Have You Chosen Your Leaders for Next Year?
By this time of spring, most schools have selected their student government, resident advisors, club leaders, and peer mentors for next school year. My big question is—could they use some help getting ready?
At Growing Leaders, we’ve decided to post a helpful article each week continuing through the summer on our blog page, geared especially for student leaders. You can expect it on Fridays. They’ll contain practical tips for leading meetings, communicating a vision, choosing priorities, dealing with difficult peers, bossing your calendar, effective planning and more. You can find today’s tip below. If you like it, it’s our gift to you and your students. Feel free to copy it for each of your student leaders as a discussion guide that will equip them to be more healthy leaders. Also, click on “Free Resources” to view and download the growing library of Leader Tips on a special page of our site. This is a page just for young leaders to practice great leadership. Feel free to have your students look for it, all summer as they anticipate leading this fall. Enjoy.
We live in a bottom-line, result-oriented culture. Leaders are expected to produce. All of our lives we’ve heard: make the grade, make the team, make the money, make the sale, make a difference. None of these ambitions are wrong, but with unhealthy motives, leaders can fall into a trap. You could call it a “performance trap.”
Years ago, I taught college students in San Diego, California. Michael, one of my students, began to struggle during a fall semester, and I could tell he needed a break. I later found out Michael was under all kinds of pressure with a full load of classes, a part-time job, a girlfriend and two big leadership responsibilities on campus. He began seeing a counselor, who didn’t take long to summarize Michael’s dilemma. He simply said: “Your problem is—you’ve become a ‘human doing’ before you’ve allowed yourself to be a ‘human being.’”
Sadly, this is true of so many leaders today. We are human-doings.
Diagnosing the Problem
When we put more emphasis on “doing” over “being” we get into trouble. We begin going through the motions, but eventually lack the energy or passion to continue, and we burn out. The truth is, our leadership should always stem from our inward, emotional health. Healthy leaders prioritize “being” over “doing” recognizing that if they are someone significant, they will naturally do something significant. Here are some common symptoms of a leader operating from a performance mentality:
a. We become distracted from major priorities, consumed by our own achievement.
b. We project our self-worth to others and over-estimate our importance.
c. We experience self-pity and seek recognition for our hard work.
d. We grow weary because we attempt to do too much for the wrong reasons.
e. We tend to be a perfectionist in our projects, fearing others won’t approve of less.
The result is, these leaders become preoccupied with “me” more than “we.” Sadly, this self-absorption almost always leads to a messy exit.
Breaking Free From the Trap
This topic deserves great time and study, but to begin with, let me offer these four action steps to break free from the bondage of a performance trap:
1. Seek a healthy sense of identity.
Ultimately, leaders who suffer from these traps struggle with identity issues. Our identity must come from something other than our leadership position or title. Some find it in family, in supportive relationships, or in their faith in God, but it must come from something transcendent of our role. This is our only hope of avoiding volatile (up and down) experiences as a leader. When our identity is solid, we stop trying to prove to others we are worthy or capable. We stop striving and start living.
2. Welcome being broken.
This is a strange term to some, but we believe lasting leaders experience a season where they are broken of their self-importance, self-sufficiency, self-promotion, and self-righteousness. Why? If we are not, we often use these as coping mechanisms. It becomes our way of gaining approval and feeling OK about ourselves. When we finally reach the end of ourselves, we become humble, see the big picture and recognize our need for others. It can happen voluntarily or involuntarily via a crisis. When we’re broken we move from unhealthy independence or co-dependence to a healthy interdependence.
3. Discover your bigger purpose.
Leaders who overcome performance traps always gain perspective. This means we see ourselves a part of a much bigger story. We play a role in the big story, indeed, but we’re only a part of it. Everything is not up to us. When we recognize our purpose, and the purpose of each of our team members, we can collaborate instead of control. We complete each other, instead of compete with each other. Discovering our purpose involves identifying our passions, our gifts and strengths, our burdens (what moves us with empathy), our opportunities, our expertise, and where our influence lies. We then can see how our current role helps us reach that purpose.
4. Receive the Blessing.
This is a term used in various cultures to describe a portion of a ceremony that provides a rite of passage, from childhood to adulthood. This “blessing” is the gift of someone imparting belief and acceptance to the recipient. Historically, it involved fathers speaking timely, affirming words to their children. I’ve noticed that leaders who fall into performance traps are often striving for the approval of someone they admire, even as an adult. It may be a father-figure, someone in authority or a colleague, but they feel an internal need for someone to recognize their uniqueness out loud. When this happens, the receiver hears they “have what it takes” and experience confidence and peace as a result.
Questions for Reflection
a. Do you see any of these symptoms in your leadership?
b. Are you feeling the pressure to perform instead of the support of others?
c. Have you checked your motives for why you are leading?
d. What action steps should you take to become healthy?