a few days before going back to school where you would join another set of friends for learning and play.  

What happened to those days? The days when it was normal to play. When we made up games and used our imaginations to experience worlds limited only by what we could invent in our minds.

Shifting from Play to Work

Honestly, I think those days are still with us. But something happens when we become adults. We shift our priorities into organized, competitive, goal-directed activities. If an activity doesn’t teach us a skill, make us money, or further our social connections, we see it as frivolous or nonproductive.

Even the demands of daily living and family responsibilities seem to rob us of the ability to play.  Yet, it is often members of the family who desire our play more than anyone else. 

Maybe it is time to renew ourselves as leaders and start playing more.  Maybe the time has come to incorporate play into everything we do.  Now, my intention is not to add play to an overcrowded schedule of activities, but to integrate play into those activities. 

Stuart Brown in his book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, writes, “I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.

Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, writes, “Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.”

What Happens Without Play

We tend to underestimate the power of play. Imagine a world without it. There would be no games or sports. No movies, music, jokes, or dramatic stories. No daydreaming, no teasing, no flirting. We would be without the one thing that lifts us out of the routine of the mundane and offers a means of joy in the little things.

According to Brown, adults who continue to explore and learn throughout life, who engage in an intentional cognitive activity like puzzles, word games, reading, etc., are less susceptible to dementia and less likely to get heart disease. The people who stay sharp and interesting as they age are the ones who continue to play at work.

Integrating Play and Work

When we stop playing, we stop growing, and our energy for life and for leadership vanishes. So, what are we to do? To help you become the leader you have been created to be, reflect on the following:  

  • Play and work are mutually supportive. Play is neither the opposite of work nor is playing the enemy of work. One cannot thrive without the other. 
  • As important as your work is, play is just as important. You have learned to be serious when it comes to work. But the sense of flow, imagination, and energy of being in the moment is often time provided by play. Don’t squelch the fun of work. 
  • The quality that work and play have in common is creativity. In both, you are creating new relationships, skills, and situations. Too often, an overwhelming sense of responsibility and competitiveness buries your need for variety and challenge. Recognizing your need for play will transform your work life.
  • Play helps you deal with difficulties, handle challenges, and tolerate routines and emotions such as boredom or frustration. Play provides what is needed for the creative process.

Ideas to Integrate Play and Work

Here are a few ideas for incorporating play into your leadership. You’ll notice none of them require having a pool table, workout room, or playing silly games. It’s simply about recognizing what is enjoyable, interesting, and part of your team culture.

  • When someone has a birthday, splurge and buy party hats. Or, make it a habit to sing happy birthday to a different tune for each birthday.
  • Leave an encouraging note on a colleague’s desk written on fun paper.
  • Decorate a cubicle with diapers and containers of baby wipes for the new parent on your team.
  • Ask someone what made them laugh in the last 24 hours. You’ll likely be laughing right along with them.
  • Host a themed potluck lunch (Mexican, Italian, dessert only, etc)
  • Take a 15-minute stress break – go outside for a walk together, toss a football or baseball on the green space, challenge teams to a water balloon toss, stand up & stretch and share a win for the day without saying the project you’re working on.
  • Pass a card around that says “High Five.” When it arrives on your desk, it’s your turn to celebrate the good work you’ve witnessed in someone else.
  • Turn on music and dance.

As you can see, there are things you can do to have fun that do not cost money. Obviously, that list isn’t exhaustive. Add to the list by reflecting on the culture, interests, and passions of the people you’re leading. Laugh, relax, and have fun together. Most of all, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be – it will ruin the fun!

Why Play?

I think most of us would agree that play outside of work is essential.  That is why some of you would say, “I work hard, and I play hard.” Whether it be sports, games, family activities, or community functions, we give it our all. What we might not agree upon is our need to integrate play into our work. Play, as a part of work, energizes, helps us to see new patterns, sparks curiosity, and encourages new directions.

Play also:

•Helps us deal with work problems. A playful attitude gives people emotional distance to see the reality of situations and issues and the space to respond appropriately.  

•Brings us closer to one another. It provides an opportunity to be authentic, to accept others for who they are, and to act fairly. When our interactions are based on a foundation of caring, we learn to work for the good of others. 

•Facilitates cooperative socialization and nourishes trust, empathy, caring, and sharing.  Playfulness leads to imagination, inventiveness, and dreams. It is in the midst of playfulness we often discover new solutions to problems.

Stuart Brown writes, “Play is what allows us to attain a higher level of existence, new levels of mastery, imagination, and culture. When we play right, all areas of our lives go better. When we ignore play, we start having problems.”

Play and Work

If the only image that’s coming into your mind is a pool table, workout room, or silly games, let me

Your Turn

What might you do to incorporate a little play into your leadership? In whatever form play might take for you, become the courageous and effective leader you are created to be. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. This week Sara Thomas and I talk about “play.” Tune in and listen to Episode 186: Why Play? To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

What do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?  Do you engage in certain relaxation exercises? Do you participate in specific activities? How do you relax?

When I was asked that question recently, I thought of a long-time friend who says, “I work hard, and I play hard.” I have often compared myself to him when it comes to rest, relaxation, and play. He has been an effective leader and fruitful pastor, as well as an avid golfer and successful hunter. I have admired both his work and his play. Although I believe I have worked as hard as he has, I confess I have not played as hard. What I have learned is what my friend says is true for him but not necessarily for me.  

What do you do to relax?

As I thought of the question, I responded to the person asking, “I don’t have a hobby. I don’t hunt, fish, or golf. I really don’t do anything to relax.” Then the person challenged me by saying, “When you think about it, you might find you do more than you realize to rest and relax.”

At that point, I began to take a little inventory. I discovered that even though I don’t engage in some of the activities enjoyed by others, I do have several relaxation practices that work well for me. 

What does time off look like?

As I write this blog, I am preparing for a vacation. When I am asked where I’m going or what I’m doing on my vacation, I usually respond by saying, “I’m not going anywhere, and I hope to do nothing.” Again, I have compared myself to colleagues and friends when it comes to vacations. I know that there are places to go and monuments to see, but when I disconnect from work, I don’t want to replace work activities with another set of activities. Unless I am going to a beach or sitting by a pool, I am satisfied to sit on my patio. For me, I don’t have to have an elaborate itinerary to be on vacation and to relax. 

Questions to consider

So, when I was taking my rest and relaxation inventory, I asked myself this question, “Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?” This is what I discovered: 

Memorable Experiences

One of my most memorable experiences of joy and peace was on, of all places, a golf course. Although I grew up golfing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. But on one occasion, I was golfing with my mother. It was one of the last times I was totally present with her before she became ill. Through that experience, I discovered that what brought me joy and peace was being present with someone I loved and not an activity in which I participated.  

Another memorable experience of joy and peace was on a lake, fishing with my son. Although I grew up fishing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. Yet, on this occasion, I experienced deep joy and peace watching and listening to him. I marveled at how he maneuvered his boat, his reasoning regarding where we should fish, the number of fish he caught as I listened to his dreams and hopes. I have not been fishing since that Father’s Day fifteen years ago, but I would go with him again just for the joy and peace I experienced that day. Again, I discovered that what brought me joy was not the activity in which I was engaged, but the person with whom I shared the experience.

What brings you joy?

I love baseball. l grew up listening and watching the Cincinnati Reds. As a young boy, I dreamed of going to Crosley Field, and later Riverfront Stadium. You can imagine how excited I was when I moved to Cincinnati and lived within 6 miles of Great American Ballpark. Although I could attend a ballgame any time I wanted, I did not go to many games. What I discovered, even though I loved the activity, it was not the activity that brought joy or peace. The games I enjoyed the most were games I attended with family or friends. Regardless of whether the Reds won or lost, what brought joy and peace was the interaction I had with the people I enjoyed and appreciated.  Even today, when I am watching a game on television or listening to a game on the radio, I enjoy the activity so much more when I am in a texting conversation with a friend, who is also watching or listening to the game. What I have discovered is, even with activities I like, it is the relationship with people I love and appreciate that brings joy and peace.

It is not so much the activities that bring me joy and peace as it is the people with whom I interact. I learned I find joy, peace, and relaxation with people who are special to me. Persons for whom I am grateful, who bring depth and richness to me as a person.  I discovered that there are individuals who bring an “at oneness” into my life. When I am with them, regardless of the activity, I experience wholeness and joy. 

What provides peace and relaxation?

But that is not all I discovered.  I do participate in some activities that provide peace and relaxation. Activities like: (Below are three)


Up until recently, I read books and material to help with sermon preparation, leadership development, or some other professional task or goal.  It was all good but did little to bring a sense of peace, joy, or relaxation.  Most recently, I started reading more for enjoyment as opposed to work. I have discovered a sense of excitement and renewal when I read for pleasure.  

Listening to music

I have always enjoyed music, but I have discovered that certain types of music at times provide relaxation and rest. Sometimes I find relaxation in listening to vocal music, whether it be hymns, show tunes, opera, or pop. At other times, I find relaxation in listening to instrumental music like the piano, the violin, or the orchestra. I wish I could tell you what works best for me. At this point, what I know is listening to music brings relaxation and rest. 


Eighteen months ago, I began to walk every day. I started walking to lose weight. When I reached my goal, I continued to walk because it helped me reflect and focus. What I especially enjoy is walking with a friend or a colleague. It is that “at oneness” again. I am refreshed and renewed when I walk, and I am enriched when I walk with those whom I enjoy. 

By taking a few minutes to focus and reflect upon what I do to rest and relax, I discovered I am most relaxed when I am at one with myself and when I am interacting with people whom I love and appreciate. The activities are good and necessary, but they are a means to my relaxation and not the cause of my relaxation.

Your Turn

So, what do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?

I’m guessing you already have an idea. But, this week, I want you to take a few minutes to reflect and focus upon what you do to relax. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?

2. Who are the people with whom I experience wholeness and joy?

3. When am I my most relaxed?  

4. With what I am learning, what will I do this week to relax? 

Now, in whatever form it takes for you, relax. You will become a more courageous and effective leader. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. This week, 9 leaders are sharing their wisdom on rest, relaxation, and play. This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Tune in and listen to Episode 185: Best Wisdom on Rest, Relaxation, and Play. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.