Having served in various kinds of leadership capacities for the past four decades, I have observed common stress points for both workplace and church place leaders. Not dealing with several of these can result in burnout, as well as personal and vocational failure.
I have collapsed my observations down to a top 10 list for the sake of brevity. Obviously, many more points could have been added, but my hope is that the list will awaken concern, attention and positive action in the leaders who read this article.
The top 10 reasons for leadership stress:
Lack of clear boundaries for family and self. When a leader does not know how to compartmentalize and emotionally disconnect from work when at home, he will eventually burn out. When a leader doesn't create a safe place for his family to focus on one another without outside interference, relational deterioration will occur.
When a leader doesn't practice soul care by taking regular time alone with God for prayer and reflection, by enjoying a hobby or doing things he enjoys and bring him life, this lack of self-renewal can eventually lead his brain to overheat and suffer burnout.
Ambiguity in mission and purpose. When a leader doesn't have a clear sense of purpose that serves as a compass to direct his time and focus, this ambiguity will lead to meaningless activities and a lack of productivity. This lack of productivity can lead to depression and a further sense of purposeless and aimlessness.
The solution, of course, is that the leader know and understand his calling and purpose, and focus most of his energy on that instead of mere activity.
Lack of time-management skills. Many leaders overcommit themselves, resulting in never having enough time to complete their primary tasks. Whenever we say yes to something, we say no to something else that may be more important.
To be effective, each leader needs to learn how to gauge how much time he needs to accomplish his primary tasks before making a commitment to do other things. When you keep first things first, what you put second will never suffer.
Poor health management. Many leaders neglect their physical and emotional health in the name of accomplishing their primary goals. However, our long-term goals and primary calling will never withstand the test of time if we fail to take care of our emotional and physical health. Thus, no matter how busy a leader is, he must prioritize his own well-being in spirit, soul and body if he desires to be a good steward of his life and mission.
Poor stress management. Every effective leader has a lot of responsibility, and with every responsibility comes a unique set of stress points. Consequently, to be effective, a leader must learn how to manage and function during periods of high stress.
We manage stress by thinking positively, taking an adequate amount of time off for rest, getting the proper amount of exercise, receiving good counsel, planning properly, managing time well, prioritizing primary goals and keeping a detailed to-do list so things don't fall through the cracks.
All of these will help mitigate against the daily deluge of stress that cannot be avoided when one has responsibility.
Sedentary lifestyle. When a leader is sitting down all day in front of a computer and is constantly eating out and snacking between meals (as well as eating late at night), his capacity to function and think while under stress greatly diminishes.
A leader who sits down for long periods of time should get up frequently to take a walk, think, reflect and relax his mind by focusing on another activity periodically throughout the day. He should also avoid excessive snacking and living on fast foods, which not only hurt him physically but also negatively impact his energy level and ability to process thoughts clearly.
Social feeding. Leaders who spend a lot of time on social media will find less time and ability to interface with the significant people and co-workers in their lives. Not only that, but many leaders have become addicted to social media, which causes them to procrastinate, which then adds more stress because they have less quality time for the things that are truly important.
Betrayal and disloyalty. Every key leader I know has suffered various kinds of betrayal. Each instance of betrayal brings a huge amount of stress, as well as a possible psychological battle with depression that adds even more stress, which causes the leader to consider quitting his job or ministry.
There is no solution for betrayal except having a strong community of friends and mentors who will encourage and help the leader walk through the pain with forgiveness and love. They will also point him to God, who alone can heal the brokenhearted and bind up his wounds (see Ps. 147:3).
Too many demands for their attention. Even as I am writing this article, I am getting barraged with phone calls and numerous requests for my time via text, as well as challenges brought to my attention that need immediate problem-solving.
As a result, I have learned to respond to texts, emails and calls in a way that uses my time wisely and doesn't compromise my primary purpose. Those who expect me to "like" every post on Facebook or respond to every question and comment regarding my articles will be disappointed and probably unfriend me.
Lack of financial resources. I have observed that many leaders lack provisions for their vision. It may be because their vision did not originate with God or they lacked good administration and planning. That being said, inadequate financial and human resources is another stress factor that greatly weighs on leaders.
Every leader needs to seek the Lord to make sure his vision is from God and not emanating out of selfish ambition. He also needs a good team around him to give him advice regarding the best way forward to fund the vision.
Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). Follow his "The Pulse" blog at charismanews.com and subscribe to his weekly newsletter at josephmattera.org.
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