“You have melanoma.” Those are words you don’t want to hear from your dermatologist. On the other hand, they were incredibly important because they eventually kept the cancerous spot on my scalp from going deeper, perhaps becoming deadly.
I had a significant malady that day but I wasn’t aware of the problem. Thankfully my doctor discovered it and probably saved my life. Unfortunately, many of us pastors have unhealthy spots, tumors, and other emotional and spiritual issues that we don’t see either.
Or at least we refuse to look, to have a mirror placed in front of us and face the fact that we need help.
In addition, if I had seen the spot on my head somehow, I’m not sure I would have recognized that it was cancer. I needed someone who would tell me what was going on so I could deal with it. We can look at ourselves, and see a potential problem but also dismiss it as unimportant or no big deal.
Many pastors have never learned or at best forgotten what makes a healthy leader.
In fact, some of us have bought into several common myths:
- I must be healthy because my ministry is growing. “Look at our attendance, budget, and number of special programs.”
- I must be healthy because my leadership team and those I serve like me. “The people here adore me, can’t believe I serve the way I do, and say they want me to stay until I retire.”
- I must be healthy because of my personal accomplishments, writings, wisdom, and expertise sought by many. “I’ve written books and curriculum, I serve on several community and association boards, and write a blog that hundreds read each time I post.”
Growing ministries, happy people, and successes are important and not to be discounted. However, they often mask the unhealthy habits and patterns that ultimately lead to discouragement, burnout, manipulative leadership, and/or departure from ministry.
Leaders who were once highly esteemed as humble leaders and servants one day quit or become demanding executives requiring more and more loyalty and admiration but give little back.
So what are some of those “musts” that healthy leaders often avoid or omit in their daily lives and leadership style? Let me use HEALTHY as an acrostic to provide seven essentials of healthy leaders.
The Seven Essentials
H – healthy leaders are honest. They’re honest with themselves and other appropriate trusted advisors. I love to hike and climb mountains and know this – you are foolish to climb alone. We’re also fools if we lead alone without the loving, firm accountability of several key people with whom we can be completely open about both our strengths and weaknesses.They aren’t afraid of being vulnerable but are rather more concerned about not being vulnerable.
E – healthy leaders stay engaged with their team. They still get out of their office, connect in key groups and meetings, spend time learning more about their leaders, enjoy social moments with them when they can and affirm their hard work and commitment.
A – healthy leaders not only stay engaged but in the process add value to others, mentor, and reproduce themselves in at least several key leaders. They are committed to personally raising up several other great leaders through their personal investment and strategic connection with them.
L – healthy leaders are loyal to their workers and key leaders. They are willing to confront poor or weak leadership but never place their leaders in harm’s way by throwing them under the bus without fair discussions and a caring spirit.
T – healthy leaders are teachable. They are always willing to learn and openly model a lifestyle that regularly includes training and development. Unhealthy leaders tend to act as though they’ve got all the answers and don’t need anyone else’s help.
H – they are involved and intentional about their healing. Healthy leaders are very aware of their weaknesses, past hurts, poor strategies used to find life apart from God and skills that need development. They’re willing to learn from those obviously more skilled than they and actually change what they do when they face an especially difficult situation.
Y – they yield everything to God. Ministry isn’t ultimately about them, but about Jesus. Unhealthy leaders are still trying to get attention and kudos for all their personal accomplishments, leadership and talents.
So are you as a leader truly healthy or is your vitality merely based on the myths of successes, being liked, and a growing ministry?
Look at this list. It’s not exhaustive but it’s foundational for true leadership health. Start with just one area of weakness and make some changes. Get a close confidante who will help be your eyes and perhaps spot that melanoma that hasn’t gone far yet but which can be treated with success.