Leaders Should Be a Non-Anxious Presence

steinkeThis bit of wisdom in the post title comes from Peter Steinke. He affirms that anxiety itself is not bad; it can provoke positive change, but only if regulated.

In his Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What, Steinke says leaders should be non-anxious presences in their churches. He says, “Nothing new under the sun—especially nothing controversial—happens without confusion, resistance, or emotional reactivity.”

So leaders should “keep calm for the purpose of reflection and conversation,” “maintain a clear sense of direction,” and what I thought was hardest but maybe best, “tolerate high degrees of uncertainty, frustration, and pain.”

“To be a non-anxious presence,” he says, “means to acknowledge anxiety but not let it be the driver of behavior.” Don’t deny anxiety, but don’t let it defeat you or your people.

Laura Vanderkam’s Time Tip #48: If you dislike a particular task, time it.

I got this great advice in my inbox the other day from Laura Vanderkam:

If you dislike a particular task, time it.

Yea, verily. She explains:

While knowing that unloading the dishwasher takes you 6 minutes won’t get this chore of your plate, it will make it seem like less of a burden.

It’s funny that this is her example, because this (the kitchen) is really the ONE place where I’ve practiced this tactic already, and it really does help.

And when you do dishes for 25 minutes (because there are so many), your sense of accomplishment will be all the greater!

Two Resources (One Paid, One Free) for Getting On Top of Stuff

It’s Friday, so hopefully you’re winding down a bit and thinking about how to relax rather than how to be more productive–so file this away for Monday (or read it now if you work weekends).

Here are two resources–one paid and one free–to help stay on top of email and tasks.


1. Dispatch App



I’ve never understood the logic of apps that allow you to “snooze” email. Handle it once and move on, I think. Emails are often calendar appointments or tasks in disguise, and our Inboxes are no place to be keeping tasks. Inbox Zero is elusive (though see here), so an app that helps you get your Inbox messages into tasks quickly is appreciated. This is the goal of Dispatch app, newly available on iPad. Check it out here.


2. Free Podcasts from GTD


You might also check out free podcasts from David Allen‘s Getting Things Done:

Our GTD podcasts are here to support you at every stage of your GTD practice. You will hear interviews with people from all walks of life about their journey with GTD, from beginners to those who have been at it for years. The podcasts include personal and professional stories, as well as practical tips about GTD systems for desktop and mobile, using apps and paper. Start listening now and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free productivity.

Find the podcast page here.

Two Soul-Piercing Gems from David Allen (Getting Things Done 2.0)

GTD 2The wedding of productivity literature and thoughtful anthropology (let alone spirituality) seems to be woefully uncommon, but David Allen strikes me as a spiritually attuned writer. That’s why I think it’s no stretch to call some of his insights into personal productivity “soul-piercing.” Or, at least, one can better provide oneself good soul care when implementing Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) principles.

Readers of this blog know of my new-found use of OmniFocus, which is really just one possible tool (out of several) that helps one practice Getting Things Done.

Here are two total gems from Allen’s new, re-tooled GTD 2.0:

What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities–those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The substantive issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real work is to manage our actions.

He says this as a reaction to talk of “managing time” or even “managing priorities.” Allen says you can’t manage time (“you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six”) and don’t manage priorities (rather, “you have them”). That seems at first like semantics, but his point is:

Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.

So the focus becomes managing our actions. And this is still relative to our priorities.

Phew. Love it. (Also, guilty as charged.)

Here’s the second gem:

Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action). And these are far from self-evident for most people about most things that have their attention.

I’m (actually, finally) reading Getting Things Done cover to cover. It’s already a breath of fresh air. Find it here.

You’re the boss. People love you… right?

best boss

Do bosses over time gradually lose the ability to rightly estimate how other perceive them? Yes, according to a recent article in The Economist:

So not only do bosses set too much store by their strengths, as our Schumpeter column notes, they also habitually overestimate their ability to win respect and support from their underlings. Somehow, on reaching the corner office, they lose the knack of reading subtle cues in others’ behaviour: in a further experiment Mr Brion found that when a boss tells a joke to a subordinate, he loses his innate ability to distinguish between a real and fake smile.

Read the whole article (“Deluded Bosses: Who’s Behind Me?”) here.

I wonder if this is more an issue in the corporate world than in the church, although I suppose it’s true that any leader could be prone to this phenomenon.

It reinforces the importance of regular evaluation in organizations (especially large ones)–as well as making sure that there are accessible systems and processes in place for folks to meaningfully offer input.

Thinking about Email Bankruptcy? Try this First

Mac Outlook

A few years ago I heard about “email bankruptcy,” where an executive simply deleted all his piled-up email and then found a way to let all his previous emailers know what he was doing. If they wanted a reply on something, they’d have to write a new email or re-send the old one.

It might have bugged some folks, but it got him to “inbox zero” pretty quickly. Only an exec could pull this off; I doubt a middle manager quite has the workplace capital to be able to do it without some repercussions.

For the rest of us, what to do when the inbox creeps past 50, 100, 200 emails?

Here’s a simple trick. It’s totally psychological, but I’ve used it twice in the last six months, and it works wonders. Here’s what my Inbox often looks like, full of messages. (Senders and subjects deleted here for the sake of privacy.) Yours might look like this, too:

Inbox with messages in it
Inbox with messages in it

Even with a mere 40 messages here, I’m still a ways away from inbox zero. So I’ve created a folder called “0 akj inbox” that shows up underneath my actual Inbox. The “0” is so it alphabetizes at the top. I leave all my sub-folders expanded so I can always see “0 akj inbox.” Then I make this move:

Moving Inbox messages to sub-folder
Moving Inbox messages to sub-folder

And… voilà! Empty Inbox:

Ever-elusive "Inbox Zero"
Ever-elusive “Inbox Zero”

Sure, this didn’t do the work of actually responding to those 40 messages. They’re still in “0 akj inbox,” awaiting my attention. But the couple times I’ve zeroed out in this way recently (rather than declaring actual email bankruptcy) has really cleared my head and allowed me to focus on the work I have to do. If 10 messages come in in the next hour, I can quickly work through them and keep my Inbox at 0. And even chip away at the new sub-folder I’ve created.

Just a mind trick? Perhaps. But so much of staying on top of email is, I’m convinced, psychological. The more email I have, the harder it seems to work through any of it. The less I have, the better I do staying zeroed out on a daily or weekly basis. Seeing my Inbox at 0, as above, makes me much more efficient on email, even if all I did was a simple drag-and-drop.

And now, on to that sub-folder….

A Few Thoughts on Leading without Authority

HeifetzRon Heifetz, in his Leadership Without Easy Answers, says, “The scarcity of leadership from people in authority, however, makes it all the more critical to the adaptive successes of a polity that leadership be exercised by people without authority” (183).

In other words, even though leaders should expect good leadership from those above them, they should perhaps not wait for it such that its absence affects their own leadership adversely.

I’m fortunate to work for a boss who leads well. But any person in a position of middle management should be prepared to lead effectively regardless of what leadership they see coming from “people in authority.”

And effective leadership requires proactivity. Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about being proactive as taking “the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen” (71).

I wonder whether we might at times fear taking on responsibility beyond what is in our job description, or beyond what our supervisors have explicitly asked of us. We may worry that we’ll do the wrong thing, or try to do the right thing but in the wrong way. Worse is not doing anything at all. Our work energies can always be redirected if misapplied; a mistake can always be tweaked and corrected.

But, as Heifetz points out, leadership and authority are not the same thing. Having a position of authority does not make one a good leader, nor does leading well require a position of authority. For organizations to succeed, workers at all levels–those with authority and those without–need to be proactive in their exercise of leadership. Lacking positional authority is not an excuse to do otherwise.