Leadership: It’s Always Being Now

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Being present isn’t just a means for finding and sustaining our calling; being present is essential for carrying genuine spiritual authority in the marketplace. There is a line in an old Van Morrison song that goes, “And it’s always being now.”[i] Just let that idea sink in for a few minutes . . . until your head explodes.

The only moment we have is this one. Right now.

And then this one.

We live in the now, or perhaps I should say that we are learning to live in the now.

Perhaps being present seems like a no-brainer to you. Where else would I be? might be your thought. But when we look at it more closely, it’s not hard to see the many opportunities to get sucked out of the present moment. Consider these temptations:

  • Invasive worries about financial stability.
  • Frustration over the revolving door on your executive team.
  • Strategic planning for the next quarter.
  • Lingering offense with a key vendor.

As you can see, these are all common concerns in leadership, and each of them has some legitimate claim on our attention. It’s not a matter of tossing such items aside; rather, it’s a matter of recognizing what “now” is supposed to be about—and fully engaging in that.

The common element to each of the above challenges is this: They either pull you back in time to past events or push you forward into future events. “Bad” is not the right word for these dynamics. Evaluation and reflection on past events are key ingredients to effective leadership, as is looking ahead to what is approaching from the future. The “bad” part happens when those not now dynamics displace the genuine needs of the now. Let’s unpack that a little further.

The way to rightsize our past and future experiences as a leader is to bring them intentionally into the present. It is to ask the question: What is the best response right now to my reflection on that past event? Or: What is the best preparation right now for what we can perceive in the future? That is living in the present.

Worry, regret, distraction, preoccupation—these are all symptoms of abandoning the present moment and losing ourselves in it. These are never productive; they cripple leaders every day.

One of the most common threats to presence is the ubiquitous myth of multitasking. Despite reams of research that dismantle the dated notion of multitasking as a leadership skill, leaders continue to champion this flawed idea. The complexity of the modern workplace is increasing—I’ll grant you that. But multitasking is the very force that can sweep Christian leaders into the mile-wide, inch-deep syndrome and dissipate spiritual authority, not to mention efficiency.

No one can technically do more than one thing at a time. One thought at a time, one word at a time, one conscious act at a time. What we really mean by multitasking is the speed at which we can switch from one thing to another and the comfort level we have in that switching. To be sure, there is a vast spectrum of natural aptitude for switching. But every time we switch, there is a loss of energy, which means that there is an intrinsic inefficiency in switching—or there can be, when the rate of switching is raised to the level of “multitasking.”

Whether you’re “good at it” or not, the first casualty of multitasking is presence. The ability to tune into the emotional atmosphere of a place or the subtleties of team interaction or the nudges of the Holy Spirit—all of these evaporate when you get into multitasking mode. The leader with spiritual gravitas will seek to give himself or herself fully to one task or conversation at a time before changing gears, and as a result, you will carry more authority and, incidentally, get more done.

I must draw attention to one more giant culprit to presence: smartphones. Several years ago, I was coaching a manager at an aeronautic-engineering firm, listening to him complain that he could not have a single conversation with his manager without his head stuck in his phone. Not one conversation. His boss would barely make eye contact with him because his phone was a steady stream of flashes and beeps. Guess how his direct report felt about that?

There is obviously a lot of competition for our attention these days, and life comes at us fast. This is true. But sometimes we have to push back! Sometimes we have to set boundaries for ourselves, walk against the hoard of lemmings crowding all around, texting their way off a cliff, so we can show up for the people in our lives. Whether it’s your spouse or your client or your direct report, show them a little respect. Go ahead; turn off the phone.

Setting Time Management in Its Place

You have likely heard the perennial truism that goes something like this: There is no right answer to a wrong question. And one of the questions I hear a lot is, “What are the best tools for time management?”

Is time management a legitimate need? Of course. But in most of my experience, when leaders ask this, they are trying to solve problems that cannot be solved by better meeting management, online calendars, and project-management software. Most of the time, the search for better time management is the wrong question.

If that’s true, then it’s fair to ask, What is the right question? Here’s my take on that. The real question that most of us are asking without realizing it is, “Given my season in life, the condition of my soul, the resources available to me, and the work environment I’m operating in right now, what are my true priorities?” Priority management, not time management, is the right quandary to solve.

All leaders, if they’re doing anything worth doing, have more good things to do in a day than can be humanly accomplished in a day. That is the world you live in. Wise choices about what to engage when is one factor separating good leaders from poor leaders. But if you are a Christian, you have one incredible conviction at your disposal—and you may not have even known it. Your deliverables, your responsibilities, and your task lists come not from a boss or a board or the stockholders. Not ultimately. No, they come from God. You are employed by God, and if your divine employer and your human employer are in disagreement, then you have bigger problems than time management.

The priceless conviction that you are employed by God leads to another equally priceless truth: God only expects a day’s work in a day. Not a day-and-a-half or two-day’s worth. If you really buy that, it takes an immense load off. Let’s take this a step further. If you attempt to do one more task in your day than God is asking you to do, you are disobeying your Boss! And that’s not going to play well for your soul, your people, or your company.

These core convictions are vital because they change the game entirely. Now, instead of trying to hijack new “time-management” strategies to outsmart God and get everything done that you think you’re supposed to accomplish in a day, your use of time becomes a matter of discernment. God, what do you want me to work on today? And when am I supposed to stop for the day?

Too Pollyannaish for you?

Well, give it a try. Spend thirty days asking God—in a serious way—to set your daily agenda, to tell you when to start, when to stop, and what to do. See what happens.

Monastery Meets Marketplace

I love a few lines from the Book of Common Prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving that expresses a healthy view of our work lives:

We thank you for setting us at tasks
which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to
accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.[ii]

Work is a gift, no doubt about it. Work was part of paradise, part of Adam and Eve’s perfect world! I expect that the “new earth” (Revelation 21:1) will also have a way for us to engage our passions and talents (without concern for profitability) for the benefit of the heavenly community. Minus the thorns. Minus the curse. This is why work, even with its many thorns, is a spiritual practice for the Christian leader.

As usual, I’m going to suggest three exceedingly practical ways that you can harness in the workplace dimension to be an extension of God’s redemptive purposes in the world for his glory, your enjoyment, and the prosperity of others.

Practice 1: Discernment

To figure out what your calling is, or what God is placing on your to-do list, or how to set a Godward direction through your leadership, there is no substitute for hearing God’s voice. Discerning that “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12) is not a mysterious thing; it is a relational thing. When you invest yourself in paying attention to God’s movements within and without by using the simple, ancient tools we have explored together, you will come to confidently discern his voice.

In that sense, discernment is not a practice per se as much as it is the result of a deep-rooted set of practices. But I will offer you some tips for leaning into this dynamic when you seek a specific answer to a specific question.

Spend unhurried time articulating your question. This may seem self-evident, but often, it isn’t. Write down your question and then hold it prayerfully before the Lord. Ask him if it’s the right question. Consider whether there might be a question behind the question that is closer to your heart’s true desire.

Hold your specific question within the larger context of what God is doing and saying in this general season of your life. Is there resonance or dissonance with the overall trajectory of God’s work in you right now?

Going back to Saint Ignatius’s terms of consolation and desolation, consider whether your prospective direction takes you closer to God, life, and love or away from these things.

Who do you trust to give you wise, unbiased counsel in this matter? What coach or spiritual director can help you connect the dots on the story God is writing in your life? If there is any biblical counsel on the matter, bring that into the mix.

At this point in the process, make a tentative decision based on the discernment you have so far, and live with that decision for several days as if you had already made it. This is sort of a trial run. See if that prospective choice brings peace and confirmation or concern and uncertainty.

Finally, look at your tentative decision in the light of our three core principles of stability, conversion, and obedience. How does your belovedness, God’s abundance, and the freedom to surrender confirm or reorient your direction?

Step boldly forward based on your discernment of God’s leading. If God wants to adjust your path—and that may likely happen—God knows how to do that in ways that are gentle and good.

Practice 2: Culture Crafting

One of the most practical, impactful things we get to do as leaders is craft a culture. Managing your organizational culture is your first and greatest priority as a leader.

What is culture? I define organizational culture as the sum of values, styles, attitudes, and relational practices that govern a group of people. These are the intangibles that inform every conversation, motivate every task, and filter the environmental health of a company. And guess what? All of that is in your hands. In fact, if you’ve been leading your current team for more than a few months, the present culture is precisely the one you have created. Its strengths are probably your strengths and its dysfunctions are probably your dysfunctions. That thought is both sobering and exciting.

A myriad of tools are at your disposal for culture crafting, but realize that this is not a task you can delegate; this is an endeavor you must personally lead. Whether you draw on some great books or the partnership of a coach, culture management begins with you and will not go any further than you are willing to embody it. Here is one easy place to begin: assessment.

Use the simple questionnaire on my website called Culture Assessment at www.Thrive9Solutions.com/resources. Encourage your team to fill this out anonymously, compile the results, and then invite a strategic meeting to discuss your current reality, celebrate culture successes, and brainstorm strategies to improve your weak areas. The key to this exercise is total freedom of expression without defensiveness—just respectful, honest exchange.

Practice 3: Group Discernment

Remember Rick, the financial adviser who found his vocation? I had the privilege of serving on a nonprofit board with Rick for a couple of years. In this board environment, I got a chance to pilot a group-discernment process that I learned from Ruth Haley Barton.

Eloquently outlined in her book Pursuing God’s Will Together,[iii] Barton suggests a process for discerning God’s will for your team and your organization, not just your individual life. Again, it’s simple—and I like simple—but it is exceedingly rare to experience a team of spiritual leaders that work together in this fashion, even in the church. I commend it to you.

One caveat is in order here, and Ruth drives home the same point: Group discernment only works when the individual players are pursuing their own personal discernment and formation. This is a character-based contemplative practice, not a technique that can be commandeered. Here is a simplified version of Ruth’s group-discernment process:

  1. Clarify the question for discernment.
  2. Affirm guiding values and principles.
  3. Pray for a surrendered heart, openness to God’s leading.
  4. Pray for wisdom and revelation.
  5. Listen to one another.
  6. Listen to God in silence.
  7. Discuss perceptions and convergences.
  8. Work with options and find agreement.

If you lead any kind of leadership team within a Christian context, you will find enormous benefit to working through this process and crafting a discernment culture using this resource.


You’ve been reading from the intro of Gravitas: The Monastic Rhythms of Healthy Leadership. Continue reading chapter one for free right here. Jerome Daley is an executive coach with specialties in culture-crafting, communication and conflict, self-leadership, and team development. Get his books, schedule a retreat or learn more about him at thrive9solutions.com.

 

[i] Van Morrison, “On Hyndford Street,” Hymns to the Silence © Polydor 1991.
[ii] Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 127.
[iii] Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together, 169–222.

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