A Publication of WTVP

A couple of weeks ago, my son Jon, a junior in college, called me to ask a rather insightful question about leadership. I thought he sounded a little discouraged as we’d been talking for a few minutes, and then he asked, “Dad, when you’re trying to lead something, is it normal for certain people to criticize everything you do and try to make you feel like you’re doing a bad job?”

I actually chuckled out loud as I responded, “Welcome to leadership!” He went on to share with me some of the leadership “shots” he had taken recently for doing nothing more than trying to conduct a basketball and softball intramural program for students at his school. “Everyone wants an intramural program, but no one wants to lead it,” he said. “So I give my time and energy to pulling it together, and it seems all I get is criticism from people who won’t lift a hand to help out. It just makes me feel like chucking it. If someone else wants to do it, they can have it.”

I assured him that leadership in any arena would always come with its detractors and naysayers. In fact, I suggested that he think a bit about the coaching profession, since he really hopes to be a high school basketball coach someday. “Jon,” I said, “You could win all of your games, and there would still be people who question your coaching decisions, or parents who criticize you because they feel their kid should be getting more playing time—and that’s if you win! If you end up having a really lousy season, you’ll be the target of every downtown coach in the area. So get used to it. Criticism comes with the leadership territory. That’s why you have to learn how to keep your own heart refueled so that your inner leadership motivation, courage and passion are always greater than the forces of doubt, despair and discouragement that are coming against you.”

Which raises the question I would ask of every leader: What do you do to rekindle and refuel your heart when the inevitable wear and tear of leadership takes its toll on you? Every leader must find an answer to that question and return for refueling again and again and again, lest they simply run out of leadership fuel and quit, or worse yet, become hard-hearted, jaded and cynical over time—or even worse yet, crash and burn through some ethical or moral implosion.

In my 25 years of organizational leadership, I’ve seen all three scenarios take place in the lives of leaders who apparently didn’t know that they needed to take time to refuel. I recently watched another leader crash and burn through a serious moral indiscretion that has now cost him his leadership role and influence, his marriage, and the respect of both his community and the people he led.

Did he set out to dismantle his 20 years of leadership influence in such a dramatic and disappointing collapse? Hardly! It’s just that the constant drain on his emotional energy, the negative responses of some people to his positive initiatives, the resistance to change and the criticism eventually took their toll on him. Apparently not understanding his need to constantly refuel his heart in healthy ways, he eventually found himself running on fumes, which made him an easy target for the cheap thrill that has now cost him everything. It’s tragic; it wouldn’t have had to end that way…had he only kept his heart refueled!

That’s why I encourage every leader to discover and develop personal and private routines that serve to rekindle one’s own inner emotional reserves. Such routines may include prayer and private meditation, listening to soothing or uplifting music, reading, recreational pursuits, personal getaways for reflection and rest, time spent with friends and mentors who encourage our hearts—anything that brings fresh joy, renewal and perspective to a leader’s heart.

I have discovered that there is a corporate side to leadership renewal as well. There is a special dynamic that happens when leaders come together in the same room to learn, grow, share battle scars and connect with other leaders. There’s something about the shared camaraderie of leadership: of knowing that here, in this company of leaders, are people who understand the challenges and tests of leadership. Here are others who, like me, have wanted to quit. Here are others who have secretly wondered if they had what it takes to lead well. Here are others who have experienced the sting of opposition, criticism and rejection. Here are others who have learned how to persevere and push on in spite of the problems they face.

That’s why I love the Leadership Summit! It’s also why Northwoods Community Church has put the time and energy into hosting this one-of-a-kind event each summer for the past seven years. No other event draws over 70,000 leaders together at one time (in 150 satellite venues) to learn from world-class leaders and faculty, such as David Gergen, Patrick Lencioni, Tony Blair and Bono this year. Having attended this event for the past 16 years of my leadership journey, I have found that no other event refuels and rekindles my heart quite like the Leadership Summit. And while it is an event designed with church leaders in mind, it has never failed to deliver fresh leadership insight and inspiration for marketplace leaders of every kind.

So let me challenge you, leader, whoever you are and whatever you do—stop and refuel! You owe it to yourself, to your spouse and family, and to the people you lead, to keep your heart steady and strong. If you sense your leadership passion needing to be rekindled, if you sense a need for fresh perspective and inner renewal, then I invite you to join me and hundreds of other leaders for a shot of “high octane” fuel. I’ll save you a seat! iBi  

The Leadership Summit August 6-7, 2009
Live via satellite at Northwoods Community Church in Peoria

Faculty Lineup