What I’m learning about self-leadership

Self-Leadership. I didn’t even hear these words until I was working at my second church and I was 6 years into ministry. Oh, I knew some of the concepts and was already practicing it in theory, but if you were to ask me what self-leadership was, I’m not sure I could define it or even articulate what you meant.

Now, I’m not saying that I have somehow mastered the concept or the art of self-leadership, but I know that I am way further along than I was. And here is the crazy part, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I mean, I started some things this year that I have never done in my 38 years of living and in my 17+ years of ministry that have turned out to be the healthiest things ever for me and my leadership.

So I just wanted to take some time to share some of what I am learning about self-leadership and self-development. (Mostly because I like sharing it and talking about it… and maybe, just maybe… someone out there might need to read something that will spur them on to lead themselves well.)

I now have my self-leadership broken up into 4 categories: LEARNING, TRAINING, EXPERIENCES, & CARE. These categories are only there to help me ask the bigger questions of “what am I not currently pursuing in these areas that I need to pursue to get better?”

Let me share with you some things I have put into these categories that have helped me:

LEARNING: I love to read. I love listening to podcasts. I love to learn. I love growing and stretching myself to even uncomfortable places. When I was young in ministry, a pastor that I served alongside and respect a ton showed me his library. I noticed a ton of books by authors who disagreed on key issues. I also noticed books that had nothing to do with Christianity… in fact, they spoke in the opposite direction. I asked him, “Why do you have these books?” What he said shaped my thinking in a huge way. He said, “If I only ever read and absorb what I already agree with… I’ll never grow.” From that moment on, I have pushed myself to read, listen to, and absorb things that I might not naturally agree with. It gives me perspective. It gives me compassion. It gives me empathy. It also helps me push my own boundaries and comfortability. The biggest thing it does is it shuts down my confirmation bias. Podcasts, Videos, Books… I am constantly asking myself “What do I need to learn to get better as a person and as a leader?”

TRAINING: A really big part of my self-leadership journey has been getting the training I need to grow. There are conferences to attend, courses to take, and content to digest. If you don’t have the budget to get to a conference… a lot of them have online options or streaming services now. If you don’t have the money or the time to get your seminary degree… there are online options and crash courses that will help you lead well for a fraction of the cost and time. There are also now leadership coaches and ministry coaches & consultants available to mentor you online (the ReThink company is killing the game in this area). The point is this: Getting better as a leader means getting more training. The moment we think we don’t need any more training is the moment we stop leading.

EXPERIENCES: Sometimes conferences can be great training tools… and sometimes they can solely be great experiences. I am of the opinion that putting yourself in challenging environments, even if you didn’t learn anything new or get any new training, is healthy. In the spring-fall months (more likely May-September) I religiously spend an hour a day on a bike ride. Sometimes I will pop in my earbuds and listen to a podcast, but most times I will use that time to think, dream, pray, mull over an idea, or just listen to some music and reflect. 4 times a year on the 5th Wednesday of the month, our staff takes a half-day of prayer. When we first started this, I am going to be honest, it was difficult. I asked myself, “How am I going to fill up 1/2 of a day with something like prayer?” You know what? 8 years in, it has become easier to do. I read, write, journal, pray, think, pray some more. It doesn’t matter what the experiences are… I just think it is super healthy and helpful in bettering myself and my leadership to push myself to experiences that challenge my comfort levels.

CARE: Soul care. Self care. Mental health care. All of these things are important! I would say that these, over the years of ministry, have taken a huge back burner to the other categories. Why? Because the other ones are easier. The other ones don’t require as much. The other ones don’t ask me to be as vulnerable. This year, for the first time in my 38+ years of living, I found myself across the room from a counselor in a counseling setting. I’ve been on the other side of the room plenty of times, but never on the couch. It was a new experience for me. My pride kept me from pursuing the care I needed to get healthy. I am here to tell you, my pride and false self-image were not and are not worth a ministry collapse, burnout, or mental health instability. We all need soul care. We all need to take better care of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves. If I were to give one piece of advice to anyone about self-leadership, it would be this: Don’t go after learning, training and experiences and forsake care. Don’t gain the ministry world and forfeit your soul. A soul-level healthy leader is a better leader.

Everyone benefits when a leader gets better.

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