Managing yourself

Your toughest leadership challenge is always yourself. – Bill Hybels

Managing yourself is the most important thing you do. It’s true whether you’re a minister, CEO, professor or student. Many of us show up to work each day with a diffuse list of responsibilities and fairly significant amount of control over our calendar (unless you’re a doctor or a lawyer at trial). How are you going to use the 8-10 hours ahead of you? What about your hours outside of the the office? Are you living the values you most deeply cherish? Is you pattern of life moving you toward (or away from) meaningful goals and desires you have for your life?

Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself — your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you “work for” to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms “work for” advisedly, for if you don’t understand that you should be working for your mislabeled “subordinates,” you haven’t understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Dee Hock

It’s amazing to me that formal education (at least when I was in college and seminary) gives very little attention to what is a critical factor for effectiveness both in the workplace and at home. That’s why I was so jazzed that InterVarsity’s Area Director Training had a session on self-management led by Red River Regional Director Jason Thomas.

One of the most significant lessons that I took away from our time together was in the way I allocate my time as a ministry leader. Here’s a list of key constituencies in my work. To the right is suggested allocation of time based on the work of Dee Hock and in brackets is the percentage of time I allocated to each group.

  • Supervisor – 30% [25%]
  • Peers – 15% [15%]
  • Donors [15%]
  • Self – 40% [33%]
  • Supervisees – 15% [12%]
To some, allocating 40% of your time to managing/leading yourself might seem a lot. At least according to Hoc, it depends on your level in an organization. The higher your position of leadership in an organization the greater the amount of time you need to spend leading yourself. It may ever go above 40%. The reason for this, of course, is that the higher you are the fewer sources of real accountability you have in your work and the smaller the number of defined objectives that come with your job description (senior leaders are the one defining objectives, after all).
So what does this look like for ministers? I came up with a list of ways in which I could effectively manage myself as I work as an Area Director:
  • Annual planning (especially mapping out travel days)
  • Creating an ideal week
  • Weekly review
  • Creative thinking
  • Reading books
  • Consulting with a mentor
  • Spiritual retreat
  • Theological study
  • Peer visits
  • Sabbath
  • Community groups
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Podcasts (Harvard Business Review, Mars Hill audio journal)
The thing each of these items has in common is that it offers the chance to pull away from the “runway level” of work and life in order to get a better perspective in terms of direction and purpose. Spending more time in self-management will ensure growth in the right direction and increasing effectiveness. So while it might seem odd to reserve only 15% of time for the folks on your team, spending more time in self-management will guarantee that you actually have something worth saying when you talk with them by phone or meet in person!