Dealing With Stress – A Guide for Mentors, Role Models and Leaders, Part 1

You’re a leader, a role model and a mentor. People look to you for guidance and direction. They want your advice, they watch how you live and they want to model your faith. If only they knew. If only they could see how stressful it is, how challenging it is to live up to the expectations and how hard it is to feel like you can never let your guard down. What would people say if they were to find out that you’re not perfect, you deal with stress too and you’re not quite as calm, cool and collected as you look? The pressure to be perfect only creates more stress and anxiety.

Unique Challenges

Dealing With Stress - A Guide for Mentors, Role Models and LeadersAs leaders, much as we want the freedom to be like everyone else—to cry when we’re sad, to make mistakes, to be natural—the truth is, we have people who are relying on us to steer the ship and to lead them through all of their drama. It is often not understood that we may have plenty of our own.

Leaders, especially those in the church, will also feel the pressure to be perfect followers of the faith, to toe the line in Christian living and to always have the right spiritual answer or direction. This can add another layer of pressure. We may feel it’s not acceptable to be human, with all the normal foibles, sins and struggles that humans face.

Why This Happens

People love to idealize and make heroes. We all want someone we can believe in. And as leaders and mentors, we have usually achieved these positions of respect and esteem for a reason. However, when people put leaders on pedestals, they fail to recognize that leaders are mortals just like everyone else, not to mention sinners in need of grace. But many times people can’t help looking for and even trying to create the kinds of people they wish actually existed. They often don’t realize how harmful this can be.

And for those of us who have been exalted for our faith, wisdom and leadership, it’s hard to step out of the spotlight. It’s hard to live a normal life and maintain our positions as role models beyond reproach. How can we be role models if we’re just regular? But despite our positions or titles, despite our qualifications and our skills in the art of living, we are all, at the end of the day, regular. We are sinners in need of grace. When we forget that, our pride sets us up for a fall.

The other result is overwhelming stress and pressure to perform, coupled with a sense that if we’re “normal,” we won’t be respected or revered and could even lose our positions. This threatens our very sense of identity. There are also so many people we don’t want to let down. So we redouble our efforts to hold up the façade and we feel the stress mount.

What to Do About It

It’s hard to escape the stress and pressure of leadership. We will constantly feel that others are looking up to us and expecting us to perform, even if they don’t realize it or intend to do so. Here are a few ways to deal with the issue:

  • Remember Who You Are — No matter how much weight we carry on our shoulders, or how many people we have relying upon us and looking up to us, the reality is, we are children of God. We are loved and we are not expected to be perfect, sinless or superhuman. We don’t need to earn God’s favor, or our salvation, through endless striving for perfection. There is as much grace for us as leaders and role models as there is for every other believer.
  • Have Your Own Tribe — If our circles consist only of us and the people we have relying upon us, looking up to us and expecting us to find the solutions to their problems, it will be pretty hard to get the support we need to continue being good leaders. Who leads the leader? Who mentors the mentor? While we have taken on these positions because we excel in them, the truth is, we still need friends, guidance and a personal support system.

We need our own tribe—ideally outside of the one we serve. Maybe it is a few friends in a separate context with whom we can be authentic. We can seek out other leaders, be honest about what we deal with and ask how they cope. They may be equally in need of support and encouragement. Leadership brings unique challenges, and it can be pretty lonely at the top, even within a faith community. We have to be intentional about expanding the circle.

Part one in a two-part series. Continued in Dealing with Stress – A Guide for Mentors, Role Models and Leaders, Part 2