Hazards of Leadership

I slept in today until my alarm went off.

My alarm is set every morning at the same time so I will be up and awake enough to milk the goat, who is quite eager to tell me of every injustice in her life if I’m even a few moments late to milking.

That being said, I haven’t actually woken up to the alarm for three months. (Except when I was in Israel. That was a blissful period of time and I thank the jet lag for my sleeping patterns for that 10 days.) Most nights I go to bed around midnight and wake up around 4:30 am.

It’s given me plenty of time to write and to research. I have crocheted some beautiful bookmarks. Anything that can be done quietly, while the rest of my household is sleeping, I have done.

But I can’t say it’s been a really enjoyable period of time in my life to be chronically sleep-deprived. I’ve also known that it’s a stress-induced behavior because the past months have been extraordinarily stressful and my mind has been on overdrive trying to connect the dots to situations and figure out the “right” way to behave and present everything from appeals to conflict resolution scenarios.

This morning when I slept to the alarm it gave me hope that things are going to be ok. I have known in my head that things will be ok but I haven’t believed it because my heart has been grieving and broken.

Even typing that last sentence has me sitting here, sniffling because my eyeballs are sweating.

(That’s a euphemism for crying. Because there’s no crying allowed in baseball… or homeschooling, but I’ve never seen a single negative reference to eyeball sweat or washing my face like a caveman, so those must be ok.)

It’s shocking to me how much my emotions have been consumed by this “conscious uncoupling.”

It reminds me of other women I’ve known who served in leadership in the organization. One woman, as she explained her reasons for stepping out of leadership, showed me a bald spot where her hair had started falling out due to the stress of a Matthew 18 reconciliation process she was managing. Another woman stepped down due to adrenal fatigue that took more than a year to heal. One friend experienced high blood pressure issues that put her in the hospital after handling a transition. Another I know is being treated for anxiety and depression more than a year after she stepped out of leadership.

What is the cost of servant leadership? Of committing oneself to a cause?

I came across an article awhile ago that talked about the mental health of pastors. (12 Mental Health Hazards to Watch for in Your Pastor| Charisma News) I’m quite familiar with pastors and thus read the article, thinking about those I’m close to and love who might be affected.

But as I read, I realized that the warning signs the article shared about pastors…. were actually items I saw exhibited regularly within the low to middle management of our previous homeschooling organization. If you’ll indulge me in my moment of processing, I’d like to take a moment to correlate the 12 signs identified in the article with what I have experienced and perceived as I have led within another organization.

Loneliness in Leadership. Leadership is, in and of its definition, lonely. What I discovered as an Area Representative, is that my enjoyment in the role dramatically increased when all of the ARs in our area were placed on a text chat. Suddenly I was able to share with someone else about the Director candidate who shared they believed in practicing polygamy and have others help me identify the defensible reasons why this belief might not make them the best candidate for a Director role. Solidarity and shared experiences we could talk about made such a positive difference!

Avoiding Conflict. While some folks tend to engender conflict in an overzealous desire to adhere to The Rules, there is a general lack of desire to walk through conflict. Conflict takes time… I can remember the hours upon hours that were sunk into a community as I spoke with each community member who had an opinion about a tricky situation. The beauty of that is that I walked out with some new friends. The downside – I left my husband and children to fend for themselves for weeks as I walked through that scenario. Some folks get furious about the PERPL ruling that says delete an email – rightfully so – but the other piece of that puzzle is that these are people with families who have needs as well.

Work Overload. I covered an area that included three states. We started at almost zero in each area and doubled in size every year. There was so much more work than could ever be accomplished … and then on top of just supporting the current communities we were tasked with updating spreadsheets and database systems. At one point I oversaw six practicums. I think I made around $10,000 that year and had about $14,000 worth of deductions… and had put more than 3,000 miles on the vehicle on CC business. (I had blocked those specific numbers from my memory and hoped that my husband didn’t look too closely…) If I had been doing a collegiate New Student Orientation position I would have provided approximately three orientation weekends for about $36,000. All this to say the work is never ending and the pay is not the reason people do the work… which means that there is always a sense of never getting caught up and that your failures might have significant consequences for families that are in need of support.

Mental Overload. I can remember going to a park date with my community members and not being able to think about anything to talk about except the people I’d conducted IMs with, our plans for the year, etc. Doing the work of the organization, from managing supply lists and comparison shopping so you are a good steward with the funds of the community, to analyzing the class lists and which tutor is a good fit for the group… there is a ridiculous mental overload. I came home from community every week completely exhausted – I was the facility liaison and so felt it was my responsibility to make sure the building was in great shape every week. In addition I was trying to connect with families regularly and build relationships while also trying to keep an eye on the kids in the playground so they didn’t do dumb kid stuff like use the monkey bars as a launch pad. The mental overload of day to day stuff was exhausting.

Betrayal. I managed and created Director facebook groups for several years and have lost track of the number of posts I have seen from Directors asking for prayer because they have learned that community members won’t be returning. For some folks, attending community is a transaction… but for a Director, they consider the families in their community far more than a transaction. The ones I have known do their best to love people well, they organize baby showers and meal trains, play dates, and mom’s nights out. Yes, they are human and sometimes they completely screw up, but when a family chooses not to return I don’t know a single Director who doesn’t feel a sense of betrayal… and shame. “What could I have done better?” is a common refrain as they tried to take responsibility for that betrayal.

Loss of Spiritual Devotion. I have to say that I can’t see a loss of Spiritual Devotion within the leadership in the organization. In fact, I loved being at the training sessions because I was surrounded by folks who were actively seeking the Lord’s will and doing their best to live authentically and Biblically.

Marital and Family Conflict. When I stepped down from the AR role almost two years ago the tipping point of my resignation came from two comments from my family. My daughter said, “I wish I could see you in the mornings when I wake up but you’re always on the phone with your SRs.” My husband said, “I know you’re doing good and important work, but I have to admit I’m jealous of CC.” That previous summer at a practicum I had talked with a mom who also worked and she shared how the Lord had convicted her that by doing all of her professional work first, she had given the first fruits of her daily efforts to people who were not the most important to her. “It really changed my perspective,” she said. “I stopped working in the morning and started homeschooling in the morning. I work in the afternoon and I give my best efforts to my kids… and it’s been the best change I could ever make.” Being sold out to an organization at the expense of your family is bound to create conflict… and mental anguish.

Living with a Sense of Failure. Look back up at the points of work overload and betrayal. I don’t know a single person in leadership who doesn’t feel they’re failing somewhere – whether it be in getting the work done, not being engaging enough to draw people into community, by neglecting their children, etc. Living with a sense of failure is exhausting. I just want to remind you of something that has been life changing for me as I live with a sense of failure – the Holy Spirit will convict you to change but the tools will never be fear and shame.

Lack of Leadership Capability. Due to the explosive growth of the company, folks who are willing to help out but do not possess the leadership abilities to be successful in their positions are often contracted. “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called,” is a tagline. This is true – but there is also no formal way to equip these folks in the tasks they are asked to perform. So it’s a mixed bag of folks who have an amazing heart to serve – and may or may not have an already-existing skill set. This lack of training, in my opinion, is the number one reason there is so much conflict. No one is trying to be wrong or hateful, they may just be serving in a position that doesn’t fit their natural abilities.

Comparisons to Other Pastors. I saw this in the posts on the Director’s facebook pages. “Is it ok that I don’t want to start prepping for next fall in April?” “Can I still be a good Director if I don’t want to create a Review Carnival for my community?” “How do I create certificates for the kids for the End of the Year celebration?” “Why is the community across town full while I only have three families in my own?” “Why did the SR put the Challenge program at that community when we need that level at our own community and we’re providing the Director?” Comparison is a normal part of evaluation and discernment, but it can have devastating effects if not addressed.

Their Identity is in the Ministry. I’ve worn the t-shirts. There’s a fade mark on the back of my car where the sticker used to be. I’ve been so proud to be a “Kool-aid” committed member of the organization… so when that disappears it feels like the loss of a family member. A dream shattered and all the breath ripped out of your body. The security blanket is destroyed. It hurts. The struggle is real. It might be pathetic, but it’s real. And when you mess with self-identity it takes time to get back on your feet again.

Divisions in the Church. There seems to be a recommended method these days of taking a community that is bonded and happy and splitting it by zip code, and forcing those folks to move to a new community. I cannot speak out against this practice too loudly. People (especially homeschoolers, who are about as easy to manage as a roomful of cats) should never be FORCED to divide to multiply. The desire to force a multiplication can have a horrible effect on both the community member and the Director. From the article, but relevant to this discussion: “Perhaps the worst feeling and challenge to a pastor’s mental and emotional health is when another leader in their congregation leaves and takes others with them.” Even when you try to be professional about the loss, it’s still painful to see.

This post has gotten quite long enough – those 12 points take up space! I guess my take away as I process these things is that the same mental health issues that plague a pastor can be found in any ministry and its lay leadership. I hope that by identifying issues they can be brought out into the open so that changes can be made, conversations that will help will occur, and folks who want to serve can live in ways that don’t engender insomnia, blood pressure issues, adrenal fatigue, or hair loss!

And, as a result, I want to reach out to those folks who have dedicated themselves to serving my family – however perfectly or imperfectly – and say Thank You.

It might help me sleep at night.

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