What causes leadership stress?
Is there any hope for the modern day leader?
The Difference Between Leadership Stress and Burnout
Since coming to South Carolina in 1999 as a pastor, I have witnessed an alarming state of the poor health and well-being of leaders within our denomination. I have engaged in dozens of conversations relating to the subjects of stress and burnout. There is a difference between stress and burnout. Dr. Archiblad Hart explains the difference in this way:
- Burnout is a defense characterized by disengagement.
* Stress is characterized by over-engagement.
* In Burnout, the emotions become blunted.
* In Stress the emotions become over-reactive.
* In Burnout the emotional damage is primary.
* In Stress the physical damage is primary.
* The exhaustion of Burnout affects motivation and drive.
* The exhaustion of Stress affects physical energy.
* Burnout produces demoralization.
* Stress produces disintegration.
* Burnout can best be understood as a loss of ideals and hope.
* Stress can best be understood as a loss of fuel and energy.
* The depression of Burnout is caused by the grief engendered by the loss of ideals and hope.
* The depression of Stress is produced by the body’s need to protect itself and conserve energy.
* Burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.
* Stress produces a sense of urgency and hyperactivity.
* Burnout produces paranoia, depersonalization, and detachment.
* Stress produces panic, phobic, and anxiety-type disorders.
* Burnout may never kill you but your long life may not seem worth living.
* Stress may kill you prematurely, and you won’t have enough time to finish what you started. ~ Archibald Hart, Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions (Word, 1984), and The Success Factor (Revell, 1984)
Having a clear understanding of stress and burnout is essential for the well-being of any leader. However, understanding the effects of stress is the starting point.
Why Do Some Experience Leadership Stress?
Ronald Croucher is his website post, Stresses and Burnout in Ministry points out some basic reasons those in ministry feel stressed out.
- the disparity between expectations and hard reality
- lack of clearly defined boundaries
- the feelings of incompetence in leading people
- conflict in being a leader and servant at the same time
- intangibility – how do I know I’m getting somewhere
- confusion of role identity with self-image
- time management problems
- the scarcity of ‘perks’
- the multiplicity of roles
- inability to produce ‘win-win’ conflict resolution
- difficulty in managing interruptions
- enraging powerful parishioners
- administration overload
If these types of feelings are taking place what hope is there for the modern day leader?
The Advice of Jesus in Dealing With Leadership Stress
The actions of Jesus along with his teachings produce great lessons in dealing with stress.
After a busy day of ministry, Jesus would turn to his disciples and encourage them to take care of themselves.
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31
Jesus also gave his disciples advice on how to deal with difficult people. Leadership stress can be countered by following the advice of Jesus.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” ~ Luke 6:24-34
The role of Christian leadership, according to Jesus, must take on a different role.
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~ Matthew 20:20-28
Leadership can be extremely stressful. However, following the spiritual guidance of Jesus can produce a healthy relief of leadership stresses.
How are you doing as a leader?
Are you feeling the pressures of leadership stress?
Where are you finding guidance to help you in your leadership role?
Leadership stress can be corrected and dealt with in a healthy fashion. The teachings of Jesus can be a powerful resource.