Rules for leadership

At a recent Leadership in Ministry workshop presentation, Israel Galindo suggested a “top ten rules” list to help you function when anxiety is high.He said “rules” are not high-level principles, but more practical and contextual. When we have some guidelines for how we want to react when we get blindsided, we’ll be better able to respond in the moment, without getting completely hijacked by the reactive part of our brain, the part that thinks we’re in physical danger even when we aren’t.

Here are some examples::
“Don’t take responsibility for what is not yours.”
“Don’t accommodate to weakness.”
“It’s not about you (even when it feels like it and involves you.)”

I took a stab at my own list, and came up with not just ten, but 35, all of which help me act in more thoughtful ways when anxiety goes up. Here are a dozen of them:

1.    Notice who is moving toward me and who is moving away. Ask,”Who is motivated?”

2.    Stay connected–continue to work on relationships.

3.    If I feel anxious about stating my point of view and inclined to be quiet to keep the peace, find a way to say something about what I think.

4.    Breathe consciously, especially if I feel anxious.

5.    Remember my purpose, which is to help leaders grow.

6.    Focus on my own growth, and trust that will help others grow.

7.    Don’t be afraid to challenge people: it’s another way to help them grow.

8.    Operate out of a sense of sufficiency, not scarcity.

9.    Connect with people who are better-functioning than I am.

10. Pray for those who annoy me the most.

11. Pause before saying yes to any requests, especially big ones.

12. Don’t click links online that make me anxious.

Here’s what I have found: having a list like this helps me step back. It helps me draw on many years of thinking about what I believe and how I want to act, instead of reverting to toddlerhood and stamping my feet, or hiding in the corner.

Here’s a recent example. During the recent U.S. Senate Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I had to continually remind myself on a rule I’ve been following this year, #12 above: “Don’t click links online that make me anxious.” Following the rule that week was more difficult than it is in an ordinary week.

I stuck with another rule of mine, read news in the newspaper and The Economist, and I did read the articles about the hearings and about the U.S. Supreme Court in those publications so I could have a sense I knew something about the issues at stake. But I didn’t spend all day reading articles or people’s anxious posts on Facebook on either side of the issue.

True confessions: I did spend more time than usual scrolling through my FB feed, but I didn’t read the dozens of articles that had been posted. Overall, I spent more time focusing on my own goals.

Or in another case, “Pause before saying yes to any requests.” I was recently asked to be on a board. It was tempting to say yes, and flattering to be asked. But when I thought it through I decided it wasn’t the best use of my time, even though I appreciate the work of that organization. It didn’t seem a fit for what I’m up to right now. A sub-rule might be that being flattered is never a good enough reason to say yes to a request! (I love it when people love me and my work, and that can be a trap.)

I don’t always follow these rules. I avoid people. I get caught in scarcity. I chase after people. But I do all of these less than I used to. And I’m less vulnerable to being hijacked by anxiety than I used to be, and I think I’m a better leader as a result.

What is one of your “rules” for how you respond when anxiety spikes? How does it help you in your leadership?



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