There are few things less fun than being laid up in bed for almost a week with a high fever, chills, body aches, and then to cap it off pneumonia. My dear wife took great care of me, my coworkers were totally understanding, and I was able to call on a trusted volunteer to fill in for me on short notice. Being laid up that long can teach us a lot about leadership, and I think there's six lessons we can learn from the sick bay:
1. You're not nearly as important as you think you are - Perhaps the most obvious, the world will move on if you're not there. This is a healthy reminder for all of us control freaks, things will still happen if we're not there to make sure they do. Whenever a leader feels their importance > their calling, they've lost sight of what really matters.
2. A leader needs to raise other leaders - If no one else can do what you do, you're not being a leader, you're being an isolationist. Leaders need to raise up other leaders who can carry on the mantle (see #1). That's why it's always important to make sure you've got a handful of people who can carry on whatever ministry you're leading if you're not there. That starts way before you're out sick, by investing in a core group of folks who have ownership stake in the ministry, who know the vision, who live by the core values, and who can lead and do with minimal oversight.
3. Life still happens, so you need to prepare - One reason I prep ahead of time for our ministry activities is if something happens to me and I need someone else to take over. That way they've got the shell in place and can run with it. Last week hit me like a truck and I had to ask my intern to start from scratch, but normally there's a plan in place. Each week Sunday and Wednesday come around without fail, so preparing as a leader means making sure everything is in place so that whoever leads it isn't important. It won't go exactly like you planned if you're not there, but that's where #4 comes in.
4. Leaders have to trust others - One of the most important things a leader can do is delegate. Delegation is the final step in the preparation and training process, where you have given everything you can to someone and now they are empowered and entrusted to go and serve. It requires a high level of trust because while there's oversight there's not nearly the management in earlier stages. But a leader has to trust others because by delegating authority and responsibility, a leader is able to multiply their influence throughout a ministry or organization.
5. Leaders need to take care of themselves - A leader's personal, emotional, and spiritual health is essential because if a leader fails in one of those, the ripple effects are felt everywhere. Laying in bed for a week was a reminder for me to eat better, exercise, and rest. Hitting the grinder non-stop for weeks had finally caught up to me and my body said "ENOUGH!" That wasn't a season of productivity for me, it was a season of leadership failure.
6. Leaders need to have an exit strategy - No leadership position is a permanent one, we're all interim in one sense or another. Leaders of any ministry need to have an exit strategy in place, and being sick for an extended period is a great example. An exit strategy involves identifying 3-4 people who can temporarily carry on the workload of leading the ministry, instilling a set of core values that help shape decisions, and communicating to stakeholders the culture of the ministry. Those three things are essential in order to keep things from descending into chaos. Many times ministries are not only led but centered around one person. So when that one person leaves, there's a vacuum of leadership, strategy, and direction. Developing an exit strategy and keeping those three things in place will help make any transition a healthy one.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.