The first thing I noticed when I started leading Jubilee+ was how tired I became. Formerly a night owl, suddenly I just couldn’t handle working late. It started out as mental tiredness – at the end of the working day, my brain ached. But it soon progressed to physical and emotional fatigue too.
I’d been on the Jubilee+ leadership team for years, and in secular leadership before that. I had also completed four years of leadership training in my church stream, so how hard could it be to step into this new role? But no one warned me how different it would be to move from being in a leadership team to actually leading the team.
Suddenly, everyone seemed to have an opinion on how I was doing. And it felt like everyone wanted my opinion on everything, too. Eventually, a conversation about which sandwiches we should have for a particular meeting nearly tipped me over the edge!
I also had no clue how to juggle the very strong, often diametrically opposed opinions of various team members. It was like the scales fell off my eyes; I suddenly realised what a pain in the neck I’d been to every boss I’d ever had, always thinking my area of work was the most important and urgent.
In my first few months of leading Jubilee+, I started to doubt myself. One of my mentors said to me: “It’s easy to throw in your opinions when you’re not the one making the final decision. It’s much harder to choose what to do when the buck stops with you.”
Decisions I would have previously taken with ease suddenly felt either totally unimportant or like everything depended on each one.
I lost the ability – or desire – to make decisions in my life outside of work. Suddenly I didn’t care about where to go to dinner with friends, or which film to watch; I just wanted someone else to choose for me.
Most of these are external pressures, but the internal ones were (and are) harder to manage in many ways: imposter syndrome; fear of failure; weaknesses magnified; character flaws forced into the spotlight; struggling to switch off from thinking about work.
The shock of stepping into leadership was surprisingly brutal. But what’s more fascinating is that everyone I have since talked to about this has said: “Oh yes, that is how it feels!”
While I find this a little bit frustrating (why didn’t they warn me?), mostly it has been a massive relief to know it isn’t just me.
I’ve been hugely encouraged by people in the Bible who also struggled with leadership – Moses complained to God about the burden of leading his people (Numbers 11); Elijah followed his biggest leadership success by running away and praying to die (1 Kings 19), and even Jesus got frustrated with leading others (see Matthew 17:17).
As for me, I have learned to move away from strong ideas and snap decisions to thinking things through, slowly and carefully. I have changed from caring only about my area of expertise to caring about every area. I have realised that work and ministry are less about me and more about the team. The question is no longer: “Am I fulfilled?” but: “How is everyone doing?”
I’ve also had to transform nearly every area of my life and develop disciplines for the long haul, but more on that next time…
Natalie Williams writes a bi-monthly column for Premier Christianity on leadership. Read her other articles here.