What I Do to Get Myself out of a Leadership Funk

By Dr. Wayne Brouwer

My first congregation was very rural, with our home-made church building one of only a dozen whistle-stop structures on the sweeping Alberta prairies. Mail was not delivered, but had to be picked up at the Post Office, housed in the only matchbox-sized general store for miles (five people crowded it; a dozen meant at least three were outside, waiting). “Rainy Days and Mondays” lingered on the pop music charts in those days, and resonated as I walked to fetch the mail, particularly on Mondays that “always get me down.”

Area farmers, many from our church, often stopped at “M & T Repairs,” halfway between my house and the general store, for coffee and gossip at 10 a.m. Sometimes I wanted to show up then, hoping for a little friendly affirmation; sometimes I avoided the place like the plague, fearing barbs and critical jabs. Mondays were tough.

But I learned a lot about myself during those years. Especially I learned about the roller coaster ride of leadership emotions that can become both addictive and debilitating.

The Big Three

Although we are deeply complex people, with many nuances of personality, we have several dominant motivational powers: intellect, will and emotions. We think, we choose, we feel.

We often live as if this trio is important and powerful in our lives in exactly that order. Our brains are the strongest. Our wills, although flexible, have backbone. And our emotions, though kind of wimpy, need to be managed as we bounce through life.

The Leader of the Pack

In reality, however, our emotions rule. We may confidently rationalize the nature of things and intellectually understand them, and yet, in an instant, our emotions will push every thought aside as fear or anger or embarrassment or longing or happiness stride in and take over. Or we may choose to act in ways that make perfect sense and align with our values, only to be sidetracked indecisively as shame or sensuality or sorrow divert us to places we never expected to go.

This is the grand mystery of leadership funk. Leaders think. Leaders choose paths. And yet, a key component of leadership is gut instinct. It is the ability to understand deeply and to choose wisely, and, at the same time, to feel the way rightly.

But feelings are a wild ride, and not easily controlled. So leaders think deeply, and when they express their wisdom, are suddenly awarded an emotional crown of praise. So leaders choose wisely, and when they point to the next trail or mountain, become emotionally responsible for tens or hundreds or thousands who trust and follow.

But the next day, when tiredness or distraction or stormy seas disrupt the affirming emotions, our intellects can doubt and our choices become questionable. Our emotions are not weak; they are very, very strong.

Restoring Balance

That does not make our emotions good or bad. Nor does it validate or invalidate or reasoning or our volitional choices. Yet because our leadership roles are finely tuned to a combined, synergistic coordination of our intellects, wills and emotions, it is often this last element that plays tricks with us. Our emotions sneak in and claim they did all the good work, even though our brains thought things through, and our wills made wise choices. The next moment, however, our emotions become detached from our tired brains and resting wills, and bounce around at random.

Three questions have helped me deal with the funk this brings:

What am I feeling?
Why am I feeling that way?
What am I going to do about it?

These three questions have helped to re-integrate my intellect, will and emotions, and restore the balance of my leadership instincts. It is not magic or miracles. But it helps me find again the leadership stability that Paul urged in Philippians 4:8-9—“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Think. Do. Experience.

God is in each. And God blesses each. And we feel the blessing deepest when we learn how to keep the three intertwined.