Leadership is a lonely endeavor. But there is a difference between the inevitable loneliness of leadership and leading in isolation. Isolation is when we don’t allow or invite others into our lives – we choose to lead and live alone.
As leaders, though we need circles of community, I think we choose lives of isolation for three main reasons:
- We think we don’t really need anybody else and prefer not to be needed by yet another person.
- We have packed our calendars so full of activities that we have no time for cultivating relationships.
- We are simply afraid of really being known.
In her book Just Lead, MOPS CEO and author Sherri Surratt shared this quote from one of her first bosses:
“You can lead alone, or you can lead well.”
Each of us has a real need to be in authentic community with others. And each of us needs community in order to lead well. The following are 3 must-have circles of community for every leader:
1. Circle of peers.
There are two types of peers to look for: those who have similar roles inside and outside of your organization. Find others in similar positions, and get together regularly. A friend of mine is the leader of a young adults ministry at a large church. She has gathered other pastors leading initiatives for young adults in our area to talk best practices and keep each other informed. I have a monthly lunch date and a weekly Skype date with two leader friends who make me better. I leave our time together challenged and energized by our collaborative conversations.
2. Circle of coaches.
Instead of one end-all-be-all mentor in my life, I have acquired a number of people who share advice when I need it. I have a friend who is an organizational guru I go to when I have a broken process or just need some productivity help. I have another coach I go to as a sounding board for big decisions or changes. And still another friend I go to on all things related to raising two boys. By surrounding myself with a circle of coaches, I am benefitting from a variety of perspectives and asking people to give counsel from their areas of expertise.
3. Circle of 3 a.m. friends.
The name of this circle says it all: these aren’t just any friends. These are the friends who, when tragedy strikes at 3 a.m., they jump out of bed and show up. They are the first ones you call to celebrate great news and to mourn a loss. Like in marriage, with 3 a.m. friends the joys are doubled, and the sorrows are halved.
Now, you may be thinking, “What does this last circle have to do with your leadership?” Everything. Leadership can be rough and disheartening at times. A circle of 3 a.m. friends will encourage you and offer perspective when you are in the middle of a crisis or intense season. This inner circle has consistently reminded me of my true identity when I started to forget. This circle of community helps each other press through the hard times and keep focused on what matters most. (Mine have also told me when I needed to stop whining, listening to the lies in my head, and being so full of myself. Tough love.)
One final tip: Each circle needs cheerleaders and challengers. If you have only cheerleaders in your circles, you will feel constantly encouraged, but you will not accomplish a whole lot. If you have only challengers in your circles, your backside will be bruised from the constant kicks in the rear. Each circle needs both cheerleaders and challengers to provide the right perspective at the right time.