Compartmentalizing: A Leader’s Ability or Disability?

For years I have prided myself on my ability, at least perceived that way, to package up a bad day or bad meeting and head into the next with the lingering thoughts and feelings of the last neatly wrapped up in some place out of view of the rest of my world. Leaving only those closest to me with the awkward realities of a man hurt, mad, sad or otherwise. There are aspects to ministry; things said or decided, that my wife does not need to hear. The same goes for the staff team I have assembled. I play this complicated game of protection. What to divulge, what to internalize…It’s part of the job, I accept it willingly.

 

But what about the things that need processing? How and who do I dump these on, and how do I know which things need to be heard? I am becoming convinced this is why pastors over-eat, over-drink, over-exercise, over-achieve. Bottom line is, we have no idea how to manage our careful and complex compartmentalization. We are left holding the destructive aftermath of people’s hurts and hangups. We grieve their destructive choices while they move on in relative peace.

 

Now in writing this I am assuming I am not alone. I am under the assumption that you struggle as well with what stuff to bottle up and send out to sea. I am also assuming those with me have done all of the obvious and standard leadership steps to create personal and organizational health:

  • Assemble a leadership board/team for covering and confidential discussion.
  • See a therapist regularly.
  • Set a regular Sabbath for prayer and reflection.
  • Make friends outside the church.
  • Hire a life/ministry coach.
  • Activate an accountability partner.

I tried all those things, as I am sure you have as well. And let me be clear, with no better options on the horizon I keep all those things in place in my life. The bigger concern I have is how good I have become at compartmentalizing. It’s particularly concerning for me as I am an “out-loud processor”. But I have become, in the name of positive momentum, quite effective at sharing the right things with the right people.  I’ve learned from the experiences of being burned by sharing the right things with the wrong people. But my concern remains. When does the skill of compartmentalizing become an art of hiding?

 

So for a guy that deals in cutely-alliterated practical steps towards higher leadership, I land in a place where I find myself at a bit of a loss. My best guess remains:

 

Keep far more overlapping checks and balances in my life than seem necessary.

It seems the women and men whom I respect most are far from perfect but seem to be listening all-ears to the people around them in a nearly robotic manor. They seem to have a dear friend of influence in nearly every facet of their life and leadership. From financial managers to life coaches and from accountability partners to personal trainers.

I have to ask myself, What facets of your life lack powerful outside influence?

 

Practice the spiritual discipline of weeping when alone.

Yes, I mean Spiritual Discipline. Because for most this does not come naturally. We either never emote at all, or we emotionally throw up on anyone who gets within earshot. King David was a fierce warrior, who wrote a lot of emo songs and poems…a strange paradox, but maybe not. Leaders are fierce fighters too, maybe differently than was David in his day, but we scrap it out everyday in the coliseum of culture shift. And for those doing it in a church context we have more than competitors and critics as our enemies.

I have to ask myself, “when was the last time you broke down in tears and begged God for His heart?”

 

Listen to the criticism of outsiders with a closely-guarded ear.

This may seem to contradict my first challenge to have people of great influence around, but it’s not. In fact I think it’s the nuanced influence that most of us miss as relational leaders. We tend to listen close to our Fleeting Fans and our Cantankerous Critics all the while ignoring the input of those whose thoughts actually have any substance or relational investment. Remember Jesus and John the Baptist?

Jesus Speaking in Matthew 11:18-19
…For John the Baptist didn’t drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘he’s demon possessed.’ And I, The Son of man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by what results from it.”

 

Fans and Critics have a way of prying open the guarded recesses of the heart that maybe should remain guarded. So count on God to speak through sabbath and reflection. Count on what’s really going on in your heart to overflow through tears and weeping. And then process that with the right people.

 

Not sure that’s it, or even best, but it’s my best stab at something I see and hear all too often from my friends in leadership. What am I missing? What is on Target?

 

To read more from Stu’s regular Leadership Writings, Leading Thoughts, click here

2017-04-30T02:11:37+00:00