Leaders Must Cultivate a Rich Inner Life

Mark-Rutland-PastorA decade ago I went through the darkest time of my adult life that threatened my marriage and my leadership. It was a classic case of leader burnout. For me, it was an eclipse of the sun.

The problem was that I lost touch with my own core connection on the inside. My deep love for my God and my wife became compromised. I became an angry, dark soul at home. I made bad choices and barely held serious depression at bay. In public, I hid my loneliness and torment. At home I didn’t.

I wasn’t the first leader to experience the toxic syndrome of outward success and inner failure. Tragically, I won’t be the last. What I now know is that you can turn it around—by the grace of God.

And with a loving wife, I got through it. A wise counselor helped. A couple of true friends were indispensable. There were many days when bailing out was a temptation. It certainly looked easier than hacking on through a dark jungle of depression. But hack we did. Now that I’m through it and on the other side, I am grateful for what I learned. Here’s the short list of those lessons:

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Success can be toxic. You need to know that. Not just hear it or read it—know it. Someone once said the only thing worse than failure issuccess. The thinner you are stretched on the surface, the more toxic your inner life becomes. Don’t be deceived about this.

Go back on the inside.Are you spending most of your leadership energy on the outside? Then go back on the inside. Remember those things that are real. Hold to them. Do them again. Carve out time for your soul, your true self and your most precious relationships.

Before a marriage can be turned around, reality must be faced. How unhappy is your spouse, really? How wretched are you to live with, really? How long has it been since you sought your self, your soul or your God, really?

Turnaround will require emotional investment and time. Kindness. Humility. Servanthood. They are expensive and require deep investment. The main thing it will cost you is time. That precious and limited commodity, which too many leaders spend in all of life’s elsewheres, must be reallocated. There is no quick way to turn a home’s culture from toxicity to wholeness. Time is medicine, and it works—but often at what feels like an excruciatingly slow pace.

Being self-aware and vigilant to monitor your inner self is non-negotiable.You have to develop something substantial and meaningful—a rich inner life that keeps you in balance. Unshakable values keep you even-keeled. Protect yourself and your family to preserve what makes you human and whole.

Stay free in God’s hand. This is the most important truth I have learned about staying healthy as a leader. There was only one thing that kept me sane during those hard years I spent as pastor of Calvary Assembly. Every Sunday morning, as I walked to the pulpit I prayed, “Lord, I didn’t ask for this position, and I don’t have to have it. If today is the day to leave it, I’m good with that.” That realization kept me loose. It kept me from acting out of fear. It made it possible for me to make hard decisions. When I made mistakes, that liberty made it possible for me to keep going. Of course I preferred success to failure, but I did not live in fear of failure.

If your sense of self or identify is completely tied up in your role as leader of your organization, you won’t be able to keep a loose hold on your position. I know this firsthand. What we grasp most tightly becomes deformed. Your church or organization doesn’t define you. If you can keep that in mind, you can bring your unique vision to bear on the church you are called upon to lead.   

Dr. Mark Rutland recently released his 14th book, ReLaunch: How To Stage An Organizational Comeback. Copyright ©2013 Mark Rutland. ReLaunch published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce in any way, including use in emails or on websites. All rights reserved.

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