What do Toilet Repairs and Leadership Composure have in Common?

What do Toilet Repairs and Leadership Composure have in Common?

I learned a lesson about leadership composure from an unlikely source. Several years ago, I had scheduled a plumber to fix minor leaks in some toilets in our home as we prepared to sell our house. My wife was to meet the plumber in my absence and give him the instructions I had given her. At about ten minutes after the appointment time, she called and told me that he had come and said the fixes were so simple I could do them. I asked her what he charged us to give us that sage advice. Her response? “$125.” I was not a happy camper. Here’s what happened next and what I learned about leadership composure.

When she told me that he had left without fixing the toilets and then charged us, my emotions took over. I was ticked off. Livid better describes how I felt. I couldn’t even think straight. My wife immediately sensed the anger in my voice and assured me that she’d call him back and have him return to complete the repairs.

After we hung up, I felt bad that I had gotten so angry. I tried to regain my composure because I had scheduled a full day to complete a chapter for my next book. We pastors often want to figure out why bad things happen, so I began to ruminate over the situation, thinking that if I figured it out, I could calm my emotions.

Well, I am anything but a handyman. I can’t drive a nail straight much less fix something as convoluted as a toilet. I imagined myself spending an entire day trying to fix the leaks. I could see myself breaking something worse that would force sewage to back up into the house. And with all the sewage, we’d never sell the house. And because we couldn’t sell the house, we go into foreclosure and lose the house. And when we lost the house we’d have to live in a van down by the river … Well, maybe I didn’t imagine it that bad. But I did imagine me getting hyper-stressed trying to fix the toilet.

Then I recalled some neuroscience research from Ethan Kross’ on distancing and emotional control. He has discovered a simple technique that helps moderate our anger: take the perspective of a third party observing yourself in situations that prompt anger.

Once I remembered that research, I now imagined myself physically stepping away from the car, where I got my wife’s call, and watching myself talking to her and getting angry. When I did that, immediately I thought, “How silly to get upset over a leaky toilet.” It was amazing what happened next.

That simple mental exercise helped quickly lessen my anger. As a result, I was able to clearly think the rest of the day without any emotional “leaky toilet” intrusions. Kross likens that phenomenon to how a friend can help us calm down by giving us an objective perspective of an emotion-causing event.

We pastors often face issues that can make us mad. James 1:19-20 reminds us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” The next time that happens to you, step back and observe yourself becoming angry. See if the Holy Spirit will give you a fresh perspective and clearer insight to moderate your anger and be a more composed leader.

What has helped you moderate your anger brought about by ministry demands or family stress?

What has helped you moderate your anger brought about by ministry demands or family stress?

A final note. I tried to fix the toilet with no success. I called another plumber.

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Charles Stone

Both my wife Sherryl and I have a heart for pastors and pastors’ wives. We’ve taught hundreds of pastors and their wives in the United States, Canada, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Mexico.

I earned an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I’m completing another masters degree in neuroleadership. I’m also an avid Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket fan.

I’ve been professionally trained in these areas by these organizations:

Life Coaching through the Professional Christian Coaching Institute
Strategic Planning through Ministry Advantage (certified)
Vision Clarity through the Church Unique Process (certified)
Conflict Management through Peacemakers
I’m the author of 4 books – Daughters Gone Wild – Dads Gone Crazy (Thomas Nelson, 2007), 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them (Bethany House Publishers, 2010), People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership (Inter-Varsity Press, January 2014), and my brand new book, Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry (Abingdon, 2015).

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