A Leadership New Year’s Resolution: A New Resilience Rule of Life

By Tod Bolsinger

December 7, 2020

De Pree Journal

For most of the world, the New Year and our often-short-lived resolutions begin on January 1. That is the first day of the new year, after all. But for those of us who are attuned to the Christian liturgical calendar, the New Year already began last week on the first Sunday of Advent.

(Nothing like a little religion to make you feel like you are already behind and not measuring up, huh?)

The New Year is for many people an opportunity to both reflect and revise some of the pieces and practices of their lives in order to accomplish some self-improvement goals. New Year’s resolutions will certainly be the focus of many social media posts in a few weeks (even if few of the changes to our lives endure.)  And since most of our resolutions are built on guilt and wishful thinking, most experts tell us that those resolutions often make things worse, not better.

So, what could be a different way? Especially, THIS year, in this moment of such disrupted and unprecedented change.  What is one way to finish up this year that has been marked by a pandemic, economic recession, and social unrest in a way that will help us prepare for the year ahead?

Instead of waiting for the calendar change to make New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to suggest a different approach that leans into this Advent Season and takes advantage of this time when most of us are being forced to a simpler, more sheltered way of being. At the end of this painfully odd, completely unprecedented and often challenging 2020, consider these three steps:

++++++and Relating—
+++++++++all for developing a critical leadership characteristic that is in short supply right now: Resilience.

First, a word about resilience. Resilience isn’t about “gutting it out”, or even having “grit” that comes from hanging on for dear life. Resilience is about “how things bounce back”; that is developing the capacity, in the words of Andrew Zolli to “maintain core purpose and integrity in the midst of dramatically changing circumstances.” Resilience, as I write about at some length, is a quality that is formed over time, both prior to and in the midst of challenges that enables you to overcome both. As you go through this Advent New Year, to prepare for a more resilient 2021, let me encourage you to consider these three steps during Advent and into 2021.

1. Use the “New Year” of the Advent Season to prepare you for the new year of 2021 by spending more time reflecting. Ask yourself the kinds of questions that help you, in the words of one of my own spiritual directors, “pay attention to what you are paying attention to.” At the end of a year where many leaders report being more exhausted than ever, let the advent season be focused on what gives you energy for the long haul. Spend a bit of time while walking, daydreaming, sitting by a fire or soaking in a sunrise asking yourself some questions:

  • What really energizes me?
  • What most matters to me?
  • When makes me feel more connected to God?
  • If I could make only one contribution or difference to make the world just a little better what would it be?
  • What can I give myself to more wholeheartedly?

2. After spending the Advent season reflecting (Note to my Type A friends: NOT doing anything else but reflecting!) then make the focus of your attention reorienting what you already do to instead of adding more to your life.

Most leaders don’t need more tips, tools, and self-improvement (most are already working as hard as they possibly can).

Most leaders don’t need a new vision or a new goal (most are frustrated because they have too many visions and goals than they can possibly accomplish!).

Most leaders already have a set of spiritual and leadership practices that they are using, but that may need some re-aligning and reorienting after being stress-test by a pandemic, a global recession and social unrest.

Consider this: How have your spiritual practices changed as you have matured as a leader and taken on different responsibilities?

For example, when I was a new Christian as a teenager, I was encouraged to take up spiritual practices in order to know Jesus and grow as a disciple. Bible reading, regular prayer, weekly worship, and a small group were all part of the set of practices (sometimes called a Rule of Life) for the purpose of helping a young Christian mature in Christ. Then, when I became a young Senior Pastor in my early 30s, I realized I needed to spend much more time in the deep study of Scripture, I needed to have regular therapy to grow my emotional maturity and strengthen my marriage, and I needed a small group with other pastors who could mentor me as I learned the leadership ropes. I still prayed regularly and certainly attended weekly worship (it was my job!) but my spiritual practices were reoriented for the new call in my life to congregational leadership. I made other changes to my Rule of Life when I left the pastorate after 27 years to be a Seminary Administrator, and be part of an organizational change team. This pattern continues in my life. What about you?

If you want a free resource that will help you think about these spiritual practices in the light of your own leadership resilience, we have one you can get on our Fuller Leadership Platform.

3. After reflecting and reorienting, add relationships. This is, for most leaders the true game changer. When our reflection and rule of life is “held” in the “anvil” of relationships, we thrive. When we try to make changes, be formed and lead alone, we often default back to old ways of being. As I learned in writing Tempered Resilience, “the vulnerability of leadership requires relational security” and making changes to our practices so that we can experience new depths of transformation feels just as vulnerable. This is why, I often say that EVERY leader needs partners, mentors, and friends (all of them!) all the time. The “heavy anvil” that can hold us in moments of vulnerability is made up of all three.

You may find that this is the perfect time to start a new relationship with a spiritual director, a therapist, or a coach. I’d be glad to help you find one if you need a referral. We call this our Anvil Network. Or maybe you need a small group or a cohort of leaders who are all working on this together. I will be leading just such a group for six weeks in January and February. We are taking registrations right now.

If there is anything we have learned from 2020, it’s that the world can change dramatically overnight. Congratulations on making it to the end of the year. And let’s make sure that we go into whatever comes next stronger, wiser, and more resilient than ever before.

Hybrid Course: Forming Leadership Resilience

Interested in learning more about resilience and growing as a leader? Check out the upcoming Hybrid course, Forming Leadership Resilience, by clicking the link below!

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Tod Bolsinger

Executive Director

Senior Fellow De Pree Center Associate Professor of Leadership Formation Fuller Theological Seminary Tod Bolsinger joined Fuller Seminary in 2014 as vice president for vocation and formation and he now serves as Senior Fellow at the D...

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