Posted in Leadership

Me and The Syllabi Syndrome (too much too fast)

The Syllabi Syndrome is the overwhelming experience of being presented all your work in a short period of time. Maybe like me you experienced this in college. It’s the first week of classes and each professor provides you their class’s syllabus. But you take more than one class. So, over your first two days of classes, you have 5-6 syllabi (I learned the plural of syllabus is syllabi in college).

Bolded deadline dates from your five classes looks intimidating.  That overwhelmed feeling is Syllabi Syndrome. When experiencing said syndrome it doesn’t matter that all the work is not to be completed in a week but over a four-month period. Or you’ll learn to skim the two thousand pages of reading that’s required.

Instead, you see and feel the expectations of five professors all at once. And you think to yourself, “How I am ever going to get this done?”

The Syllabi Syndrome is not limited to the freshman college experience. It’s for all of us who have entered a new situation, and in that new situation, feel like there’s so much to be done. So many people to meet. So many details to follow-up on. So many expectations!

I’m suffering from Syllabi Syndrome now. I have a new job. New church. New home. New city. New state…you get the idea. So, to self soothe and perhaps provide some practical takeaways for some of my readers who are in a similar situation (or will be), I’d thought I give some thoughts about how to maneuver through it.

When you’re faced with a lot of “new” in short period of time and feel the need to find a pathway to performance…

  1. Take a deep breathe. Literally and figuratively. Literally, long deep breaths have many positive effects. You can read about those through smarter people than me. And figuratively, create some margin to back away from the tyranny of the urgent.
  2. Set simple systems. Don’t take it all on at once. Set short-term low goals. If you have two thousand pages to read, well, you have four months in your semester to read it. So, take 120 days divided into your 2,000 pages to be read, and you have your short term low goal of reading 16 pages per day.
  3. Get commitment clarity. Avoid committing to anything that’s not required. When people give you things to do, seek clarity. Am I required to this? If so, what’s the timeline? You may learn what you think is required or expected, was closer to a suggestion and really shouldn’t even be considered.
  4. Remind yourself you’re not indispensable. Particularly if you’re having the syndrome feelings in a new job. Remind yourself that you haven’t always been here, and in most cases, they were managing without you.
  5. Look for sympathy, better yet, empathy. Find people who have been in the same situation and get a little perspective from them. They’ve been there the previous semester. They’ve been the new guy or gal on staff. They know what it’s like to drink from a fire hydrant. And they also know the fire hydrant eventually runs out of pressure.

So, if you’re experiencing this made-up syndrome like I am, then join me in using these steps to get out of it.

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The Pride In Our Busyness

What if busyness is caused by our pride?

The Killer P’s are a part of pastor and author Kevin DeYoung’s reason behind the state of busyness most of us live in. Reading his book Crazy Busy would be worth your money and time (it’s cheap and “mercifully short”).

DeYoung first points out there are no “quick fixes” to busyness. Especially as Christians, because “We ought to know better [than quick solutions] because we understand that deep down that the problem is not just with our schedules or with the world’s complexity—something is not right with us.”

And in the “Killer P’s” chapter of his book, he argues that typically the “thing not right” with us is a manifestation of pride. He says “Our understanding of busyness must start with one sin that begets so many of our others sins, pride.”

In a brief two pages, DeYoung names twelve manifestations of pride related to busyness. But to even be briefer than he, let me do a Dodridge-download on just four of “the P’s” that tend to manifest in my life (and perhaps yours).

4 Killer P’s

Pats on the back. This is living for praise and DeYoung says it’s often motivated by a “desire for glory.” Now, must of us would not say we’re doing things to pursue glory. But can you hear yourself saying this sentence DeYoung wrote, “If I take on this extra assignment, I’ll be a hero to everyone in the office.”?

But we often look for pats on the back at work, which often means our glory-seeking has a deficit effect at home. If we’re glory-hogs at work, well, that will mean we’re too busy to be our best in other places.

Pity. If we let everyone know how busy we are, well, they’ll feel sorry for us…they’ll take pity on us. If our busyness generates sympathy and pity, then that means we’re getting attention. Because of the sinfulness of pride, for some reason someone saying to you, “You work so hard, I bet it’s really hard to find time for yourself” seems to create a buzz for us. Rather, it should be a shock effect to say “Get out of that rhythm!”

Power. DeYoung’s associated statement for power is, “I need to stay busy because I need to stay in control.” The lie we tell ourselves is that in order to fully control something and get the desired results, we have to control every part of it. And to do that, well, we keep everything under our watchful (busy) eye. This leads to becoming an indispensable person (I’ve written on the dangers of that before).

Position. When I read DeYoung’s associated statement I knew he had named one of my Killer P’s. It’sI do too much because that’s what people like me are supposed to do.” Can you hear yourself saying that?

This is where our intentions can sound good, even God-glorifying. But ultimately it’s a prideful way of recognizing our own contribution to something. You may be the responsible one in your workplace. You’re the person who goes the extra mile. You’re the execution ninja! But each of those good qualities have a shadow side, and these good qualities become manifestations of pride quickly. And once you start these prideful expressions, it further perpetuates the feeling of you needing to keep up the standard of busyness.

Busyness can become an identity. It may be how you’re known. We hear people say to us, “Oh, you’re always so busy” and we feel both a sense of pride and sense wanting anything other than busyness for ourselves.

Be brave enough to name the “killer P’s” you’re prone to.  Name it (them) and then ask for help with your pride. Ask God to speak to you his version of what busy looks like. Ask a friend to call you out when they see you manifesting the killer P’s.

Busyness doesn’t have to be wrong or sinful, but if pride is the source of that busyness, well…

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Title-less Leadership

If you didn’t have a job title associated with your name, what changes?

What changes if there’s no longer a title to give you purpose? If there’s no title to give you authority? If there’s no title to give you prestige…what becomes of you?

For several years, the sign pictured in this blog has been outside my office door. And as I write this, that title will soon not be mine. (If you need some context, you can read my last post, The Irrational Decision In (my) Ministry Leadership). So, I can’t yet fully answer the questions I posed above, and therefore this is an aspirational post.

Yet, I felt like while I will be the one living title-less, it could be helpful for you to at least consider title-less living, even if theoretically.

Title-less Influence

A review of history often tell stories of people who did great things and led effectively before they ever assumed positional leadership. They had influence before they had the title, and usually that leadership contribution got them a title. Quality leadership typically indicates a positional title is coming.

So here are a few reminders for me, and perhaps you…

Lead with or without your title. Don’t make them put a sign outside your door before you begin to lead effectively. There’s nothing magical about a title or nameplate, and in some cases, it can actually be a hindrance.

Don’t equate title with value. I believe with all my heart that God loves (me) you before you did anything. There’s no earning, and God is certainly not waiting on you to get a title to show His love.

Surround yourself with people who love you (and don’t really care about your title). For every person you direct in your titled job, make sure you also have someone present in your life who you don’t direct. You need people in your life who don’t need your titled-self and what comes with that title. When you lead, you’re often needed by others. And that’s great. But it’s also taxing. You need people who when they see you, don’t come with a need or agenda, but come to you because they like you (with or without your leadership acumen).

(Life hack: if you try to use your titled-self amongst this group of people, well, hypothetically, you might be told, “Brian, I don’t need an executive pastor in our kitchen.”)

Maintain a title that’s a match. Sometimes our ego wants a title that reflects our accomplishments and tenure. We want it to match the hard work we’ve done. But to do this, the job often has to change. To have the more impressive title, you have to modify your role. And now you have a great title, but no longer a role that matches your desire or skills. You become susceptible to the “Peter Principle.”

God called you to lead. He gave you skills to do that well. And with or without a title, you’re valuable to God, you’re valuable to others, and your contribution is needed, even if it’s title-less contribution.

We know God’s Kingdom work is not only accomplished through titled-people (and pretty often He operates outside of that), and we need to work toward what He has for us whether we wield a title or not.

If you have a title, great, I bet you earned it. But could you still find value and purpose without it? It’s a road I’m walking, and might be good for all leaders to consider the theoretical title-less test.

 

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