The journey we take in learning leadership skills and nuances has many twists and turns and certainly does not follow a prescribed recipe. I have taken a fair amount of leadership training over the years and had a fair amount of leadership experience in that time as well. All of that has helped to shape the leadership skills that have helped me serve my community, in the broadest sense of that word. This is not to say that I’ve always been at the top of my game when it comes to leadership. There is a constant current of change flowing through our society and our communities. People come and go, situations change, new ideas can soon become expectations and unexpected turns of events come into play, as well. All of this challenges everyone but especially those who are called on to facilitate or lead. These changes also require keeping an ear to the ground and developing an ability to adapt and work with the changes as they happen, often “on the fly”. That makes leadership a constantly evolving and constantly a learning experience. It’s been said that teachers learn as they teach. That is certainly true with community leadership.
My leadership learning has been about understanding how effective I can be as a communicator and how well I understand new and emerging ideas and trends. That requires a significant amount of “keeping up” and holding one’s ear to the ground. Understanding the forces that are driving the trends that shape upcoming interests and topics. Being able to adapt however, is something that needs working on in an on-going, continuing basis.
So, assuming that this is accurate, how do we accomplish this and who do we, as leaders, stay connected to and learn from these changes and new trends?
My fellowship is teaching me that a key element to this is taking the necessary time for self-reflection and understanding the role we play in leading a group, a movement and/or a community. I am also slowly learning that it is far too easy to busy ourselves with the day-to-day details of leading our organization or community and, as a result, we often miss the big picture about leadership as a mentoring activity. After all, isn’t demonstrating leadership to new and emerging leaders an important aspect of what leadership should be all about?
Taking time to build your own leadership skills does not necessarily involve taking time off or taking time away from your leadership responsibilities. However, it might be helpful to do so or arrange the situation so that you can allow yourself the necessary time. On the other hand, what may be more workable for leaders may actually involve making a concerted effort to manage our time and avoid over-scheduling ourselves. That may involve ‘letting go” of some details and coaching someone else to take on a new role or to handle a couple of things, allowing you to take the time you need to step back, assess your effectiveness and do a bit of renewing. It seems to be a lesson whose thread runs through almost everything we are doing with our fellowships. It is also a lesson that I have not listened to very well in the past.
By “letting go” and turning some details or responsibilities over to others, we are sending the message that they are valuable and key to our organization’s success. Not doing this can send the message that we don’t fully believe that they can handle these tasks or responsibilities. Not only is that a counter-productive message but could also be destructive to the greater goals that any organization or community wants to achieve.
Not being able to “let go” is a prescription for leadership burn-out where we find ourselves struggling to be effective and yet clinging to what may be outdated ideas that keep us stuck where we and our organization are at instead of attracting a wider and newly emerging support.
I am learning that a sustainable leadership model requires that others are brought forward to pick up the cause and that duties need to be taught or demonstrated to others and shared. Even then I still struggle to set aside time to reflect and re-charge. My tendency is to overbook myself and always say yes when someone needs assistance with organizing something or when someone is needed to facilitate a meeting or an event.
While it feels good to be asked, being on guard against the burn-out syndrome is important to keep in mind. Learning to politely decline a request to facilitate or organize a meeting or an event is an important tool in preserving one’s ability to stay in touch and stay fresh enough to tackle a future opportunity.
Staying connected is a central tenant to many of the leadership roles that I take on. Learning to stay connected while not being in the thick of every possible minute detail will be an important lesson in self-care and preservation of one’s own mental health. I am beginning to realize the value of that.
Self-care can take on many different formats or endeavors. For many, undertaking self-care might mean enrolling in some sort of healthy lifestyle program or attending a seminar or series of seminars on healthy lifestyle options or opportunities. There could be a healthy living retreat to attend or some other repeating programs that offers check-ins that track and measure your progress in regard to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Or, it could be much simpler, like getting a massage of setting aside time for recreational activities like reading, sports, outdoor activities, or a hobby that lets your mind wander and maybe gets you involved with some creative aspect like art work, wood working or gardening.
Each of these offers a much-needed therapeutic opportunity to relax and clear your mind from the challenges of leadership and decision making. I have planted a cultivated a vegetable garden for over 40 years and regard the bounty of my garden to be the therapy that I get from getting my fingers dirty and from being on my hands and knees planting seeds and pulling weeds. Vegetables harvested from the garden are merely a bonus from the whole endeavor. I also write a 1,000 to 1,200 word column in our community’s weekly newspaper that is conversational in nature and even though it is deadline driven, it provides a nice respite from the other, more demanding aspects of my leadership duties.
In an effort to track my own health and in an effort to record some efforts of self-care, I purchased a Fit-Bit this past year and have actively tracked and recorded my daily steps, heart rate and caloric burn rate among other measures of activity. Quantifying this provides an interesting bit of information but is only one part of the self-care necessary for maintaining public life equilibrium.
Equally important, or perhaps more important, is the practice of self-reflection. I have given a lot of thought and consideration to the question of what actually sustains me and my ability to be a leader. What are the callings and the situations that inspire me to be involved and who are the people that inspire me to join them or take up a cause? In many ways, this drives to the heart of the issue. Connections and relationships are a huge factor as well as what seems to be a born in need to be involved. Tempering those needs is a key to not getting spread too thin and taking time to step back and assess what I am working on and how much I am accomplishing. I am learning, however slowly, that reflecting on all of this can be a powerful resource for measuring where we are at as leaders and how that reflection is helping us to become more effective as leaders.