In the hectic business we affectionately call “ministry”, I was recently describing to my patient wife my feelings of frustrated unproductivity: That despite my good intentions and strong drive, I often feel like I don’t accomplish much important during the course of a day.  Of course, as I stare at the ceiling each night, I realize there were tons of things that got done that day: Students were taught, lightbulbs were changed, people were helped, snow was plowed, church services were planned, and family was attended to. Yet in the milieu of ministry, I often feel like I flit from one thing to the next, never really doing any one thing very well, much less spending time on things I enjoy.  I was looking for a word or phrase to describe this anxiety, and more specifically, to diagnose why I allow this to happen and how to prevent it. After all, aren’t we ultimately the ones in charge of our time and temperament?  If I’m stressed out, isn’t that really my fault? I think it probably is.

As I was mulling over the description (and contemplating possible solutions), it just so happened that I ran across Stressaholic by Heidi Hanna. If you’ve ever read or seen something and yelled in your head, “that’s it!”, then you know how I felt when she described the cause of so much anxiety and a sense of un-productivity: The Fear of Missing Out.

Driven people want to be involved in every aspect of the organization because they genuinely love investing themselves. They want to improve, direct, lead, and innovate, and they want to see how the direction they set is being implemented at the grassroots. The danger, according to Hanna, is that we become so concerned with details that we become increasingly fearful of missing some. Our “management by walking around” (Peters & Austin) morphs into a phobia of not being aware of everything, and consequently, we end our days with a sense of having done a lot while accomplishing very little.

Hanna paints an interesting word picture in relation to this problem: An argument between our CEO Heart and our CFO Brain. Essentially, the will of the CEO to improve and succeed pushes him or her to aim high, work long hours, and say no to nothing. Meanwhile, the CFO’s job is to remind the boss that the company “can’t afford to do that”, thus dialing back the workaholic who leads the organization with big dreams and lofty goals. While the CFO may burst the dream balloon occasionally and will be accused of lacking vision, the company stays in business through restraint. Without a business, productivity comes to a screeching halt. Without a fulfilled leader, an organization flounders. Leaders owe it to their organizations, more than just to themselves, to feel fulfilled, productive, and creative. When the leader is stifled, the organization follows suit.

Attention-grabbers can be good and needful things. The interactions and problems that come across the leader’s desk are part of his or her job.  Ministry needs especially are blind to our education, goals, and ambitions; None of us is above some sweat and elbow grease. There are many chores that just need doing, and we ought to be willing to do any of them and thank God for the strength to do so. However, we also must realize that without wise priorities, we will naturally regress to physical labor, neglecting the intellectual or creative work our role as leader demands. The main thing has to remain the main thing or else the organization will suffer.  A wise leader (or follower for that matter) must have the discipline to recognize why he or she is in the corner office; What is the main thing they are there to do? To neglect or fail to take time to develop what God has given us interest in is to waste opportunity, and it is in this doldrum where we can become frustrated, stressed, and tempted to quit.

Do we refuse the mundane, routine tasks that come with maintaining an organization? Not a chance. But certainly some things have to be denied so the organization can improve from the top down. In the short-term, businesses thrive on hard-working diligence. However, the long-term impact of an organization hinges on wise leaders being willing to miss out.

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