At the ripe old age of 30 I found myself undergoing a battery of tests at a heart hospital. I wasn’t overweight. I didn’t have a genetic abnormality.
It was stress.
My problem was trying to lead at a high level while maintaining the habits of a college senior. I’d start early with a breakfast meeting, work the regular 9 to 5, head home for dinner but then work to the wee hours of the morning on a sermon or small group curriculum after they went to bed.
But I couldn’t lead that way any longer.
I learned that if I want to effectively lead others I must first lead myself. That meant embracing the right personal habits and practices to ensure that I was at my best for leading at home, at work and the church. In simple terms: Leadership demands discipline.
Developing Discipline As a Leader
It takes work to master the habits and rhythms necessary to lead well. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I also learned a few critical things:
1. Morning Rhythms Matter.
Some of the worlds most successful CEO’s all share something in common: they rise early to capitalize on the most uninterrupted time of the day. But long before Steve Jobs or Tim Cook popularized the trend, Jesus modelled it. Christ frequently rose early in the morning to pray and prepare His soul for the work of the day (Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42). The Psalms, too, repeatedly encourage this practice (Psalm 5:3; 63:1; 119:47). How do you do mornings well? Consider these healthy habits:
- Retire early. If you’re serious about getting up early, get some sleep. You either set yourself up for success or failure the night before… which will you do?
- Turn off the TV. Blue light from cell phones and TV’s stimulate the brain; stop using your phone 30 minutes before bed.
- Read before you retire. Reading before bed helps transition the body and the brain. As little as 10-15 minutes can help you wind down and let go of the events of the day.
- Prep for the morning. Set a coffee cup by the coffee maker, lay out your shorts and shoes if you run or slippers if the house will be cold. People are statistically more likely to get up early if they’ve prepared for it.
- Find a happy place. There are a few places that I go to meet with God early in the morning – they are my ‘happy places.’ Something triggers in my brain when I slip into those spaces in the early mornings… my soul knows its about to be fed and my mind begins to anticipate what’s ahead.
2. You Cannot Ask Your Body To Do What You Have Not Prepared It To Do.
Top perfoming athletes know they cannot ask their body to do what they have not prepared it to do. Performing well requires diligence with sleep, training, eating and resting; yet far too many leaders work from sun-up to sun-down without tending to their spiritual, mental and physical needs. Some of the biggest names in ministry have experienced burn-out because they failed to rest, retreat or even exercise. Wise leaders know that their bodies are a trust and must be tended to if they are to perform well; perhaps this is why Paul wrote the way he did in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.
3. Remember that the Source of Self-Control is the Spirit.
Self control is not something we muster on our own; the Scriptures teach that it is the Spirit that empowers self-control. The Spirit enables us to do that which we cannot: resist temptation and instead desire what is right, pure and pleasing to God. Anytime we find ourselves struggling with discipline it should prompt us to pray and seek the Spirit for the strength we need to lead ourselves well.
Leading people isn’t easy; it demands a great deal of us physically, emotionally and spiritually. So what are you doing to ensure that you aren’t trying to pour out of an empty cup?
“Discipline, for the Christian, begins with the body. We have only one.
It is this body that is the primary material given to us for service.
We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves.”
~ Elisabeth Elliot ~