Is Lasting Leadership Possible?

How tired are you? In the depths of winter, whether you are facing snow, rain, or merely cloudy skies, the demands of leadership sometimes feel overwhelming. Top it off with the burden of budgets, high anxiety in society, and any personal challenges you may be facing, and you may feel like you can hardly take the next step. Going forward can seem impossible.

We often begin the year resolving to take better care of ourselves. If we exercise more and eat better, we think, we’ll be able to manage the burdens of leadership better. All true. But “stress management” and “self-care,” as we usually think of them, are not enough. The best stress-management program around has to do with self-management in the way we relate to others: focusing on ourselves rather than trying to fix or change others. When we are growing emotionally and spiritually, we can better handle the challenges of leadership. And as I’ve often said before, we give others the room to do their own growing.

Every one of my Leadership Adventure newsletters includes the tagline, “Moving from the impossible, changing others, to the merely difficult, managing myself.” When I began to make that shift in my own leadership, my life took a significant turn. Before the shift, I truly believed I could change others by convincing, cajoling and willing them to be different (despite much evidence to the contrary!). And I was flirting with burnout as a result. I was exhausted, and felt like I couldn’t carry on with my leadership.

As I slowly began to realize that I needed to focus on myself, my goals and my emotional maturity, my stress level went way down. I was able to sustain myself over time, without wearing out or burning out. And to my surprise, I found that others responded better to my leadership than they had before. Now, I must confess that this is a long learning process, and I still often get caught up in my own need to pressure others to be, act or think the way I believe they should. The shift to putting our primary attention on ourselves and our own functioning is the first step toward lasting leadership.

Make a list: in how many relationships are you trying to change someone else? Then ask yourself: if I focused on managing myself instead, what would I do differently?

6 replies on “Is Lasting Leadership Possible?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Thanks, Israel. Great thoughts as always. Your comment about your conversation with your son highlights the fact that self-focus applies just as much to parenting as to organizational life (perhaps more so…).

  • Israel Galindo

    Great thoughts, and questions, all! My new job is requiring me to pay attention to my functioning, and, to observe how others in the system function. I recently had an interesting conversation with my son, both of us sharing about the quirks of the systems in which we work. I shared with him my attention to focusing on my own functioning, as Margaret comments about, and not taking responsibility for others’ functioning, or, for their response (or not) to my actions or words. My modus operandi for funtioning tends to be simple: clarity of my stance and thoughts, challenging others, and being clear that I invest in those who are willing to grow, cooperate, and work together; from the others I don’t insist anything, but they know that I won’t invest there, and, I’m happy to leave them behind as the rest of the organization moves on.

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Ellen, for me, the goal is more neutrality about other people’s behavior. This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions or principles about life and relationships. But it means I have less invested in whether other people take my advice or live the way I think is best (even if it seems I’m right, and they are hurting themselves). I’ve come to realize when I focus on others behaving in a different way, I can easily try to will them to change, which can actually have a negative result. The more I want them to change, the less likely they are to change. It’s one of the paradoxes of human relationships.

  • Ellen Culpepper

    This raises the KEY issue I am puzzling about currently: how to be in positive emotional contact with people whom I observe creating their own suffering with self-sabotaging behaviors. Often they cry on my shoulder, but they do not want insight into their situation, just sympathetic support in viewing themselves as victims. A divorced man moans over financial consequences he suffers after making decisions his lawyer had warned him against. A church property chair never takes needed actions because he can’t get 100% approval from the entire congregation for say, a crucial roof repair — then he complains bitterly that other leaders disregard him and don’t let him “lead” in property matters.

    I’m struggling with the challenge of managing my own judgmentalness of people in these kinds of situations. My struggles with my reactive impatience grows as I see a person repeat the same patterns for years, never learning just repeating. I seek insight about how I might listen to them, show caring emotional connection with them, and simply accept the reality that many folks will never choose to learn from their experience. What I’m doing pretty well I think is focusing on my own growth. I am owning up to my own foibles, and making arduous efforts to change self. Meanwhile, I’m looking for ways to stay in contact with people who will keep shooting themselves in the foot. I would welcome insights about how others are doing this.

  • Tim Schrag

    I recommend the book “Acedia and me”, by Kathleen Norris. Very insightful treatment of
    sloth as a profound spiritual issue, one of the seven deadly sins. Cross-references very well
    to this issue of burnout.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *