In a crisis, it’s easy for a leader to get swept up in our feelings – to respond to every new challenge with impulse rooted in how we *feel* in the moment. But effective leadership is about more than responding to our feelings. We cannot uncover solutions that are in the long-term best interest of our organization when we merely chase positive feelings. Effective long-term leadership is about leading according to values.
I’m an Orthodox Christian.
In Orthodox Christianity, there are some bedrock values that define the way one should live. These values are not unique to the Orthodox Christian faith, but they are central to it.
One of those values is humility.
In my faith tradition, humility is not about self-deprecation or humiliation or hiding in the shadows. That kind of behavior is often actually a kind of false humility.
True humility is about seeing ourselves for the way that we really are and acknowledging it – all our shortcomings and brokenness, as well as our strengths and gifts.
Another foundational concept within my faith tradition is something called watchfulness.
Simply put, watchfulness is a discipline of consistent self-examination – always reflecting on what is going on inside of us at any given time.
Disconnecting Our Feelings from Our Self-Identity
I have spent more than a decade intentionally cultivating these disciplines in my life and personal character. To say that it has been a struggle would be an understatement.
At one point, when that struggle was particularly acute, a friend recommended I read a book called The Happiness Trap, by Russ Harris.
Harris is a practitioner of something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – a method of psychotherapy that is rapidly growing in popularity.
One of the core principles at the root of ACT is the notion that our feelings do not define us.
As we go through life and encounter different feelings spurred on by various experiences, we can get wrapped up in them. They can consume us and shut us down.
But the truth is our feelings do not actually define us.
Rather, it is how we engage with our feelings that can define how we live our life.
To constructively engage with our feelings, we need to objectify them – to consciously de-fuse them from our self-identity and observe them as something disconnected from who we are.
Once we have separated ourselves from our feelings, we can ask ourselves if these feelings are helping us or just standing in our way.
In his book, Harris offers several tools to help us regain control of our thoughts, our feelings, and ultimately our actions. You can learn more about some of those tools here.
Aligning Our Leadership and Life with What We Value
Another core principle of ACT is the notion that we find meaning in our life when we align the way we live with what we truly value.
Much of the stress that we encounter in our life and as leaders is the result of going through life, doing things that are not consistent with who we truly are – that are somehow out of alignment with our values.
Perhaps we are trying to live or lead according to expectations that we feel are being placed on us. Perhaps we feel we need to rise to the occasion and meet the expectations of others, even when those expectations are totally outside of the sphere of what actually matters to us
Perhaps we are going through the motions of life and leadership simply reacting to the needs of others rather than asking ourselves:
“Am I spending my time or approaching these tasks in a way that is really consistent with who I am?”
“Am I leading according to my values?”
In my leadership coaching and consulting business, clients often come to me with the idea that they need to change jobs. They are convinced the only solution to their problem at work is to change jobs or to leave the company they are with and to simply get out of that context and get into a new context.
The problem is that without serious examination of what is going on in your work that is causing the difficulty, it is so easy to simply change scenery but find yourself in exactly the same spot six months later after the honeymoon of the next job wears off.
Before you know it. You are reacting to the same challenges once again.
While you have been busy looking at where you work, you haven’t looked carefully enough at how you are working every day.
The next time you encounter some unpleasant feelings about the work you are doing in your current position of leadership, and before you jump ship and change jobs, ask yourself these three questions:
How am I approaching the work I am doing?
Is it aligned with the way I am made to work?
What changes could I make to the way I work that would bring it more into alignment with the way I am made to work?
When we begin to ask ourselves these questions as a leader, we stop consuming our time and energy chasing our feelings and start living out life with intention and meaning – we start leading according to values.
This article was inspired by an interview I did in January with Cynthia Damaskos, on her Holistic Christian Living podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here.