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On Leadership: Navigating through life: the 5 Gears

This article is from GCI-USA Regional Pastor and Equipper Feature Editor, Rick Shallenberger.

This is part 3 of a series on Christian leadership. For other articles in the series, click a number: 124, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Do you sometimes suffer from insomnia—unable to put aside the ideas, projects, plans and worries filling your mind as you struggle to go to sleep? That happens to me, and I know I’m not alone. Many pastors and ministry leaders are overachievers, even workaholics. A desire to achieve sometimes gets in the way of what we need most in life—to connect with others. Busyness easily leads to disconnect—or said differently, when work becomes more important than people, disconnect results. One of the reasons for disconnect, as noted by Greg Williams in his letter in this issue of Equipper, is not taking sufficient time to recharge.

During leadership training last year with GiANT Worldwide consultant Tom Nebel, GCI’s U.S. Regional Pastors (RPs) and the CAD director were asked, “What do you do to recharge?” Most mentioned going on walks, working on hobbies, vacations, etc. Tom then asked, “How often do you recharge?” The RPs said they don’t do so very often. The reason? Too busy! Tom responded by saying, “As leaders, you’re too busy not to!” To make his point, he introduced us to a teaching tool called 5 Gears:

When starting out on a drive in a car with a manual transmission, you begin in first gear, then progress through the other gears as you navigate through town into the surrounding hills. Makes sense, right? But as we navigate through life, it’s common to get stuck in one “gear” or another, as the 5 Gears illustration (above) suggests. Tom helped the RPs understand that they spend most of their time in the task mode and the focus mode (4th and 5th gears), and that is not healthy.

What about you? To help you think about how you’re navigating through life, let me summarize each of the 5 Gears and offer a caution related to each one. I’ll take the gears in reverse order, starting out where many (most?) of us spend our waking hours (and sometimes our time in bed unsuccessfully trying to sleep!).

  • 5th Gear – Focus Mode: This is the hyper-focused mode where time flies by in maximum productivity. We are so focused on the task at hand we might not react kindly to interruptions from phone, email, or others—even spouses and children.
    • Caution: Spending all your time in this gear will leave you exhausted, even ill. The result can be relational issues, because others know that with you, work always comes first. Perhaps family members don’t even complain anymore. Invitations to outside events become fewer and fewer and you’re eating more meals in front of the computer.
  • 4th Gear – Task Mode: This is where the RPs said they spend most of their lives—multi-tasking for much of the day. They might have two or three emails they are responding to, while attending to phone calls and text messages. All the while, they are planning events, answering questions, filing reports and reading pastors’ reports. 4th gear is busy time.
    • Caution:  Be concerned if every day starts with email and if you feel constantly drained and never fully recharged. Change is needed if you feel anxious when you’re away from email or your cell phone, or if you struggle to get consistent sleep and your mind is always problem-solving. There is cause for concern if you are often physically present with family and friends, but mentally absent.
  • 3rd Gear – Social Mode: This is when you spend time with others—at a meeting, dinner party, in the foyer after church, or at a social event. Conversations can quickly slide us up or down into other gears. A question may put you in 4th or even 5th gear, or you might slide down to 2nd gear.
    • Caution: You may get stuck here and avoid 4th gear work. You avoid social settings because of shyness or fear of what to say to others. Or, you actually need a party to make life exciting. You rarely go deep enough in relationships, many of them are superficial. You are reluctant to share with others. These are causes for concern.
  • 2nd Gear – Connect Mode: This is the gear of deeper conversation. It’s when you share a meal and put the phone away. It’s about authentic connection. This is a time of active listening, of being truly present.
    • Caution: You may be talking too much or too long and not listening well. Your unrealistic expectations of others may be getting in the way of your ability to connect and you end up isolating yourself. There is cause for concern if you spend more time caring for people at work than actually working, or if you’re more focused on key relationships in your life than on a relationship with the person you’re currently talking to.
  • 1st Gear – Recharge Mode: This is when you personally recharge, when you spend time alone or with God. You might read, walk, or write in a journal. You might exercise or sleep, or watch a movie. In this gear, you are completely unplugged and not worrying about the things you need to do. This can be devotion time, or time on the golf course. It can be time in the hot tub, or time talking with God.
    • Caution: You can spend so much time recharging that you ignore work and other obligations. In recharging, some devote more time to self than to others. Don’t allow your personal recharge routine to dictate everyone else’s schedule. You can get so focused on recharging—things like diet or exercise—that it becomes a barrier to relationships.

Understanding what each of these gears (modes) entails will help us put in place healthy, life-giving priorities and practices. Toward that end, here are some challenges to consider (one for each gear):

  • 5th gear: schedule 5th gear time on your calendar for an upcoming month; practice shifting in and out of that gear intentionally.
  • 4th gear: avoid e-mail before breakfast for a month; replace that time with a devotion or something that inspires and charges you for the day.
  • 3rd gear: choose three relationships you want to deepen and create a plan to make it happen.
  • 2nd gear: practice 3rd and 4th gear before jumping into 2nd; value others.
  • 1st gear: ask someone you trust to help you schedule recharge time and keep you accountable for taking it.

When you are navigating smoothly through life with a balance of all five gears (modes), you will find yourself healthier, happier—more connected—and thus more able to take on tasks that arise unexpectedly. We all have a lot to do, so let’s make sure we are constantly recharging, keeping our lives as leaders in a healthy balance.

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