Good Leadership: “Reserve Capacity” and 3 ways to develop it

Leadership, which is code for parenting, teaching, working with anyone as a catalyst to get things accomplished, requires the development and nurture of several key qualities which I hope to look at in the coming few weeks.  This, the first in a series, is about developing “reserve capacity”, because without it, our leadership will crash in a crisis every time!  The exhausted parent will lash at the kids, or totally withdraw.  The “at wits end” boss will throw a tantrum creating a loss of trust that might take months to recover.  The overwhelmed teacher, will turn to something unhealthy to keep going, over caffeinating, over drinking, over eating, over something.  Then, in two years, they’re gone, having lost sight of their calling because of a failure to have reserve capacity.

What is reserve capacity and how is it developed?  Read on:

“If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)  The imagery is obvious.  Here’s a guy running with other men, which represents you and I living our lives on normal days, when there’s no significant or memorable challenges.  These days, like good officiating in football, are memorable for their forgetfulness.  A round of meetings, or taxi service for the kids.  Cooking, cleaning, jogging, maybe some ethnic food at home.  All in all though, nothing special.  We all have these days, but don’t all pull these days off with the same amount of peace and grace. 

Jeremiah’s saying that when the normal days wear you out, that’s a sign of trouble; a way of saying that if you don’t change the way you think, or live, or cope, there’ll be trouble further down the road.  If you’re exhausted by normal, says Jeremiah, “What are you going to do when all hell breaks loose?”  It’s a good question but rhetorical, because Jeremiah doesn’t want you to stroke your chin and think for a moment before saying, “Who knows?  We’ll just have to wait and see won’t we!”  No.  Jeremiah’s saying that if “normal” is hard, hard will mean meltdown.

So now, while things are normal, you need to live differently.  You need to develop “reserve capacity”.  The term comes from a health guy I like who posits that it’s loss of ‘organ reserve’ that inevitably leads to death, even for the healthiest of us.  When we’re young we have reserves.  We can eat 2 large pizzas, climb a mountain on Saturday night, and preach Sunday, not thinking a thing of it.  Aging though, diminishes lung, liver, muscle, joint, heart, capacity and with less reserve—less capacity to absorb the stresses means less reserve.  With less reserve, the extra challenges lead to breakdown.

In other words, when it’s time to race the horses, how do you think you’ll do, if the everyday “normal” of your life is exhausting?  You need to develop reserve capacity.  How do you do that?

1. Kill the energy suckers.  We live inside our heads a lot, and when things are going smoothly, the brain is prone to welcome some toxic ghosts who’ll settle in and ruin your day, not with what is, but with what might be and what was.  Your worry and fear about tomorrow is sucking you dry.  All those ‘what ifs’ can steal your reserve at every level; body, soul, spirit.  You’ll feel it in your pulse, blood pressure, sleep habits, sense of well being and joy; all of these will be compromised when you let the ghosts settle in and poison your mind with worries.

I find that breathing deeply and praying while doing so, receiving the peace of Christ in faithful gratitude, is terribly effective in evicting the ghosts.  Try it sometime!

2. Manage the adrenaline – Question: “What’s Jesus doing sleeping in the boat when there’s a big storm happening?”  Answer:  “He’s showing us how to not panic” and this is good because adrenaline is a hormone in your body that’s there to give you extra strength in short bursts.  It’s for that time when there’s an automobile accident, but not for all the time spent in traffic.  It’s for the moment in rock climbing when you’re making a crux move, but not for the whole approach hike.  It is, in other words, for David when he meets Goliath, but not for your next staff meeting.

We’d do well to de-escalate the stakes in most of our daily experiences so that we don’t send a bunch of adrenaline into our bodies, because the truth is we’ll need that kind of strength, focus, awareness later—best to save it for then.

When I feel the surge of adrenaline coming on, my best response is to breathe deep, look around, practice a little gratitude as I see a tree in bloom, or remember that I even own a car and that’s why I’m stuck in traffic.  The little change of perspective sends adrenaline back to it’s cave, reserved for another more appropriate time.

3.  Remember the end.  The intent of terror is to fill you with fear because fear will paralyze you, draining you of your reserves, and preventing you from fulfilling your calling.  A little perspective, though, can help.  Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “do not say, ‘why is it that the former days were better than these?’ for it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”  Don’t fret, in other words, about how bad things have become.  It changes nothing with respect to your calling to be light, and salt, and joy, and hope.  Get on with it.

What’s more, it helps me immensely to have a strong faith and belief regarding the trajectory of history.  I believe that the end of the story has all disease healed, all wars ended, all evil vanquished, and everything in the universe saturated with the beauty of Christ.  That’s how our good friend could say:  “All’s well.  All shall be well.  And all manner of things shall be well.”

People who actually believe that live well, serve well, sleep well.  And when the horses show up they’ll say:  “Bring it on! I’m ready.”

 

 

 

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