What does it take to be a great leader? Loving people and being able to inspire them? Having great organizational skills? Casting vision and being able to see clearly what needs to happen next? Perhaps developing leadership confidence and making great decisions top your list of skills. But there’s something I’ve been thinking about lately that rarely gets mentioned and hardly seems like a skill at all: rest.
Leaders aren’t supposed to rest. They are supposed to accomplish and do. Leaders are the movers and shakers—the productive ones—right? This is the way we’ve been conditioned to think—that resting isn’t a skill leaders should partake in. But more and more, I think the best leaders are the ones who don’t just incorporate rest into the rhythm of their lives; they get really good at it.
Brady Boyd, pastor and author of Addicted to Busy, agrees. He admits that after eight days in the hospital following a heart valve replacement where he was forced to slow down, he began to see some incredible benefits. For eight days he lived in his bed. With no choice but to rest, he had time to think about the effect it had not only on his body, but on his mind. He said in the slow-moving weeks that followed, his preaching improved, his leadership improved, even his thinking improved. Today he says he talks to everyone who will listen about the power of rest and what it can do for their leadership life.
Does this make you uncomfortable? If you’re like me, the idea of great leadership takes your thinking in the opposite direction. I need to schedule that meeting and get that project started. I need to think about my next action step. I’m already behind—there’s no time to waste! Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says there’s more behind staying busy than just getting things done. “One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums,” she says. “We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.” Could our busyness be a distraction from other stuff that might be going on inside?
Blogger Michael Lopp says that busyness is not only a distraction, but it flatters our egos and makes us feel important. "Admit it, if you've been a leader for a while, it's a source of pride that you're booked all day—you're important—you're so . . . busy." Wait. It doesn’t feel like we run around just looking for things to fill our day. Busyness finds us. There are deadlines and responsibilities in our leadership. When you pile in all the other responsibilities like housework, meals, carpools, and church, there simply isn’t an extra moment to even think about rest.
But that’s where you can start: thinking about it. What if you took a few minutes to tally up the things in your life that aren’t working and think about them? The anxiety level. The uncomfortable feelings that come when you postpone a doctor’s visit yet again or can’t find time to take a day off. The mental exhaustion. The nagging feeling of discomfort that accompanies the excuse, I’ll get to it when things slow down.
I admit I don’t have this figured out yet. I don’t even know if I believe in balance. Life has just never tallied out in equal parts for me. I rather think life moves in rhythms that ebb and flow of busy and less-busy. But I know busy needs some saneness, and it’s up to me to decide what that looks like. Not to mention it has big implications for the quality of my leadership.
So I’m intentionally seeking rest in my life. I’m spending a few minutes each day being quiet. I’m bringing my busy heart before God and inviting him to speak, and I’m willing myself to listen. I’m not trying to fill the time with busy-talk or desperate pleas; I’m just waiting. I’m giving God the space in my heart to speak, the very space that the busyness in my leadership seems to suck right out of my day.
I’m also asking questions. God, why am I staying so busy? Am I running from something you want me to notice? Am I filling my day with distraction because there’s something I don’t want to see?
When I come to God with an open heart and an honest question, he has an answer. He has even bigger dreams than I do for my leadership (though they may not look like what the world deems as noteworthy), and I’ll be a better leader if I pay attention to them.
Brady Boyd shares this challenge in Addicted to Busy: Think about your own life, with its leadership ebbs and flows. What’s not working for you? Jot these down on a piece of paper. Don’t try to solve them, but just give them some think time. What do you think God might want to say?