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How Are You Taking Care of Yourself?
They say that it's lonely at the top and there is a wisdom to that.  Leaders are the ones who have to look you in the eye when bad news is on the horizon.  They are also the ones who bear the burden each night as they go to sleep, worrying more than anyone else about the health of the organization.

That "organization" can be a business, a church or even a family.  Ask any parent (leader) and they can easily share a story of a time when they went to bed, worrying about their child.  When everyone else can turn work off, the leader endures a constant chatter in his head about how to fix and improve things.

Leaders also get credit for the big wins, but in my experience, this kind of back-patting is extremely rare.  The day to day grind can easily consume whatever internal passion that was once a driving motivator.

This is what I call The Pull.  The Pull is that feeling you get when everyone wants a piece of you.  It's that sense you have that others aren't fully pulling their weight and their constituents turn to you to help fill the void.  It affects you physically and emotionally.

The Pull can destroy a leader if you let it.  It can make you cynical, quick with your words and physically exhausted.  Worse yet, it only increases the "loneliness factor" of being a leader.

About a year ago, I was confronted by a colleague of mine who looked me in the eye and told me to slow down.  He said, "Mike, if you don't take care of yourself, you're going to burn out.  The rest of us would like to see you here for the long haul."  His words stung because I knew he was right.

In order to counter the sucking effect of The Pull, you must ensure that you're being fed.  Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you a member of a faith community that you enjoy and gives something back to you each week?

  • Is your marriage in a healthy place?

  • Do you regularly visit with friends simply to hang out, share a meal or do fun things?

  • Are you taking time each day for prayer and devotions?

  • Are you doing something, 2-3 times a week that is good for you physically?

It is possible to head The Pull off at the pass. Just remember that it will come back so you'll need to ask these same questions again in the future.  Great leaders take care of themselves because they know that God can get more out of them when they are in a healthy place.

One of the best ways that I know of to counter The Pull is to get away.  This may be a retreat or a conference as Michael Hyatt posts on his blog.  It may also be the practice of meditation as Bradley Moore posts on Shrinking the Camel.

One way that I get away is to work from an alternate location.  My friend Gene Monterastelli is a master of this.  He may work from home one day, from a Starbucks the next.  He keeps fresh by avoiding a stale work environment.

If you feel inadequate at times, remember the words of Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, "God doesn't call those who are already equipped.  He equips those who are called."

*photo by E. Carton
Why You Need a Second Desk
First desk

A priest friend of mine told me once that he found it hard to pray in his own church.  "It's as if someone is watching you," he said, "and it's common for parishioners to interrupt your prayer time with a question or concern."

That's when he decided he needed to find a secondary location for his prayer time.  He chose a small chapel nearby where he could retreat and spend time alone with God.  It worked perfectly.  This became his secondary "desk" or place to do spiritual work, otherwise known as prayer.

While I'm not a minister, I do know what it's like to find it difficult to work at my desk.  Take today for example, my lunch-break didn't come until 3pm and even when I had a warmed tupperware container on my desk, I still couldn't fend off the interruptions that arrived. (above photo)

One person needed to talk.

An employee needed direction on a project.

An urgent phone call came through.

Granted, it's up to me to carve out the time to really crank and get my work done.  No one to blame but myself but still, work at my own desk can be difficult.  Kind of like my friend Kevin at his church.  In my case, my warmed up lasagna quickly turned into a cold item that had to be reheated later.  Not ideal.

That's why everyone needs a second desk.  My friend's second desk is a small chapel.  My second desk is a conference table (see below) where I find some of my most creative work is accomplished.  It's only five feet from my first desk but what magic comes from that short distance.  I try to spend the first hour of my day there before the interruptions come, and they always do.

Second desk

I think that everyone can benefit from a second desk.  That's why people have theatre rooms in their homes.  They want to get away and enjoy some quality time but they want to do it away from the high-traffic area of their living room.

It probably also explains why people have both home and work offices.  The primary is vital but the secondary space might be just as valuable because it's often there that true creativity occurs.

I wonder too if this is the reason why Jesus "got away" to pray, to his second desk.  Imagine if you were the Son of God- the interruptions!

Mark 1:35 says, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."

Now this is true (spiritual) productivity modeled for us int the New Testament.  If a second desk was necessary for Jesus, why not consider one for yourself.  It might only be five feet from your first desk but what a difference that short distance can make!

Where is your second desk for work, prayer, writing, creative work?
When a Leader You Know Falls from Grace
It happens to all of us at some point.

We know someone who falls.  I'm not talking about Tiger Woods or former HP exec Mark Hurd although both suffered terribly as a result of the choices they made.

No, I'm talking about the people that you and I know, the "folks" as Bill O'Reilly likes to call them.  The people who do their own grocery shopping.  Those that are on the sidelines at their kid's soccer game.  The ones who know exactly how much their mortgage payment is.

The regular people like you and me. And it hurts to see one of them suffer a personal or professional fall from grace.

Last week, President Obama commented on the many "falls" he witnessed as Republicans took control of the House and many Democrats were shown the door.  When asked how he felt to see friends lose their jobs, he said

“The toughest thing over the last couple of days is seeing really terrific public servants not have the opportunity to serve anymore, at least in the short term.”

These are the kinds of falls that can only be considered falls by association.  Many disliked the President and thus lumped in other Democrats with the President on election day.

It's the other kind of fall that hurts the most.  A personal fall due to a lack of judgment and it happens all of the time.  These include but aren't limited to:

  • Improper use of funds

  • Addiction

  • Infidelity

  • Reckless lifestyle

  • Dishonesty through spoken word

And many more.  Many times, these start as small actions which then replicate.  Over time, they create a body of work that then results in scandal and true fall from power.  So what can you do when someone you know falls from grace?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Talk about it. With your friends and family and with those in the organization, talk about it.  Help people emote and express what they feel.  Create ways for people to process what's happened.  They're talking about it anyway so why not join the conversation and help others process in a constructive way?

  2. Encourage the person you know. Through a personal note, an email or simply through prayer, encourage your friend in the time of greatest need.  You're not condoning their behavior, simply acknowledging their humanity.

  3. Help the organization deal with the Elephant in the Room. By precise communication and honest assessment of what's happened, you can help your organization deal with what's happened.  The key is to not ignore the incident(s) but to deal with them in a thoughtful way.  Everyone is talking about it so the last thing you want to do is be seen as someone who is ignoring the Elephant in the Room.

  4. Ensure that it never happens again. As money is often involved in scandal, it's critical to ensure that a thorough evaluation takes place of company protocols.  If technology is involved, proper firewalls and policies are vital to protect the company and everyone within the organization.  Finally, a solemn pledge with the key decision makers is helpful in order to tell the world that what occurred will not happen again.

  5. Refocus on what's truly important. A friend of mine recently had to leave his post in scandal.  We all feel badly for him and yet his poor decisions do allow the rest of us to focus on what's really important in our faith and in the organization.  In the Christian world, we get hung up on leaders when we should be focus on Christ.

What have you found to be helpful when someone you know falls from grace?

*Photo by markgoodwin
What I've Learned from Three Weeks of Prayer
One of the positives of having a long commute is the ability to learn while you drive.  For me, this is typically in the form of podcasts and audio books.  I use iTunes for just about all of this which has lessened my trips to the library in search of new material.

As an iPad user (like it, don't love it), I will load up my device with new content each Sunday evening.  I especially like the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast series which is fantastic and very relevant for leaders on the go.

One other great resovoir in iTunes is its supply of audio books.  My first was Bill Hybels' Too Busy Not to Pray and life hasn't been the same since I finished it three weeks ago.  Hybels is known as one of the great pastors of this generation.  Having led WillowCreek Church in Illinois for some time, he's seen as an intellectual leader who is always trying to reach out to folks who may not know God all that well.  I've found his material to be to-the-point and simple enough.

As is often the case, simple is another word for deep.  Very deep.

Too Busy Not to Pray was written as Hybels' manifesto on daily prayer.  He shares stories of his success and failure to pray as a leader of a church with thousands of members.  Mostly though, he comes across as a devout follower of Christ who has practiced daily prayer for decades with great humility.

I decided that I would follow Hybels' advice and have a daily prayer time of my own.  I'll be totally honest here- it's been years since I had a really good run of daily devotional times.  My prayer life has been just good enough to avoid going deeper.  But not deep enough to really have made a difference.  I've often felt as if I've been giving God "short shrift".  To add to this, as a Christian educator, my lack of solid prayer has probably hurt my leadership.  I knew it was time to change.

As a result, I've been taking 15-30 minutes each day for prayer.  What's been different this time around is both the format and medium of prayer.  Following Hybels' advice, I do two things which have really made a difference:

  • Write it all down.

  • Use the A-C-T-S format

I've always been a journaler but this time around, it's been different and deeper on so many levels.  When I think that I have nothing new to say to God, He surprises me and nudges my heart in a slightly different way.  A new insight will emerge.  A new person for which I can offer prayer.

The ACTS format stands for: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. When you use ACTS, you pretty much cover a lot of ground.  After writing for 10 or so minutes, Hybels recommends writing an "L" on your page and then sitting back to LISTEN to God.  After all, a genuine conversation is made of both speaking and listening.

As a Catholic, I was hesitant at first to use the ACTS method.  We Catholics are good at complicating things but this is party due to such a rich tradition of holy women and men from which to draw inspiration.  Having now come to rely on ACTS as the architecture of my prayer times, I realize that simple is good and ACTS just plain works.

Today is Day 24 and my entire family is now behind me.  If I miss a morning, I'll ask my 9 year old to remind me to pray at night before bed.  When I hear "Did you remember to pray Dad," I know that I'm both setting a good example and building a stronger foundation in my relationship with God.  My leadership at school feels more confident and I can honestly say that I'm communing with God on a daily basis.  That feels very good.  I know that I still have a long way to go but there is now momentum where before there was only intention.

As Andy Stanley says, "Direction, not intention, determines destination."  When it comes to prayer, no truer words have been said.

How are you finding success in your daily prayer time with God?

*Photo by Majoey
Four Easy Steps to Getting the Rest You Want
You've got the kind of job that is asking more of you than ever before.  Your work hours are expanding as the economy is shrinking.  At the end of the day, you have zero energy left for those you love. Did I mention that your email inbox hasn't been at zero for weeks and you have to repeat the whole thing tomorrow?

The problem isn't your job or your work hours.

The problem may be how little you are at rest.  Without rest, the grind of work can swallow your passion and destroy your health.  So how can you build points of renewal during the day?  Here are my four easy steps that work every time:

  1. Start your day on your terms. By getting to sleep at a reasonable time, the following day can be successful or at least the start of it can be.  There is nothing better than waking up without a feeling of dread and tiredness.

  2. Reclaim your lunch hour. It's essential to get away from your work and reclaim some time to recharge your body.  Step away from the desk, get some air and be alone for 15-30 minutes.

  3. Take breaks every 90 minutes. Switch gears, pull your eyes away and step away from the keyboard.

  4. Know when to stop. Just go home and be with those you love.  Unless you're negotiating a peace deal between two countries, it's probably okay to leave it for tomorrow.

So there they are- the four easy steps to reclaiming the lost art of resting.  Just as periods of work are deeply spiritual, so too are the moments of rest in between.

*photo by oddsock
It's All Work, No Matter How You Slice It
I used to dread Saturday mornings as a kid.  I would be asleep and then hear my dad's tractor summon me to consciousness- the audible sign that work was just around the corner.  Or in my case, somewhere on our property.

Dad was at it again, burning brush or hauling something to somewhere.  I would eventually emerge in work clothes and Dad would say the same thing each week as I approached the worksite, "Did you need a special invitation?  Let's get to work."

I was reminded of this last week as New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss rounded out a great win by honing in on his own issues- a contract extension worth millions.  Feel free to read the full text of his quasi-tirade but the gist of it is simple enough: it's all work man.  Pay me what I'm worth and I'll go quietly into the record books as one of Boston's finest.

Whether you stay at home with your children or catch passes in front of millions, it's all work.  That's why it is vital that we find purpose and meaning in even the most mundane of tasks.  Sure Moss is selfish and his comments untimely but he's adding to our conversation about work.

Work matters, work is personal and yes, much of life is about work.  Let's make it count.

Photo by Off