What Are You Thankful for as a Leader?

We all have the usual list of things we are thankful for: faith, family, food. It’s vital to remain grateful for these everyday items. But what are you thankful for as a leader? You may be thankful for your supporters — but you may learn more from those who challenge you. Have you given thanks for the “loyal opposition”?

Who shaped you in your leadership?

What have you learned this year?

What are the gifts you have received from those you lead, or from your colleagues?

Let’s give thanks for all of these things in our lives as leaders.

What are the resources, books, movies or blogs, that have supported you?

Are You Worried about Money?

Money is on everyone’s minds right now. It’s a high-anxiety topic wherever you are leading, whether it’s a church, business or nonprofit. As year-end approaches, as final accounting is done, and as budgets for 2009 are drawn up and reviewed, people are bound to be concerned. What should you be doing?

Leaders need to offer hope. Try putting the challenges you face in a larger framework for your people, and offer the sense that there is a way through, even if you can’t yet see it. Hope involves the belief that the anxieties of the moment are not the last word, that we can count on something more than economic values for our purpose and possibility.

Hope is not the same thing as optimism. Even hopeful leaders must be honest about the real challenges ahead. People can sense forced optimism, and on some level they know when their leaders are not being honest with them.

In recessionary times, hard choices will no doubt have to be made. Some favorite projects may not go forward. People may have to be laid off. We need to make those choices with calm, not panic, and with integrity toward both the institution and the people.

Leadership in this situation, as in so many, comes back to me: I need to manage my own anxiety and fear. If I don’t have hope, it will be hard to offer hope to others. I need to find the larger meaning and purpose for myself, remembering that it’s never only about money. I can focus on the choices I make in the moment (the only moment available to me). I can concentrate on what I can control, and that can make a difference to the outcome.

Here are five tips for dealing with money issues in a time of fear:

1. A thoughtful response is always better than a panicky one. Most decisions do not need to be made today.
2. On the other hand, a procrastinated response can be as anxious as an over-hasty one. If a decision needs to be made, make it.
3. Monitor your exposure to the media. Many news sources try to ratchet up the anxiety to get attention, and will not help you stay calm. Set limits (for example, 15 minutes of reading Internet news), and stick to them.
4. Look for the calmest people around you and spend more time with them.
5. Make a list of what you are thankful for. This practice will help you keep your perspective. Things may be difficult, but you will have enough food today.

How to Keep the Long View

Do you have any time to read? I’ve got a suggestion, although it’s not for everyone. In addition to the distractions I mentioned in my last post, my book group is also reading War and Peace. I’m reading it in a fabulous new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I’m loving it. And the issues Tolstoy raises are incredibly current: family life, religion and the spiritual life, good and bad leadership, and of course the matters of war and peace, as the title suggests. I’m sure I would never get through it without the discipline of the group deadline (I’ve got until December 16). But it’s truly a great piece of literature.

War and Peace may not be for you, but what are you reading that is helping you keep your perspective?

Do You Need a Distraction?

I’ve been watching two TV series on DVD that are both a nice distraction, but also have some relevance to church, one silly and one more serious.

First, the BBC series Clatterford is about life in a small English village, with a focus on the women’s organization or “Guild.” The characters include a frustrated and harassed vicar, some highly eccentric women, and several generations of the local doctor’s family. The first episode is funny, and it gets even better from there. Get it from Netflix, or try your local library.

Second is the science fiction series Battlestar Galactica, a much more sophisticated remake of a 70s TV show. It’s about leadership in crisis, as well as the tensions between political and military leadership, with some family dynamics thrown in. I watched the miniseries which is the pilot instead of one of the presidential debates (true confessions). Watching some of these issues raised in a setting that is at a distance in time and space from our own helped me gain perspective. The first three seasons are available on DVD.

Election Musings

I sat down last night to watch the election coverage. I thought I’d be in and out, but I ended up watching for three and a half hours. This truly is a significant moment in American life. I thought both candidates’ speeches were acts of leadership, McCain’s with his gracious words of concession, and Obama’s with his inspiring words connecting past, present and future. I was watching PBS’ coverage, and anchor Jim Lehrer mused at the end about his own journey from growing up in Texas and seeing separate drinking fountains and waiting rooms in the bus station, to the election of an African-American to the presidency.

Robert Parham of Ethics Daily, wrote an interesting article today called Theological Realism Is Needed about President Obama, suggesting that Obama is neither a savior nor a demon.

On another note, I was struck also by the interest my 18-year-old son and his friends showed in voting for the first time. They were not only paying attention to the presidential race, but were discussing the Oregon ballot initiatives among themselves, and considering how best to vote. This gives me hope. The thoughtful engagement of citizens of all ages will help us all.

Do We All Have to Agree?

In John’s gospel, Jesus says, “…so that they may be one, as we are one.” What does it mean for Christians to be “one”? Does it mean we all have to agree on everything? That would make for a pretty dull life together. And, truly, it’s not going to happen. Even within any given congregation you can find a range of viewpoints on any subject. The election season highlights this reality even if people never talk about politics at church. It’s a fair bet that most congregations have people from both parties, even if one is dominant.

As pastoral leaders, we can get anxious when people disagree with us, whether it’s about the direction the church should take, social issues of the day, or how we spend our time in ministry. Our anxiety may come from our family experience of differences. One of my friends says her family attitude was: “You’re stupid if you don’t agree.” How did your family deal with disagreement?

When we can get more neutral about the disagreement, we’ll find it easier to lead. It’s not personal (even if people frame it personally). Maintaining relationships even when there are strong differences of opinion is a sign of maturity. Perhaps that’s something like what Jesus meant by being “one.”

Who Are the Saints Who’ve Inspired You?

Today is All Saint’s Day. I’m a Baptist, and we don’t have official “saints,” but all church leaders have people in our lives or in the history of the church who have inspired us and encouraged us in our own journey of faith.

Here are a few of mine:

St. Benedict
St. Teresa of Avila
My eighth grade Sunday School teacher
My grandparents

What about you? Who are the saints in your life, whether they have a “St.” in front of their name or not?

Where Does Stress Come from?

Recently I was adding some information to my Facebook profile, and one category was “favorite quote.” I immediately wrote in my favorite quote from Edwin Friedman, “stress comes less from overwork than from taking responsibility for the problems of others.” What causes burnout is not hard work, but taking on other people’s anxiety. When I quoted this phrase to someone once, they said, “put that in needlepoint!”

There’s a lot of anxiety floating around right now. Leaders do bear some responsibility for helping to frame the challenges of our day for our followers. But if we take on all that anxiety for ourselves, we’ll be in trouble quickly. Several on my teleconference last week mentioned the challenges of the annual fall stewardship emphasis and budgeting in the current environment. People are worried, no question. And that may impact the realities of financial life at church for some time to come.

But we need to be careful to discern what is our responsibility, and what belongs to others. Simply asking the question may bring us to a different place.