Every now and then I develop some exercises to help other leaders develop their self-awareness and I like to share them on here for you to use. A few months ago I offered one called Nurturing Your Sphere of Influence that helped me take intentional steps to nurture others (a key leadership skill I look for) around me. So many times we miss opportunities to help those with whom we work, lead, teach, meet, counsel, and even live to grow to their potential. And that exercise was helpful for others, too, based on the response I received.
Lately, perhaps it’s just the effects of the last weeks of a very cold winter, I’ve been listening to leaders who feel s.p.e.n.t. They are drained, easily frazzled, and therefore question their abilities even though they are highly gifted. I do think this is a seasonal reality for those of us (e.g. youth pastors, teachers) who work within a ‘school schedule’ where the end of the year is May or June in the northern hemisphere. But I also think there are some patterns that driven and gifted people enact that hurt them.
So, I have learned to ask two questions in return, “How do you renew? What margins do you have in your life?” What I find is that the answer to the first question isn’t a ready one. Most do not know what renews them – and renewal takes more intentionality than just ‘not-working’. So, that’s a problem. But, the answer to the second one is easier. And it’s usually “no, I don’t have any margins.” They know they don’t have much buffer in life. They have the pedal to the floor and are working hard to produce, influence, and lead.
So, here’s the exercise you can use with yourself and then try on others. I’d love to hear how it works for you and any adjustments you give it. [Again, you can use all of these exercises that I share as you wish, I just ask that you acknowledge me as your source for them verbally and in written form. And I provide some potential wording below. Thanks.]
The Margins of Renewal
Supply note: It will work best if you had three colors of pens or pencils – black, red, and blue.
Try this: Using the black pen draw a three-inch high stick figure in the middle of the page to represent ‘us’. Feel free to stylize (e.g. hair style, a bit of clothing, smile) as necessary to be truly representative. Then, think about the ‘margins’ of your life. Do you have space that is outside of everyday work demands where you are not producing? Draw a box that gives a margin to your paper which has a width from the edge of the paper that represents how much margin you have in your life. If you are in the middle, what does your margin look like around you. The outside of that box is how much margin you have before you fall off the edge. [You will discuss this step later in the exercise. For now, keep moving. ]
Now, take your red pen and write inside the box write short phrases or single words that represent what you do. What do you produce? What and who demands something from you? Write these all around your stick figure, putting the most demanding and most frequent responsibilities closer to your figure. Leave space within the box to write more words later.
After a few minutes, take up the blue pen and now write down what you do to renew. What feeds and fuels your life? Your energy? Your spiritual life? Think about which of these would be best represented as part of your margin and which would best be inside the box. Each of us should define how to differentiate what is within and without a margin. Activities that go in the margin are those things that serve as a buffer to help us be more productive in the box.
After a few minutes, take the red pen again and draw arrows from the stick figure to your red words, an arrow for each word, all pointing out from the person. Then, with the blue pen, draw arrows from the blue words toward the stick figure.
Then, sit back and look at your visual and think about how you spend time in renewal, what type of margins exist in your life (if many), and then write down three steps to develop some margins. If you’re leading a group, have them discuss how they decided to represent themselves, what size to give their margin, the level of red versus blue ink, etc. Where are their blue words?
As I’ve talked this over with others, we’ve discovered that what we think renews us really doesn’t. And, if our hobbies are closely related to our work, then we don’t have much of a margin. Let me know what you think about this after you try it. I’d love to refine it based on your input, especially if you try it with others.
NOTE: If you do use this with others, please be kind enough to acknowledge that you got this from “Terry Linhart” and then add either “from his website Terrylinhart.com” or “from Bethel College in Indiana.” Thanks.