When You Leak as a Leader

Hang with me for just a moment while I tell my…

Take-forever-to-get-somewhere-whiny-traffic story.

It took me nearly 3.5 hours to drive 36 miles last week. I was a bit frustrated and out of whack because I couldn’t do anything about it. I sat there dead stopped on the freeway and had no choice but wait for it to clear.

My frustration level ran to an all-time high as I was taking my students to the morning of the Global Leadership Summit by the Willow Creek Association. I had relayed to the students the importance of being on time. And here I was unable to get there until after it started. They graciously understood and we did end up having a great morning.

Although, I have to say that after getting settled I realized how I had let a little episode like a traffic jam completely unravel my sense of peace.

I whined to at least three people from the check-in person to the book table to the coffee station. I was leaking words and phrases that revealed what was going on in my heart.

When I leak it is not good.

About halfway through the morning, the leak continued to drip. I was tapped on the shoulder and there apparently had been a misunderstanding of how many sessions we were allowed to take in as we had received free morning passes. I left my seat determined to make sure we would be allowed to stay.

I would like to tell you that I handled it with grace and the maturity of a leader who has lead for over three decades.

NOT! I completely and aggressively defended my position and demanded that it was their error and not ours and we weren’t leaving.

Sigh…REALLY? Cynthia?

This moved from a slow drip to a gush on an innocent person who was trying to serve us.

As I slid back into my seat a sense of guilt and regret crept over me.

What was going on? What was wrong with me? I don’t respond to people like this!

I realized that my world was incredibly full and I was not handling my emotions and responses well.

This could mean one thing and one thing only. I need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

The month was full of multiple speaking events, teaching class, working my job and some over-the-top stresses that were happening in my personal world. It was time to take a soul check and make some adjustments because my tongue was definitely out of control.

I was not just leaking I was flooding.

Too often we as leaders find ourselves in this place. As a verbal processor I have to work harder at keeping my tongue under control. Some leaders I know are able to exercise much greater restraint for they are reflective introverts, but for those of us who are the opposite and who literally “talk for a living” it can be disastrous if left unchecked.

I decided that I couldn’t push on any further and something needed to change. Here’s how to stop the leak if you find yourself in the same place.

1. Step back and take a breath. When we are busy and stressed we often don’t breath very well physically and our brains need oxygen to be able to function. Go for a walk, leave your desk, and just breathe.

2. Check the calendar and see what you can shift in order to build in some restoration time. For me, if I keep going when I leak then I am going to be a train wreck and take some significant people I care about down with me. Breathe, look at the calendar and make some changes.

3. Make some “restore-me time.” I don’t know about you but when I am under extreme pressure as I have been the past several weeks, I have to get back to refueling. It’s different for everyone. Taking an afternoon and walking with my favorite playlist of music is restorative for me. Working on something creative with my hands that is totally opposite of my day-to-day routine also restores me. Whatever it is for you, take time to not only discover what that looks like but also make it a part of your routine.

4. Disengage from the Internet for a morning, afternoon or a whole day if you can. The constant noise from email, social media and responding can add to the already stressed situation. Take a break and be intentional.

5. Talk to someone. It’s a given for me because I am committed to following Jesus and that means I spend time in prayer talking to God and reading the bible. It is also helpful for me to have someone I can wholly be myself with and lean on them for encouragement and counsel. We aren’t meant to do life alone, and as a leader we don’t get better by isolating ourselves.

I didn’t get it right this week and felt like beating myself up. Instead, I reached out to the staff person I leaked all over before I left the event. She was incredibly gracious and we ended up having a meaningful conversation about leadership. Whew…averted a complete character meltdown. She thanked me for being vulnerable and looked forward to connecting over coffee at a later date.

I am grateful that I can have a do-over and since then, I have made some changes to stop the leak from continuing to spill over.

The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.          Proverbs 10:19

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