In my career of leadership I have had seasons of great passion as well as seasons of burnout. I’ve had great mountaintops and deep dark valleys. I think that’s a normal part of the ebb and flow of leadership. As a young leader I remember people flocking to hear me speak, hanging on every word and sensing the contagious energy of my vision. I felt a bit like the Pied Piper, drawing everyone around me to join my gang. But I can also tell you about the days when I lost my passion but kept trying to lead with my head instead of my heart. I knew it and they knew it. Sometimes followers cannot leave leaders because their jobs are at stake. Or they don’t want to leave their church even though they no longer like the pastor. So they stick around but lose all enthusiasm for the leader of their “band.”
You remember that photograph that Marty McFly had in the movie “Back to the Future,” the one that he kept in his back pocket? It was a picture of him and his family. He would take it out and look at it and he would see his family members, and even himself starting to fade from the picture, as he was messing with the history of his own family. That’s how I felt when my passion ran out. I was physically there but emotionally gone. I was fading away and felt trapped, not really knowing what to do about it. I was there in my head but I was not there in my heart. Have you ever felt like that?
When who we are lines up with the role we are in, then we are in a place of passion. The less overlap, the less possibility of a fulfilling role in leadership.
The more these two “circles” overlap, the better. And I have noticed that as we grow older, who we are really changes. We have different motivations in our 50s and 60s than we did in our 30s and 40s. Think about your own situation. Are your “circles” close to a complete overlap? Then you are living your dream.
I want to introduce you to Jack, a leader who is miserable in his day job. Can you relate to that? When I asked him what he really loves, he told me that he teaches in the evenings at a junior college. He lit up and told me that he would love to figure out a way to do that all the time. Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where what we enjoy most is completely outside of our current job description. Our real passionate interests are totally in another place. They lie on the edges of our work. If you are in that place, it might just be time to move from your day job to your dream job.
At one point in my career, I found that most of the things that fueled me were outside interests. Almost everything inside my day job either drained me or bored me. I kept being drawn in my heart to those outside interests. When your passion is gone you have two clear choices: get it back or get out. The worst thing you can do is to continue to lead with a heart that is dried up. You’ll be miserable, but not as miserable as your followers! Make the leap, as Steve Jobs goes on to say:
“And the most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
A few weeks ago, in a church just down the street from me, the elders called the pastor in for a meeting and dismissed him. No explanation other than, “We don’t think you’re the person to take us where we want to go in the future.” It was not really a blow out, but a slow leak. The leader had dried up and everyone knew he was no longer vibrant. He had lost his passion but kept going through the motions hoping no one would notice. Oh boy, did they ever. Sadly he was ambushed and dismissed instead of helped that night. Another pastor tossed on the heap of used up Christian leaders.
You might be at this crossroads. I get it. You have two choices to make. Whatever you do, make one of the two. The worst mistake is to do nothing. Time will not take care of it. I have watched many a leader crash and burn because of pure denial that he or she had a problem. And some of my closest friends have been fired like that pastor, in an ambush from which it takes years to recover. I hope with all of my heart that you never end up being tossed on that heap of used up leaders.
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