“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” The writer of Ecclesiastes addresses the rhythm of life in these words and those that follow (Eccl. 3:1-8).
We could write a similar litany for leadership: there’s a time to push, and a time to let up. There’s a time to be firm, and a time to be flexible. There’s a time to keep working, and a time to rest. There’s a time to stay, and a time to go. There’s a time to get expert advice, and a time to go with your instinct. How do you know which to do? It would be nice if we had a formula. But it’s more of an art than a science.
Leaders who know themselves and their people will be able to more accurately discern what is needed. Knowing yourself is a lifelong practice. It involves prayer and paying attention to yourself every day. It includes understanding how your family over the generations has shaped you. We probably all need some outside help on this project: mentors, coaches and good friends who will tell us the truth. The best helpers act like a mirror to enable us to see ourselves more accurately, both strengths and vulnerabilities.
Knowing your people is also a long-term project requiring a significant investment of time, both on the clock and on the calendar. How you do this will vary, depending on your personality and the size and nature of your group. But a well-connected leader will make better decisions and experience better results than one who is isolated. For example, if the leader hides out in a financial crunch, that absence contributes to heightened anxiety, even panic. Conversely, when the leader is present (emotionally, not just on the premises), people will be aware of it, which automatically lowers everyone’s anxiety.
When we are well-balanced internally and externally, making the right decision is actually less important. We’ll be able to recover better from missteps, or shift direction slightly when we see what the response is. We’ll have the internal resources to ride out a minor storm, or even a major one. We’ll have enough credibility that people will have a higher level of trust.
At any given moment, the stakes of the decision seem high. And it’s important to be thoughtful in making choices as a leader. But calm and centered leadership is more important than a single decision. Our presence as a leader over time is more valuable than any single recommendation or choice. That’s what we really get paid for.