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Focused Leadership: “My Best Leadership Decision”

This is the second installment of a series of talks at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit (now called The Global Leadership Summit). This session was one of my favorites at the leadership summit, mainly because it spoke to me personally. Balancing personal and work life is always hard, especially if you’re starting a brand new organization. Andy Stanley, a pastor at one of the most influential and successful churches in the nation, talks about his struggles when starting his church. He gives some great insights on how to manage your personal and work life, as well as how to get the most out of your precious time.

If I Don’t, It Won’t

There is an innate fear in us leaders that we’ll fall behind. We take on the mindset that “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done”. Andy had this mindset too. So, after struggling with insanely-long weeks and a home life that left something to be desired, he decided to cheat his organization, in favor of his family. Putting his family at the top of his priorities was the best leadership decision he ever made. Some of you reading this might have already written this idea off, because it really isn’t doable for you. But is it? Think about it: have you ever been able to get done everything that needed to be done? My guess is no, unless you fly around in a red cape all day. (Even he had trouble keeping up with his work.) No, there is a way to do it, but you have to radically change your thinking. Here’s how Andy did it.

1. He made a promise to his family that he would only work 45 hours a week.

He decided that even though there was tons more work to do than what could be done in 45 hours a week, he was still going to stick with it no matter what. This shows a lot of charachter and integrity. Sticking to your word regardless of what happens is a key component to great leadership.

2. He left the office at 4pm every day, regardless.

Andy had 2 boys and his wife was pregnant with the third at the time he was starting his church. He asked his wife if there was anything he could do to help along her pregnancy, and she asked if he could be home at the rough part of her day, 4:30 in the afternoon. This meant that Andy had to leave his office by 4:00pm. So, Andy had the fun job of telling his staff that he had to leave the church by 4pm regardless, and it initially went over about how you would expect: not great. People were confused and hurt, and they felt like he was cheating the organization. But they respected and supported his decision, and eventually all was well within the organization.

The Benefits of Less Work

Although we can see how this benefited his personal life, how the duece does did Andy figure this was the best leadership decision he ever made? Well, working less forced him to do something he had never really done before: Delegation.

Most people think that the best way to become a better leader is to focus on your weaknesses and improve on them. No way! Contrary to popular belief, the best way to become a better leader is to focus on your strengths, and delegate your weaknesses.

Let’s be honest here, you’re not that good at very many things, are you? I know I’m not. So focus on your “sweet spot”, the thing that only you can do within your organization. Here’s the next best part: some people actually like doing those things that you hate, and will do a better job than you ever could anyway. And if everybody is doing the things that they’re good at within an organization, the organization will thrive.

Another thing Andy had to start doing was prioritizing the success of his organization over his own success. By doing this, it makes it a lot easier to say no. This forces you to focus on only the most important things. For example, he’s only doing 5 outside speaking gigs this year. This allows him to focus on leading his organization, and doesn’t take away from his family time. You can only do so much, and if you start cheating the things that are truly important (like family) in favor of your work, it will start cheating every other aspect of your life.

Benefits to the Organization

By prioritizing what’s best for the organization, it allows the organization to say “no” more easily to the things it really doesn’t need to do. This allows it to maintain a sustainable pace. The biggest mistake most leaders make is to stretch their organization too thin in favor of growing. Andy prefers thinking of the life of an organization like a marathon, and if you do too much too quick, you won’t be able to finish.

The thing that makes or breaks your career isn’t affected by how much you work. There are too many outside factors that come into play. The market, the chance phone call, meeting the right person–you can’t control any of these things. So focus on the things you can control, like maintaining a sustainable pace and culture for your organization.

Healthy people are attracted to a sustainable pace. The unhealthy aren’t, and they’ll always try to speed up that pace. Andy has told his employees that he would rather they cheat his organization than cheat their families. He’s not worried about lazy people taking advantage of this because lazy people try to take advantage of everything. You’ll spot them a mile away.

Healthy people will break their backs for you if you care about them and their family. He has attracted many successful people to work for them just because of this. I know it seems backwards, but you have to create a culture within your organization that cheats you instead of their families. Then you’ll truly become successful.