Growing up, sewing was still regularly offered in middle school, or junior high as it was called it back then. I couldn’t wait that long! I wanted to learn sooner. That’s why I spent a week during my summer leading up to fourth grade learning how to sew a pair of shorts with a top to match under my mother’s watchful eye.
I couldn’t wait to wear the completed outfit and show it off on the final day of VBS that summer. Thankfully, I don’t have pictures. You would wonder why I was so pleased, but at the time it was a big accomplishment for me. I was eventually able to take sewing class in middle school, but that first outfit was something I was especially proud of.
These days, sewing seems to be a lost skill. Most find it easier to buy clothes rather than make them, myself included.
Whether you make or buy your clothes, the quality of the garment is seen on the inside and determined over time. It’s what has gone into the making of the garment: excellent materials, precision cutting, careful sewing, and a wee bit of love by a skilled seamstress or tailor that determines the quality. Then when the garment experiences day to day wear, tear, and stress, it remains strong. Being fashionable or cute in appearance does not always translate to quality.
The same is true in life and leadership. The quality of your life and your leadership are determined by what’s on the inside – the part others can’t see. It’s all the behind the scenes moments that make a difference. Your life and leadership might look good, but when under stress, you will be “falling apart at the seams.”
What steps can you take to ensure that you won’t fall apart at the seams when you experience the inevitable stress?
1. Tune into your stress responses
If stress is the norm for you, and it is for most, you may not notice when stress levels rise. Plop a frog in hot water and it will hop out. Plop a frog in tepid water and turn up the heat gradually – you know what happens then!
Tuning into how your body responds to stress is essential. Do your muscles or jaw tighten? Does your heart race, your stomach churn, or your head ache? Do you feel like you have to hurry? Or maybe your breathing goes shallow or you get overly emotional. Perhaps you withdraw or freeze when stressed. Become tuned into whatever your unique response to stress is. It is your warning sign to take things down a notch before they escalate further!
2. Be fully present
When you operate on autopilot it limits your effectiveness as a leader. Unless you slow down, refrain from multitasking, and give your undivided attention, you will be limited in your ability to make observations that will help you lead well. Being fully present will convey those that you lead that they are valued and you will also be more likely to take delight in the process.
3. Be grateful
Gratitude is the remedy for negativity and fear – two things that will weaken your leadership! What oozes out of you when you approach life from a grateful place is powerful. It will open doors and possibilities that will enhance all that you pursue.
Negativity and fear is also powerful – powerfully destructive and limiting. When challenging situations come your way, operating out of gratitude will strengthen you and propel you forward.
4. Make a healthy life style a priority
It’s no secret that exercise, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, and regular down time all contribute to a healthy life style. Those all take time. When left ignored, they take up even more time and show up at inconvenient moments!
Creating a rhythm for that makes space for healthy activities is well worth the effort and will strengthen your ability to lead. And you will enjoy other benefits, including maintaining a healthier weight, better sleep, fighting diseases, mood lifting endorphins, increased energy, and feeling more calm! All motivating reasons! And, if you don’t believe me, checkout the research done by the Center for Creative Leadership.
5. Practice self-care
I’ve recently shared on this topic, so I won’t elaborate much here. Suffice it to say that learning to lead yourself well is an amazing opportunity to practice leading and it contributes positively to your ability to lead others. Not to mention the way you feel when you come from a well-cared for place!
6. Rethink work
Work is not your life – it is one aspect of your life. You are not what you do. I love working – I always have, yet working all the time is counterproductive. You’d be surprised at how being a well-rounded individual and limiting the time you work allows you to work more effectively and trust God more.
How do you need to shift your perspective on work? What are you priorities both personally and professionally and how can you invest your time and energy into them? Where do you need to set boundaries, streamline, or simplify?
7. Invest in relationships
Laughing, hanging out with friends, and savoring time with family feeds your soul in glorious ways! By investing in your relationships, you expand your world while practicing a skill that is essential to be a successful leader.
8. Spend time with God
Life is busier than it has ever been; and the pressures of leadership are enormous. You feel the weight and responsibility of your position – there are not enough hours in the day! Instead of taking time to allow God to fill you, help you, and lavish you with love, you skip time with Him in hopes of getting more done. This might appear to work for a time, but in the end you will be spinning your wheels and creating more chaos. God knows what you need to accomplish. He longs to help you. Do you trust Him enough to invest time in being still with Him?
When you take the time to work on the inside, your leadership will not only appear lovely on the outside, it will also be stitched together in a way that will allow it to last and survive stresses you will inevitably experience.
What’s the inside of your leadership like? What changes do you need to make to enable you to be strong when life tugs and pulls?