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Stop Treating THESE Habits as a Badge of Honor

Stop Treating THESE Habits as a Badge of Honor
  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
Find yourself busy? A little overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Especially in leadership. I made a lot of mistakes in how I handled my workload as a young leader in charge of three small but rapidly growing churches. Like many people, I assumed that the only way to handle a growing organization was to work more hours. The flawed logic went something like this: The larger our church became, the harder and longer I had to work. The challenge, of course, is that nobody is manufacturing more hours in the day. Whether you lead two people or 2,000, you have to manage it all in 24 hours a day. But that logic was lost on me as a young driven leader in my 30s trying to lead a great cause. It got to the point where, as we grew, I wore my insatiable work ethic as a badge of honor. Was there pride underneath that? Sure. And unhealth. And unsustainability. It all worked great until, well, it didn’t. A decade into my leadership, I burned out. Our church had reached about 600 in attendance, and 10 years of running at an unsustainable pace just about killed me. I’ll write more about that burnout in some upcoming posts, but let me start here. There are some things I wore as badges of honor as a young leader I no longer wear as a badges of honor today. What breaks my heart is I see many leaders falling into the same patterns I did. In the 11 years since my summer of burnout, I’ve found new patterns in leadership that are so much healthier. What’s still so strange to me is that when I adopted healthier patterns, I got more done, not less. I actually worked fewer hours and got so much more done. I still hustle…but it’s a healthy, sustainable hustle that has proven to be life-giving. The result? Our church is more than twice the size it was when I burned out and I discovered I could do things like write books, this blog, host podcasts, speak to leaders and still have more time at home with my family. I know, it doesn’t make any sense, until it actually happens to you. I got asked about my productivity patterns so often that finally I took the time to write them down, process them and export them into principles that many leaders can adopt. That’s how The High Impact Leader Course was born. The High Impact Leader Course teaches those principles in a way any leader can adopt, and it reopens next Monday May 15 for new participants. If you’re interested, you can join the waitlist here to be the first in, and get some free bonuses we’re sending exclusively to that list. In the meantime, here are five things I no longer believe are badges of honor in leadership.

1. Working Ridiculous Hours

I’m not sure I’ll ever be a 37.5 hour a week guy (I love what I do too much), but I’ve found that if I work over 55 hours, I get unhealthy fast. As a young leader, I would push 60, 70, 80 hours. In my pride, I’d think anyone who worked less was lazy or irresponsible. That’s bad thinking as well as horrible theology. Not to mention arrogant and judgmental on my part. Any strategy based on working more hours to handle more demands is headed for a fatal crash. Why? Well, every leader runs out of hours before he or she runs out of demands.  There will always be more demands on your time than there will be time. Leaders who manage large organizations often work fewer hours than leaders who run small organizations. Think about it. Ironically, effective leaders work fewer hours than ineffective leaders. Again, effective has nothing to do with laziness. It has to do with effectiveness. (More on that in a future post.)

2. Being Busier Than Everyone Else You Know

Ask leaders how they are these days, and most will quickly answer “Busy.” For way too long I wore busy as a badge of honor. Here’s a question: why? I mean do you really want to get to the end of your life and say, “Well, at least I was busy.” Busy with what? Far too often busy people get to the end of their day and don’t even know what they actually did. Sure, they sat in meetings and answered email and rushed around—but what did they accomplish? Busy is not a friend of great leadership. Hang around truly effective leaders for a while and you’ll notice a calm and focus that is too often lacking. If you’re relying on being busy as a strategy for effective leadership, you need a new strategy.

3. Getting No Sleep

Guess what I used to do before I burned out? Brag about how little sleep I got. That is until I spent August 2006 sleeping about 12-13 hours a day. I also did a lot of napping in between those long sleeps. It’s like my body said, You’ve been running up a sleep debt for a long time and now you’re going to pay it off. My body knew more than my brain did. Because if you don’t pay debt off, you know what happens right? You go bankrupt. In the last 11 years, the one thing I refuse to cheat is sleep. Most leaders recharge their phone overnight when they sleep. Fewer recharge themselves. When you sleep, you don’t just recharge your body, you recharge your mind and your soul. I realize these days that most of what I do is think: as a preacher, writer, leader and speaker, I think. A rested brain works. An exhausted brain doesn’t…at least not in any way that helps me write better messages, help people, love people or generate new ideas. A rested you is a better you. Always.

4. Being Overwhelmed

Leadership can be overwhelming. I get that. But it doesn’t have to be. Some leaders seems love being overwhelmed. I did. I still love a challenge—taking on a little more than I think I can handle. That’s how I’m wired. And occasionally it leads to overwhelm. But these days I follow up with a quick recalibration. Being overwhelmed means your system is broken. Great solutions include hiring people, dropping some things you’re doing, scheduling new priorities or moving to your next level of leadership (systematically not doing what you used to do). Being overwhelmed all the time doesn’t make you a great leader. It make you overwhelmed.

5. Never Using Your Vacation

For years in leadership, I never used all my vacation. That was a mistake. The sad part of that is when my kids were young, we could have done more together. Sure, we always took an annual vacation, whether it was a simple as a camping trip or as wonderful as a trip to Disney. But looking back on it, I wish I had taken all of my vacation every year. I do now. My wife and I spend lots of time together, and we still get to travel with our (now grown) kids. But you can’t get time back. When I see a leader who doesn’t take their vacation, I no longer see it as a sign of strength. I see it more as an admission of weakness. God is still challenging me on rest. What I’m discovering is that a rested me is a more: Generous me. Loving me. Trusting me. Guess what else? A rested me is a more productive me. Maybe God knew what he was doing when he said we should spend more than 1/7th of our lives resting.