"Man I'd hate to be in the cave after dark"
That's me in full-on Dad joke mode. Trust me, I got some eyes rolling with it.
But there's something about being in a cave in the darkness. It's one of the coolest parts of a Mammoth Cave tour, when they flip the lights off and you're left in the still darkness of an underground tunnel. There's no light, no sound, no way to tell where you are. And then the guide said something that stuck: "Whenever people would get trapped down here, it wasn't the darkness that got to them. They could light a flame and find their way out. It wasn't the cold. It was the silence, the feeling of being alone."
There's so much for leadership that carries over. Leaders often find themselves feeling alone, whether it's real or not. The scary thing about being alone is not knowing if there's any help, any rescue, any support, or any hope. The loneliness of leadership can quickly lead to despair, discouragement, apathy, and maintenance mode. All of those are dangerous for a leader, the one who sets the culture and drives the ministry train. How can a leader guard against the feelings of loneliness? Here are 3 suggestions:
1) Lead with others, not just alongside others - When you make decisions or develop new initiatives, make sure others are on board with you throughout the planning and implementation process. Leading with others involves a sense of community and support among those leading, and creates a team mindset rather than a group. Leading alongside others without involving them in the process builds invisible walls around the leader (and around the others) that hinders cooperation and synergy.
2) Get out of the office - I heard someone the other day say "Have laptop, will travel." Love it. We don't need to be tied down to our office chair in order to get things done. Consider having meetings at a restaurant or coffee shop, and block off some time each week to do intentional, strategic thinking in a library. Getting out of the office also means interacting with your team members outside of the office. Do team lunches once a month, go out as families to a baseball game, or arrange to watch each other's kids so the couples can do date night. Interacting out of the office tears down the walls of isolation that trap so many leaders.
3) Network with other leaders - Sometimes leaders find themselves alone in the cave because they've shut themselves off from other leaders who might be able to help them. Networking can be done digitally, at conferences, local gatherings, or in the parking lot at the grocery store! When we network with other leaders, it's like the sharpening stone hitting the knife blade: it makes it sharper, more effective, and more fruitful. When we take time to refresh ourselves and spend time with other leaders, we're moving out of the cave and into the light.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.