One thing you must do as a leader is lead yourself.
What does it mean to lead yourself? It means that when you’re the boss, the business owner, the top of the ladder, you must figure out how to get the best performance out of yourself. And while it may seem counterintuitive, that often means asking for help.
We had just finished a week away for a beach vacation (our first ever as a family) and had many days of family in town before that. During this happy chaos, I thought it would be great to get some home renovation work done in our kitchen (namely, lowering the center island to make it handicap accessible, changing the countertops, adding a backsplash, and updating the powder room). Our week away seemed like the perfect time to tackle these projects.
Can you guess how this ends?
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the renovations took longer than expected. Our son, Oliver, who is medically fragile, was already stressed and tired from the vacation, and the workers in our house further upset him. From Saturday to Tuesday, his health kept declining, and he was showing signs of deterioration that were highly concerning. Tuesday, we were in the hospital for tests.
We got out of the hospital the same day we went in, and the tests ruled out some scary possibilities.The final renovation tasks were put on hold as I tried to return our house to a calm sanctuary. Once home, we worked hard to keep Oliver hydrated, precisely on his routine, and out of the heat. My intuition told me this wasn’t just a “we’re out of our routine” situation; it was much more serious. All of his symptoms are part of a mitochondrial disease cascade, or decompensation, where the body basically shuts down to conserve energy. We need to see a doctor at Duke to help manage this particular medical issue.
So, as the boss and leader, what am I supposed to do when I’m the one having the personal crisis?
I play this game in my head: If I were my employee and all this was happening, what would I expect and then what would I offer? As a leader, I’d offer to cover anything I could and tell my employee to clear their calendar of anything non-urgent while delegating the urgent. We’d order in healthy lunches when they were at the office, I would encourage them to get lots of sleep, and I’d bring lots of water to their desk to stay hydrated. Y’all know I’m all about the hydration! So why not lead myself this way?
That week I really did treat myself like any other company employee. I canceled anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary, even our online Banner Year Blueprint workshop. I went to sleep before 9 p.m. almost every night. I allowed others to take on responsibilities. I went home when I was too distracted with worry about Ollie to do any meaningful work. I forwarded emails others could handle to have more emotional and mental energy available for mothering.
I also followed my own advice from our Crisis Checklist. Instead of texting, I called friends. I had a drink and a large queso with a pal and shared my worries. We both teared up, and when I left, I felt 1,000 pounds. lighter on the inside. I asked friends to help me with my husband’s small birthday dinner]. I said yes when my co-workers wanted to drop off lunch at my house. I got a massage. Instead of shutting down or pushing through, I reached out.
Repeat after me:
Pushing through will lead you to burn out.
Shutting down will lead you to loneliness — and even bitterness.
Reaching out is the healthy way through a crisis, loss, heartbreak, diagnosis, or battle you didn’t see coming. God designed us to be in community; we aren’t designed to carry our burdens alone.
How do I know this? In the past I chose to push through, and it wrecked my body and strained my marriage. I chose to shut down, and it damaged my friendships and allowed bitterness to creep into my heart. But every time I choose to reach out, I experience healing much faster. By allowing myself to receive the encouragement of others, I have the stamina to continue fighting the battle.
Leading yourself well means asking for help, frequently and without shame.
Leading yourself well means protecting your own time, talents, energy, and family the way you would for one of your followers or employees.
Leading yourself well means knowing how much rest you personally need to return to baseline and ensuring you get it.
Leading yourself well means delegating to others who are capable and happy to lighten your load.
If you are walking down a similar road, stop right now and call a friend; text if you must, but send an SOS.
Let someone lighten your load: When your friend offers to cook a meal, take care of your kids, or finish a work project for you, commit to saying yes. Allowing yourself to be cared for by others is a sign of maturity and wisdom. And when this battle is over for you, and you’ve avoided burning out, be willing to jump in for that friend when they send an SOS. That is community: burdens cut in half and joys doubled.