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Becoming a healthy spiritual leader

Behind every healthy organisation is a healthy leadership team. But how do you know if your leadership is actually healthy and cultivating organisational vitality? For over 20 years, Dr Johan Beukes has been helping leaders to answer this question – enabling them to bounce back from burnout and thrive through diversity and change. In an Elevate Leadership podcast entitled ‘Becoming a healthy leader’ Dr Johan explores the mindsets and habits that both hinder and harness our spiritual and leadership formation. Here are a few ‘big ideas’ that we can take from the conversation:

Becoming a healthy spiritual leader

At the core of every man and woman – every pastor and CEO – is the need for connection. We were hardwired for relationship with our Creator. However, if our world isn’t rightly ordered and God is no longer at the centre of it, our human inclination for praise will have us playing to the crowd. Whether we’re conscious of it, the dopamine and oxytocin that we experience every time the congregation applauds or the colleagues pay a compliment, will become addictive. We will just need more of it, and our rhythms will quickly become unsustainable.

‘Spending time with God, just sitting with Him and being with Him allows us to move into other relationships where Christ in me recognises Christ in you,’ says Johan. ‘I think that’s one of the reasons why Jesus didn’t have many disciples… you can’t do that with thousands of people. You can inspire thousands of people, but you can’t connect.’

When ‘Christ in you’ recognises ‘Christ in someone else’, there’s an equalisation between you and that person. You’re not above them as a leader and you’re not below them – you’re just a brother or sister.

The lies that we believe

In Luke 4 Jesus endured a 40-day windstorm of accusations by the devil in the wilderness, marked by three fundamental lies. ‘If you are the Son of God…’, the devil prefaces his temptations, then proceeds to question Christ’s identity, authority and ability.

The same lies plague us today and often steer our leadership off course:

Lie #1 – ‘I am what I have’

An accruing of wealth, resources, and influence can often indicate the evidence of growth and impact. But such material success should not influence our sense of identity and self-worth. Should a leader fall into the delusion that ‘the more you have, the greater you are’, this thinking will flow into your team and impact your organisation.

Lie #2 – ‘I am what I do’

What happens when sickness puts you out of commission and flat on your back for an extended time? Or when a newbie comes through the ranks and does the job better than you? Are you still ‘enough’, or does your job and skill define you? It’s an understandable and all-too-frequent wrestle amongst those who lead. But it’s most certainly a lie.

Lie #3 – ‘I am what others say or think of me’

Social media is the master of illusion – behind the Hallmark moments is more often the mundane and mess of life. How often as leaders can we do the same? The crowd becomes our audience, rather than the Audience of One.

The elixir to this toxic deception: ‘Remember, you are, his beloved,’ Johan says. ‘He wants to work through you, with you and in you. From there everything else will flow.’

Practical advice for spiritual leaders

As leaders we must embrace failure as an option. The question is not if, but when, we lose our way or wander only slightly off the path from God’s perfect plan, what then? What is the posture we should assume to harness our weakness for strength and healing?

Start by not taking control of the situation, says Johan. This is a counter-intuitive charge for most leaders, who instinctively meet the problem with a fast solution. But many times the underlying experience of that control is guilt or shame. The invitation for leaders is to give God access to those things that went wrong and talk to Him about it.

‘Don’t isolate yourself when things go wrong, search for sojourners,’ Johan advises. A sojourner could be a spiritual director, who can guide you and turn your focus back to God when you have a spiritual challenge. For others it could be a coach, a mentor, a pastor or a psychologist. Still for others, a sojourner could simply be a spiritual friend, someone with whom you can have a coffee and a conversation.

‘As a leader, reorient yourself. Life in Christ is light and spacious – there’s freedom, grace and love. Remind yourself of this bigger, spacious life and story that’s playing out. Remind yourself that you are actually invited to participate in this life of the living Christ,’ concludes Johan.

To learn more about developing your spiritual health as a leader, and specifically how to navigate transitions and challenges in the workplace, listen to the full podcast episode here.

The series is also available on all other major podcasting platforms such as Apple, Google, and YouTube.

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