In September 2015 I switched jobs which, for me, signaled a new beginning. One of my key concerns moving into this new role was to become a better leader.
Previously I was a youth pastor, who led volunteers, who led students (2 layers deep). In my new role, I function as a leader who leads youth pastors, who lead volunteers, who lead students (3 layers deep). To take on the new challenges, I needed new tools.
But the problem with becoming a better leader is that:
- It requires brain space.
- It requires deliberate effort.
- It requires time.
Essentially, becoming a better leader doesn't happen automatically.
One thing I love to do in my spare time is learning new tools and ways to work faster and with more accuracy. A key to my workflow is automation. If I do _____, then ______ automatically happens. It guarantees that important, but repetitive tasks always happen, without me actually having to do it or think about it. Apps like IFTTT and Zapier have been godsends for this.
Automation is great for work tasks, but I started to wonder if I could automate parts of my leadership. Could I do ____, which could automatically result in me becoming a better leader?
I started to read "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. In chapter 4 the idea of "Keystone Habits" is introduced (you can read a book summary here). Keystone habits are one habit that can spark "chain reactions that help other good habits take hold."
That sounds like automation to me! If I do ______, then _______ and________ and maybe even _______ will happen as a result of pursuing just one habit.
I began to mine what keystone habits I could take on in my life to automatically make me a better leader and I came up with three that I've been concentrating on for just over a year now.
Habit #1 - reading for 45 minutes a day
Most young pastors I know do not like reading. I used to hate it myself. Who has time to read when there are students to care for, volunteers to train, sermons to write, events to plan, websites to update, budgets to make and lead pastors to answer to?
I get it.
However, the discipline of reading has become a vital keystone habit for me. Here are the chain reactions that have taken place when I made reading a priority:
- I don't feel rushed. I start my day with reading which sets an incredibly relaxed pace to my day.
- I'm more creative. I'm constantly learning new ideas, new ways to view conflict, and new words.
- I'm smarter. When you read books written by bright people, you just become a little more bright yourself.
Habit #2 - morning prayers
Praying is hard for me.
I'm task orientated by nature. I love making lists and conquering to-dos. Anyone who knows me will tell you the same. I want to be productive and prayer seems, well, kinda unproductive. But here are the benefits that have come along with disciplined prayer:
- I'm ministering out of an overflow and not a reserve! I remember youth pastoring and feeling like the least spiritual person in the room. I was tired and barely believed the things I was preaching. I was ministering out of a reserve and I was running empty.
- Prayer guides my tasks. I find that it's in prayer where the Holy Spirit highlights to me what it is I should be doing (and often the things I need to stop doing!). Abraham Lincoln said, "give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Prayer is like sharpening my axe.
- Prayer nurtures my hope. Working with students in a post-Christian society can be deflating. The Gospel is so counter-cultural that you often wonder if a once-a-week, 90-minute program can drown out the noise of advertising, the social pressure of their peer groups, and the lies of the Enemy. In other words, do teenagers even stand a chance at developing an authentic faith? Prayer breeds the necessary hope in my life to keep going.
Habit #3 - exercise for 45 minutes a day
Exercise is the keystone habit in my life. I recently wrote a post called "Four Reasons Why Every Pastor Should Prioritize their Health" (read it here).
Exercise has become the habit that sets off the largest chain reaction in my life. I don't believe exercise is the most important habit in my life in and of itself; however, it sparks so many other good things like:
- When I'm physically active, I'm spiritually active. There's a connection between the spirit and body. John Piper says this "We know that God created humans with these two interconnected parts, and that the health (or sickness) of one can influence the health (or sickness) of the other. God made us and redeems us as whole persons, and it’s a Christian distinctive to care about it all — not just the soul, but the soul and body.".
- I eat better. Youth ministry isn't good for your figure. Pizza, late nights, meetings at McDonald's, and more pizza. And when you eat gross, you feel gross. But when you exercise, you crave healthier food (here's why).
- I have more energy for my wife and kids. Exercise improves energy levels by strengthening the circulation and the heart muscle, and in return improves energy levels.
These are three habits are not automatic. I have to still put brain space, deliberate effort, and time into all three. However, they have automatically produced a host of other great leadership habits and characteristics
My keystone habits are just that, mine. Keystone habits will differ from person to person. I want to encourage you to find yours!